Here's Madelyn Given at the summit of Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine.

Katahdin: Highest Mountain in Maine

My father rarely read to me as a child, but I clearly remember the time he read to me the book Don Fendler, Lost on a Mountain in Maine. The book is about Don Fendler, age 12, who was climbing Mount Katahdin with several members of his family and became separated and lost for 9 days. Remarkably, he found his way out alone and without food.

Imagine a young boy lost on Katahdin, which is contained within Baxter State Park—an area of over 200,000 acres or 320 square miles—and beyond the borders of this park is a vast and remote wilderness. This happened in 1939, and it was a sensational rescue operation. Don Fendler credits his survival to his Boy Scout training.

Fendler was from Rye, New York, but he now lives in Maine. His sister and brother and their families lived in the small town where I grew up, and I knew them quite well.

Baxter State Park was the gift to the people of the State of Maine by one man, Percival P. Baxter: a bachelor, Governor of Maine, and born into a wealthy family. The park is run with strict by-laws that will keep it forever a pristine wilderness unspoiled by mankind. There is a minimum dirt-road system to get to a few designated campsites within the park. It is wilderness hiking at its best. The trails are all rugged and a strenuous climb. Mount Katahdin is 5,267 feet, and with a small pile of rocks added at the top, it is one mile high; here’s a photo of me at the summit, pictured at the top of this blog post.

View of Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. Photo by Madelyn Given.

View of Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. Photo by Madelyn Given.

When I was growing up, Percival P. Baxter’s nephew and family lived in our small town. Their children were my age and involved in some of the same activities, especially Girl Scouts and the community ski club, but Baxter State Park was not among my memories of childhood activities. My family was too busy or not interested in hiking and it was never an option.

My roommate in college often talked about climbing Katahdin, and this was the trigger that set things in motion. I agreed we would do it sometime. Then came marriage and children. When our children were little I took them on various hikes, and by the time the oldest was 8 we decided to hike the rugged Katahdin.

We sent in our permit requests in January for hiking in July. That first time we stayed in a lean-to at Roaring Brook, climbed to Chimney Pond, and stayed there one night in the small bunk house.

This was the beginning of many trips to Katahdin, whether I went with my family, or did annual reunions with my college roommate, her family, and sometimes her young students. Later, in my years of hiking around the world, I would always compare everything to Katahdin. It is my mental gage for level of difficulty, height, and remoteness.

On Katahdin, we looked for moose and were not disappointed. There were certain places we could count on to see a moose. We saw 21 in one day! Moose like to be alone, never in a group, but one at a time; it was special to see 21 in many different places. A moose will come up on you very quietly sometimes, and they are dangerous wild animals.

Moose are large and quite clumsy, but a bull with a full rack is a sight to see. A female is a good mother and very protective of her young. Often I have seen twins hiding in tall grass, staying perfectly still while waiting for their mother to return.

Other wildlife can alos be seen on Katahdin. Once on my way down from a climb on Katahdin, a bear cub followed me for a good distance. I did not run, but neither did I stop, as I knew the mother would not be happy to see me.

At the end of the day of hiking, we would enjoy a campfire dinner, and while staying at Roaring Brook, the sound of the rushing water would lull us to sleep. I had many great adventures on Katahdin, and I remember them all, but the first was very special. Our children were young and thrilled to carry their own packs. We praised them for their accomplishment of a rugged hike.

Our six-year-old daughter had found a heart-shaped rock on the climb up Katahdin, and as we were preparing to go home, she took out this sizable rock from her pack! We all laughed in amazement that she valued it enough to carry it up and then down the mountain. I believe she may still have that rock!

(posted August 25, 2015)