Tag Archives: mountain climbing

View from North Brother mountain in Maine. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Maine’s North Brother: 4,143 Feet

What a feeling of being in a remote wilderness when you go to Baxter State Park—because you really are in a truly vast wilderness! The drive to get there takes time, and planning is needed to stay there. Baxter has just one dirt perimeter road. The intent of the park bylaws is to keep the park wild and free in nature, and in my opinion, they are doing a good job of it.

Each time I go to Baxter State Park, my goals are to see moose, to climb one or more peaks, and to enjoy rustic camping. On my trip earlier this month, I planned to summit North Brother. This mountain is one of fourteen 4,000 Footers in Maine, and for me, it is my last one. A year ago, my young friend Kevin agreed to join me on this adventure.

We arrived the night before the climb and set up our tents at Katahdin Stream Campground, where we enjoyed a campfire. There was a great view of Mt Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine: I have climbed this great mountain many times on different trails, but I had never before considered climbing the other mountains within the park. However, this time I was climbing North Brother.

There was a heavy rain the first night we camped, and at dawn I drove towards Marston Trail Head. Along the way, I looked for moose in the ponds along the dirt road, but no luck.

At 6:50 am we were on the trail in light rain. We followed a stream a short distance, and then crossed other streams several times, including Roaring Brook. From almost the beginning, it was steep climbing. It was a strenuous hike until we reached the floor of a ravine, near a small pocket pond. From there began the more difficult scramble over and around rocks and large boulders, up the south slope of the Cross Range at 3.8 miles, to a trail junction between North and South Brother. Taking the left trail to North Brother was a steep, difficult climb.

We were in the clouds, the rocks were slippery, and the trail was a stream of water from heavy rain the previous night. I felt like a monkey, using my hands to cling to branches and pull myself up, and I used every limb to go over the rocks and roots between the trees.

Madelyn Given at the top of North Brother mountain in Maine: 4,143 feet!

Madelyn Given at the top of North Brother mountain in Maine: 4,143 feet!
(click on the photo to enlarge it)

The last few tenths of a mile had exposed rocks, it was very windy, and we were totally in the clouds with no visibility. But I was happy to reach the sign: 4,143’!

I knew what I faced when I turned around and slowly headed down the trail. I put my trekking poles aside the pack and instead grabbed branches and rocks to work my way down the roughest parts. It was 4:10 pm when we reached Slide Dam Picnic area, the base of the trail.

I had originally planned to do South Brother (which is 3,942’) on the same day, but the conditions made for slower hiking, and it was necessary to get down before dark on that one, so I decided not to tackle it. Other mountains still await me for another day.

Sometimes there is a quest for the unknown, with challenges unforeseen. It was only quite recently that I decided to finish the last 4,000 Footer in Maine. It had never been a goal, as I just enjoyed hiking different mountains when I had time. Then someone asked me if I had hiked the 4,000 Footers of Maine. I checked the AMC list for New England with 65 peaks (plus 4 or 5 more not on their list but over 4,000’). I noticed I had already climbed ¾ of them, and with only a couple left to go, I made it happen.

Now I will decide what’s next. It is a great experience to hike in such a beautiful environment as Maine. It is nature at its best, and I am grateful to be able to enjoy this special place.

(posted August 30, 2016)

The joy of birds is delightful. Madelyn Given isn't afraid to get close to them!

The Joy of Birds

Birds have a way of attracting one’s attention in our daily lives, whether we’re inside the home or outside running, hiking, or kayaking. I’ve learned a lot from birds—more from them than they from me! Their survival skills are amazing. They stay attuned to their surroundings. They are good at what they do, they persevere, work from dawn to dusk seven days a week, and never complain. Instead, they go about life happily chirping tunes to support each other and warn of danger.

Birds are curious, trusting and appreciative. We gained the trust of a pair of phoebes after they built a nest over the entrance door of our porch. This was not an ideal nesting place for them or for us. The constant banging of the door as people went in or out was annoying to them, and we were less than thrilled about the messiness to avoid with our feet.  We left the nest until after the babies flew out of the nest. Then we built a tiny triangle shelf high in a corner of the porch.

Soon after, the same pair of phoebes greeted us and built another nest, but this time they used our shelf. They repair the nest each spring and sometimes this nest has several hatchings of babies in one year. They greet us and chirp a greeting from the nest as we go in or out.

Hummingbirds are trustful, curious little helicopters who swirl in one place, watching what we are doing, before tiring and going on about their feeding. They know our voices and act differently toward visitors in our home. Baltimore orioles can spot a newly-placed orange the first day in spring when it is hung on a tree. They hoped we would remember that they were coming back.

Water fowl are interesting to observe and get to know. Wild ducks and Canadian geese return to the same nesting site each spring. They have good memories and remember that a seed or two may be under the bird feeders. Creatures of habit, they like to walk the same paths again and again.

Crows are intelligent birds, whether people like them or not for their clever ways. They have a guard on duty while several others are eating. They stay in a small group to support and protect each other.

While hiking, I enjoy birds. Listening and identifying birds keeps the mind occupied when putting in a long hike. Spotting birds in surprising places is something to remember.

My most unusual bird-sighting was in Russia, when I saw an eagle sitting on top of Mt Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. It was over 18,000’ in thin air in a complete white out. The clouds opened for a few seconds and there sat the eagle, only a couple of feet from me, eating a rabbit. It did not fly and was not at all interested or afraid of the four humans, two Iranians, my Russian guide, and me. The storm showed no signs of stopping, so we stayed only a few minutes before leaving behind the eagle at that unusually high elevation.

One sunny afternoon on the Appalachian Trail, I was greeted by two Canadian jays. They flew from one rock to another, waiting for me to feed them. I stopped, put down my pack, found a trail bar, and broke off little pieces—and lo and behold, they ate from my hand.

Birds are nature’s wonder and without them the world would not be as pleasant and full of joy.

(posted July 26, 2016)

What an adventure to hike with Jamling Norgay! Photo by Madelyn Given.

Campfire Stories, Part 3

On trips with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and family, our campfires were for fun. At the end of a day in pleasant weather, we would gather dry sticks to add to dry wood we usually brought from home. Everyone was cheerful as we waited for the fire to die down to red-hot coals, and then we would toast marshmallows and make s’mores. We still do enjoy these great campfires with family and friends.

But I remember on Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and later in the Himalayas on Mt. Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, our only campfires were for our cooks to make our meals and to boil and purify water for our tea, which we poured from a big tea kettle into our water bottles each day. Our porters and sherpas would then sit by the small fire to keep warm. I would take my water bottle and put it in my sleeping bag to keep my feet warm at night. By morning, the water would be cold even inside my bag, but if it had been unprotected in my tent, it would have been frozen. Sometimes a small fire was built in the morning for hot milk or hot cereal, but usually only once a day. At 15,000 or 16,000 feet, we were above the tree line and could not collect wood, so bundles of wood had to be carried up with us. As we went higher, we had no campfires at all and only used small mountaineering stoves.

One day on Kilimanjaro, we climbed from dawn until it was time for a break for lunch. We had been climbing in clouds all the way and we were wet. We stopped at a cave and went inside to sit down and dry out for a few minutes. The porters started a fire. It was dreadful! It only took a few minutes to drive everyone outside to sit on a rock. My eyes were stinging, and everyone was crying, choking, and coughing from the smoke. You couldn’t see a thing, but we felt our way to the opening. To make matters worse, one of our porters had twisted his ankle and it was badly swollen. They discussed who would carry him down and who would stay, and all would now carry extra in their already heavy loads.

Using only our campfire, our amazing cook managed to make a birthday cake for Jamling Norgay! Photo by Madelyn Given.

Using only our campfire, our amazing cook made a birthday cake for Jamling Norgay!

Each night on Kanchenjunga, our cook made a hearty meal of soap, a main dish of meat, vegetables, and rice, and hot tea. We sat and ate our meal and then listened to Jamling Norgay tell amazing stories of his expedition on Everest and mountaineering and rescuing people in thin air. His father, Tanzing Norgay, was the first to summit Everest with Sir Edmund Hilary. He led the Swiss team first, then two years later the German team, and then two years later the British team, and finally conquered the tallest mountain in the world. One night our cook made a birthday cake to celebrated Jamling’s birthday. Imagine: high in the Himalayas, on the most primitive campfire with no camp oven, our cook made a birthday cake!

[posted July 12, 2016]