Hiking North Brother

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(Host) After several years, commentator Tom Slayton has completed a self-assigned hiking project. Here’s his report on his most recent climb in the Mountains of Maine.

(Slayton) The summit of North Brother, a mountain 4,100 feet high, just west of Katahdin in far northern Maine, is knobby and bare, a huge pile of stony rubble. And it’s a workout to get to – a round trip hike of more than nine steep, rocky miles.

But what I see from North Brother compensates me for the work of climbing it – an immense array of lakes and mountains that rolls off in all directions. Looming above us to the east is Katahdin, about 1,000 feet higher, the highest point in Maine. Katahdin is known as a single lonely peak, but from this side view it looks more like a long, gray-green sprawling dragon. It’s an immense mountain massif several miles long, with a rocky crest and a black, jagged ridgetop backbone: the famed knife’s edge, probably the most spectacular hiking trail in the east.

There is no other place like this. Several friends and I are spending the week here, surrounded by wilderness, camping and climbing, hoping to finish the New England 4,000-footers.

It’s taken me about seven, maybe eight years of fairly constant summer climbing to bag the 67 peaks in New England that are higher than 4,000 feet in elevation. Last year I got to the top of my 65th peak. And just a day ago, my climbing companions and I completed a hike up my 66th mountain that turned out to be one of the toughest – Hamlin Peak. We clambered up and over a rugged, stony, 10-mile loop on the west flank of Katahdin that brought some of our party back to camp well after dark.

It probably shouldn’t surprise me that today I’m quite tired. But North Brother is on our list and we’re here to climb it: Baggers can’t be choosers! I haul myself up the last few blocks of granite to the mountain’s summit. This is it, my 67th and last peak.

I have completed the 4,000-footers of New England, and I have the world of the mountainous north sprawled at my feet. I should be excited, joyous. Alas, I feel nothing – nothing, except fatigue.

Maybe it’s because it’s the end of the cycle that I’m so un-elated. Maybe I’m just tired. I look around at the places I’ve backpacked and camped here over the last 30 years: Baxter Peak and Hamlin and the Knife’s Edge and Davis Pond. Well they were fun.

But there’s something else. There – straight ahead, about a mile off, yet tantalizingly close, is Mount Fort, a high ridge with a little rocky turret on its west end and no blazed path to get there.

Did I forget to mention it? That Mount Fort, though well under 4,000 feet in elevation, is part of the next objective? That would be 100 Highest Mountains in New England. There are more than 25 of those I’ve yet to climb, irrational as it all may seem, and Mount Fort is one of them.

It’s a bushwhack, and it’s too late in the day to attempt it. But it beckons. Tomorrow we’ve got two more nearby peaks to climb, both in the hundred highest.

We’re not finished, not yet. Dusk is approaching and we’re climbing down from North Brother now. But we’ll be back.

Tom Slayton is editor of Vermont Life magazine.

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