Photo Credit: Ken Jordan

Trip Report: Winter Ascent of Katahdin in 1960

Summit 1960 © Gilbert Merrill

[April 16, 2012]

It had all the components of great drama. The trip was in serious jeopardy by the time we reached Bangor – from serious engine trouble in our car to heavy snowfall. We abandoned the car to continue by train. To get passage on the freight train to Millinocket was something of miracle. The stay of a few hours in the now-razed Great Northern Hotel cannot be replicated today obviously. The deep snow forced the turn-back near Avalanche Field of Elmer Woodworth's snow-machine; we shared the extra burden of parceling out the provisions, and I helped in breaking trail to Roaring Brook. 

All of this left me (and others) extremely exhausted. In taking the next day "in recovery" instead of advancing to Chimney Pond meant that I had little or no chance of summiting on the day following. But on that day, we did snowshoe to CP (over a nicely broken trail) and soon found ourselves following the "advanced climbers" up the Saddle. Clouds shrouded the higher elevations but then another miracle – they parted for a short time giving a magnificent view! So the laggards summited, too, and then came the descent. 

Tableland toward summit © Gilbert Merrill

Here a fellow climber almost met his end when, sitting down to don his crampons, he began slipping into the ice-glazed throat of the slide. Down he went to what might have been a fatal shredding among trees and rocks piercing the ice. But again luck was with him (and us!) and he crashed into snow mounded behind a boulder – "shaken, not stirred" as 007 might have said. After that, there remained only a reflective, easy descent past Basin Ponds to a final night and the long trek back to Togue Pond and the fork where cars were parked. I lagged behind a bit and was overtaken by Helon Taylor on a snow machine pulling a sled. He asked me to get into the sled for a ride to the gate. In a short while, he stopped the machine, dismounted, and invited me to take the helm as he climbed into the sled himself. What a trip we had! 

There is a lot of preserved documentation of this trip – thanks, in part, to Ed Werler, who keeps file folders of his trips, even to the original penciled meal plan in our case. I took photos of many of these papers in order to examine them further. As I think back on this adventure, being as I was a very young, introverted, under-achiever in high school, it was an extremely memorable experience. I suppose every experience, every book we read, every person we meet leaves us changed. For me this was a spiritual awakening perhaps and resulted in a greater self-confidence and ever more love for the beauty in all weathers of Baxter State Park! 

Recently, I made considerable effort to contact my companions. As far as I can tell, only Ranger Ed Werler and his friend and guide, Ken Wetmore, are still with us. Ken I reached by phone in Hawaii; Ed invited me to his home in Waldoboro and we had a great visit. Ed is 98, and though never far from a chair, lives alone in a beautiful home on the shore of a pond. I am so grateful that I made these connections and how I wish I had thought to relive this adventure – say ten years ago – when many of my companions could have participated in and shared the joy of reminiscing this great adventure. 

    - Chris Beeuwkes

Ed Werler & Chris Beeuwkes © Dorothy Beeuwkes