Ellie Kendall and Author on the slopes at Lenzerheide, Switzerland, 1985.
Mountain Climbing (Limited)
My brother Peter was an avid mountain-climber. I recently published a book of his writings including his “Windmills By the Pick Motel”—his story of hiking 335 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, notwithstanding having Parkinson’s disease.
I have skied in many places with Ellie and Cal Kendall The above photo shows the author (me) with Ellie in Lenzerheide, Switzerland in 1985. Dr. Cal Kendall, my editor, is also an avid climber. Cal has climbed most of his life, following in his grandfather Russ Carson’s, footsteps. His grandfather published a book in 1928 called “Peaks and People of the Adirondacks” (still available on Amazon)) which described the 46 mountains over 4000’ in the Adirondacks, who climbed each, and how they got named. Cal said, “Russ loved hiking, but I doubt he himself made it to all 46 summits (though I’m not sure).
Cal “There are 111 peaks over 4000’ in the Northeast (46 in NY, 5 in Vermont, 48 in New Hampshire, and 14 in Maine. I’ve climbed about half of them, including all 5 in Vermont.”
As a teenager, myself in Moosup, Connecticut, a doctor named Jack Woodworth was a good family friend—and mountain climber. Jack climbed mountains all over the world, including Peru and Everest. When he was just starting his climbing days he asked me to climb a rock-foundation near Moosup called “Snake Meadow rocks.” Never having done this, I decided to try it out. Although it really wasn’t much of a total climb there were some very steep and challenging cliffs to climb. I learned how to use ‘pitons’ and watched Dr. Jack climb those Moosup rock with ease. I decided I wouldn’t accompany him to Peru and I really didn’t think I was in to mountain climbing.
At Cardigan Mountain School in New Hampshire, we hiked a number of mountains, including hiking Mount Cardigan many times.
Later, two friends of mine at Bowdoin College, Harry Carpenter and Charlie Christie asked me if I’d be interested in joining them to climb up into Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mount Washington in New Hampshire and ski there for a couple of days. It sounded interesting as it involved skiing, not climbing, I thought.
Despite the three-mile hike required to reach the major ski runs of Tuckerman Ravine, skiers in the hundreds and thousands converge each spring on the area, drawn by the long-lasting snowpack, steep slopes, hint of peril, and unlikely carnival atmosphere. Skiers in other parts of the country, if they know nothing else about New Hampshire, are apt to be aware of Tuckerman Ravine, the state’s island of alpine terrain, and of the legend of Toni Matt and his dazzling 1939 Inferno schuss.
I had skied with Toni Matt while on the Bowdoin Ski team. I visited a fellow ski-team member, Roly O’Neal, from North Conway, NH. Roly's 12 year old brother, Damon, had learned to ski with Toni Matt and arranged a day of skiing for me together with the 2 O’Neal’s and Toni—who still has the world’s record for shushing the headwall at Tuckerman’s Ravine. Damon O’Neal was later killed in an accident at Sugarloaf, Maine—a training race for the US Olympic team.
Charlie Christie was also on the Bowdoin Ski Team in 1955 and Harry Carpenter was a star Bowdoin athlete, particularly in basketball, and had natural athletic abilities. Harry asked me to teach him the fundamentals of skiing and by his third lesson; he’d already become a super skier. I never saw anyone pick this sport up so fast.
Charlie, Harry and I headed to Mount Washington. We arrived at the base camp parking lot, loaded our sleeping bags and backpacks and with our skis and poles on our shoulders, headed up the path towards the area called ‘Howard Johnsons, nicknamed Ho Jos.’The Ho Jos’ chain of medium priced restaurants and motels were all over the U.S. in the 1950s and we figured a camping area with that name should be pretty comfortable. This trail and campsite was established in 1879 by a group of Boston skiers and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). The AMC web site says:
For many skiers and snowboarders in the Northeast, the advent of spring means a trip to Tuckerman Ravine in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Sporting some of the steepest backcountry terrain in the country, "Tuck's" is the East Coast's answer to extreme skiing.
Usually beginning in late March and often lasting well into June, throngs of ambitious skiers flock to its base for a taste of skiing in its most pure form: The area is undeveloped with no ski lift, for example, so getting to the top requires the same amount of strategy and effort as getting down. It also means being in good physical condition to meet the challenge of the three-mile hike to the top.
About ten o’clock we arrived in an area with nothing but lean-tos—and the area was full. We found out Sports Illustrated had invited the Dartmouth Ski Team to practice for the 1956 US and Japanese Olympic Teams that weekend. SI would do a feature story about it later, which I read. Skiers and reporters were toasting marshmallows around a campfire when we arrived. They agreed to rearrange their sleeping set-up so we could squeeze in the lean-to known as “Ho Jos.”
Everyone was up early on Sat. morning with a beautiful sunshine day. We cooked breakfast together and introduced ourselves. I followed skiing hero’s back then and knew about most of the Dartmouth skiers. Names such as the Japanese slalom skier, Chip Igaya, who went on to win a silver medal in the slalom event at the Olympics in Cortina, Italy the next year, had camped out with us and we ate breakfast together.
We hiked up into the ravine area—the steepest ski slope I’d ever seen; and with no ski lifts. We watched those Dartmouth guys hike herringbone-style up the steep ravine and ski back down. They set up a slalom course for themselves. Charlie, Harry and I considered ourselves fair skiers but we’d found a mighty challenge making a half-dozen runs on that beautiful Saturday in Tuckerman’s Ravine and forget skiing that Dartmouth slalom course. I’ll never forget Chip Igaya scooting down that slalom course at Tuckerman’s.
We spent Sat. night at HoJos and got to know the Dartmouth skiers and Sports Illustrated reporters. The next year I saw the SI article about that memorable weekend. That was the end of my mountain climbing; unless it involved skiing. I did plenty of that.
Harry Carpenter would later be stationed as a Medical Services officer in Verdun, France near where I was. Pat used to feed Harry in our French apartment and one time Harry and a friend asked Pat and me to play bridge in French with them. They had entered a French Bridge Tournament in Verdun, and needed some practice. These experts promptly beat Pat and me—in both French and Bridge. Harry became interested in going to medical school there and eventually became a pediatrician in the Boston area. I skied with Harry and some of his medical school (Tufts) classmates later at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine. He was an expert by then and we talked about our Tuckerman Ravine weekend.