Lost on a Mountain in Maine
Revisiting the scene of a classic children’s book
An excerpt from North to Katahdin, by Eric Pinder
A week of wilderness and solitude proved more than enough for a boy named Donn Fendler in 1939. He arrived at the foot of Mount Katahdin as a typical tourist, a “slight, highly nervous, city-bred child,” accompanied by his father, two brothers, and friends. They came to the woods with expectations of scenery and seclusion—the usual reasons. Within hours, the one thing Donn Fendler would be seeking was another living soul.
It was July, but fog veiled the peak, and Donn described the air as “cold and shivery.” He and a friend, Henry, quickened their pace, eager to reach the summit, leaving Donn’s father far down the trail. Thick clouds closed in around them. Henry wanted to wait for an adult to guide them. Donn, teeth chattering, was in a hurry to descend.
The new children’s book Cat in the Clouds explores another perilous New England peak, Mount Washington. Image © T.B.R. Walsh.
His first mistake was to give his sweatshirt to Henry, leaving himself with only a thin fleece-lined windbreaker; he wanted Henry to keep warm while waiting. His second mistake was not to listen to Henry, who told him he was being rash. The third mistake, understandable in the swirling mist, was to go the wrong way.
The trail vanished. Donn Fendler was not seen again for nine days...
Donn’s misadventures, right up to the moment he stumbled barefoot out of the wilderness and was treated by Dr. Young, are described in his book Lost on a Mountain in Maine.
A relative of mine plays a small part in the story at this point. In 1939 my grandmother was a young nurse at the hospital in Millinocket. She packed Dr. Young’s medical bag, just before he hurried off to treat Donn. “I would have been there if there’d been room in the canoe,” she once told me. The only reason she didn’t go was because the doctor was the size of a small elephant...
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