Here's my dad, and his two boys (my brother David and I) at the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine in 2001. That's the cold, isolated, Northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, which begins not too far from our home on the shadier top of Springer Mountain, Georgia. At 5267 feet above sea level, the summit is lower than most of the 6000 foot ridges surrounding our valley and holler here in North Carolina. We can see the second-highest point West of the Mississipi, Clingman's Dome, a 6,600 peak, from a three-minute walk above the house. But Katahdin's high latitude places its upper reaches way above the timber line. It feels like Colorado up there on the scree-littered plateau. Despite plenty of oxygen, the wind-swept, wide summit with its knife-edged ridge and steep, white-blaze-on-rock approach evokes a "Rocky Mountain High" even though it's "Down East," in Maine.
Dad completed the Appalachian Trail that day, after two decades of hiking it, section-by-section. It was a huge personal achievement, and a special moment for all of us. The previous summer, instead of summiting with him then as planned, we had almost lost Dad when a previously undiagnosed condition resulted in immediate open heart surgery. Enough to send waves of shock and emotion through a family under more ordinary circumstances, it had been even more of a surprise, not least of all to him, given his lifelong, competitive, and almost pathological passion for daily, intense exercise. "I run," he'd simply say when asked about his health. Despite years of road and then track racing (bicycle) and other outdoor activity, I've now long known things about my own health that parallel my Dad's, stuff I've had to address since I want a long life of climbing my own Katahdins, with grown boys at my side to celebrate.
Here, the boys visit a newly-roofed cabin with Dad and Mom, last fall (2010).