Powder River’s Appalachian Trail Journey from Georgia to Maine 2008

Theodore Roosevelt’s climb of Katahdin


I am reading “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris and I really enjoyed this following section. I will quote parts of it directly and other parts summarize, as there are is a lot of material. Most of this can be found on page 96.

TR started taking trips to Aroostook county in Maine in 1878 to stay with a backwoodsman named Bill Sewall in Island Falls. Sewall and Roosevelt were a perfect match, as both were very vigorous outdoorsmen and loved to quote epic poetry as they made shot their prey in the woods. In the midst of his courtship with Alice Lee and his junior year at Harvard, TR took his third trip to Island Falls in late summer of 1879. It describes Katahdin as being about 40 miles away through some of the most intractible forest in northern Maine whose “silhouette massively dominated the western windows of Sewall’s cabin.” It says he wanted to climb it since he first saw it.

They prepared for two days and loaded up a wagon, and set off “southwest into a dank, dripping wilderness.”

“If nothing else, the events of the next eight days made Cutler withdraw his old doubts about Theodore’s stamina. Although conditions were wet and slippery, the young man effortlessly toted a forty-five pound pack up the ever-steepening mountain. Losing a shoe in a stream, he padded on in moccasins, which protected his feet ‘about as effectually as kid gloves.’ Yet despite the pain of tramping over miles of rain-slicked stones, he triumphantly reached the top with Sewall and Dow. Cutler and Emlen remained far below, in a state of collapse. That night, as the rain beat their tents and bedding into a sodden mess, Theodore noted in his diary: “I can endure fatigue and hardship pretty nearly as well as these lumbermen.””

As soon as they got back, the New Yorkers TR had brought with him left for Boston, exhausted. TR next convinced Sewall to underatake an expedition to the Munsungen Lakes by heavy, wooden dug-out canoe up the Aroostook River, which they had to portage often and drag through rapids and hack through beaver dams. The trip took 6 days and 50 miles each way. TR noted that the Munsungen trip made their trip to Katahdin look like “an absolute luxury.”

TR is one of my favorite presidents and I was thrilled to find this account. What a treat to know that Teddy Roosevelt, the most animated and vigorous man to ever live in the White House was drawn as a young man to the exact same place I am now drawn in the Maine wilderness. I will definitely remember this as I tote my 45 pound pack up that ever-steepening mountain!

And what a photograph! That’s Maine woodsmen Wilmot Dow, Bill Sewall and TR is on the right with the Burnside chops.



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