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Capturing The Mountain Voices of the North Country

For almost two decades two North Country authors have been capturing the stories of some of the most remarkable people in The White Mountains.

Now, those stories have been compiled in a new book, Mountain Voices, published by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

Nearly 20 years ago, Rebecca Oreskes, of Milan and Doug Mayer, of Randolph, were out cross-country skiing in the White Mountains.

Gliding through the woods they love, they started talking about people who had spent their lives doing unusual and interesting things in the White Mountains.

Mayer: “We both spent time working in The White Mountains and thought that there is this group of people, someone really needs to talk to them, and record their stories before they are gone.”

They included Brad and Barbara Washburn who photographed the Presidentials back in the 1930’s and mapped Mount Washington in the 80’s when such work was mostly done by foot – not with a GPS.

There was Forest Service snow Ranger Brad Ray whose love and specialty – for more than four decades – has been Tuckerman Ravine. He’s participated in about 800 rescues.

And there was Paul Doherty who became a game warden after World War II and worked the North Country for four decades.

Nobody was capturing those stories so they decided to give it a try.

They began doing interviews, typically three hours long, usually with a follow-up and fact checking.

They began recording interviews, typically three hours long, usually with a follow-up and fact checking.

Mayer: “The back and forth took a lot of time because often times they were thinking about or talking about experiences that were fifty or sixty years ago.”

The transcripts sometimes ran to 100 pages.

Oreskes and Mayer say the stories were so compelling that they decided to leave them in the first person.

Oreskes: “That way the interviewer is not in the way of getting to know them or hearing their story.”

The idea is that it would be their voices, mountain voices.

Then, one-by-one, the stories were published in the journal Appalachia.

There’s Harry McDade, a doctor in Littleton who was recognized as a national expert in frostbite and hypothermia.

Oreskes: “But he also did this amazing work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banding birds. He was also a climber and explorer in his own right.”

There's Laura and Guy Waterman, pioneers in wilderness ethics and the idea of low-impact backpacking.

Oreskes: “The two of them have had an enormous impact on an entire generation of people working in The White Mountains and not just The White Mountains but mountains across the country.”

There’s Ellen Teague. Starting in the early 60’s she was the first woman to own the Cog railway, a major tourist attraction.

Mayer: “That was not expected of women and it was absolutely groundbreaking.”

There’s Rick Wilcox who made his home in the White Mountains where he helped found a rescue service but is a world-class climber whose summits include Everest.

All these people had different roles in The White Mountains, but Oreskes says there was at least one thing they shared:

Oreskes: “I think almost everybody talked about something bigger than themselves and giving back to other people and sharing the mountains.”

Now those stories and several  others are compiled in the book Mountain Voices.

And it is likely that Mayer and Oreskes' book – and the stories they saved – will add them to the list of people who loved the White Mountains and wanted – somehow - to share them.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen

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