Fallen hiker Gregory Larson remembered

“When I die I want to be up on a mountain,” Greg Larson

 

Gregory Larson

Gregory Larson

By Allen Crabtree

Guest Writer

Instead of my usual column about hiking a mountain for this long-running “Freedom of the Hills” series in the Bridgton News, I wanted to give a short tribute to our fellow hiker and friend, Greg Larson.

Greg died while hiking with the Denmark Mountain Hikers high on the slopes of Mount Jefferson last Friday, Aug. 29, 2014.

Mount Jefferson, at 5,710 feet, is the third highest peak in the northeast, and we were climbing the Caps Ridge Trail, a tough steep trail with large rock outcrops. Much of the trail is above timberline. In return for the scrambling required to climb this trail, the hiker is rewarded with a wide panorama of views that literally takes your breath away, stretching to the horizon.

When 13 Denmark Mountain Hikers tackled the Caps Ridge Trail that day, the weather was near perfect. Temperatures were mild for this late summer day; the skies were blue; and there was a gentle breeze. The trail was dry and even the toughest rocky outcrop scrambles were a breeze! Nowhere on the horizon were any hints of rain or thunderclouds. It truly was a wondrous gift to be hiking in the mountains on such a day.

Greg had been hiking with the Denmark Mountain Hikers since March 2014. I can’t remember now how he came to join us, but I understand it was after reading one of my hiking columns in the Bridgton News.

In any event, Greg soon became a “regular” and also one of our strongest hikers, joining us when his schedule allowed. When he couldn’t hike with the group, sometimes he would later tackle the peak he missed with another Denmark Mountain Hiker. Greg loved the mountains and had hiked many of the peaks in the Whites. He was a joy to hike with. He was always cheerful, with a positive word for everyone. If anyone needed a little assistance on the trail, Greg was always there to help.

Hiking together on the trail, or sitting around the campfire at an overnight camp, Greg would talk about his projects, his family and their history. He was very proud of his Norwegian heritage and devoted to his wife, Chris. I don’t remember him ever having a negative word to say about anyone, nor being rude or cross with anyone. He loved the mountains and I was always cheered when he let me know that he would be joining us on one of our hikes — he was a positive addition to our group of hikers.

One of Greg’s endearing quirks was his aversion to carpooling to the trailhead. Rather than meet with the gang of hikers gathering at the Denmark Church on a Friday morning to car pool, he preferred to drive to the trailhead early, by himself or sometimes picking up another one of our hikers on the way. This e-mail from Greg to me on one of our hikes was typical: “I like to get to the trailhead early and take my time getting ready. Especially for the big hikes. See you at the trailhead.” There, we would find him when we all arrived, usually leaning against the tailgate of his pickup, coffee cup in his hand. He liked to greet all the hikers arriving at the trailhead and wish them a successful hike.

On that fateful Friday, our group had all climbed above the second “cap” on the Cap Ridge Trail and was on the open talus slope nearing the trail junction just below the summit of Mount Jefferson (a 5,712-foot mountain). Once we reached the trail junction, we’d only have 0.4 miles to go to our target, and we could see the summit from where we were. Off to our right were Mount Adams and Mount Washington, and below us we could see the tiny buildings of the Mount Washington Cog Railroad Marshfield Station. On the right shoulder of Mount Washington, we could see the Lakes of the Clouds AMC Hut and all the southern Presidential peaks. From time to time, we could hear the train whistle as one of the cog rail engines climbed to the Mount Washington summit. The horizon of peaks and mountain ranges stretched out as far as the eye could see.  The weather in the White Mountains is rarely so fine, and one of our crew commented that the day was one in a million, a true blessing to be here with God’s creation spread out around us like a gift for everyone to enjoy

As our first hikers reached the trail junction, Greg was close behind when he collapsed. We were at his side immediately, assessed his condition, and began CPR within minutes. We continued CPR for 2½ hours, hoping against hope that he would recover consciousness and respond. Most of the Denmark Mountain Hikers have taken Wilderness First Aid through SOLO in Conway, N.H. and knew what to do — there was no panic and no hesitation. I was so proud of the group and how everyone pitched in to help Greg. We were in constant contact with the Mount Washington Valley Search and Rescue and with the New Hampshire Fish and Game by cell phone while they arranged for teams of rescuers to climb down to us from the summit of Mount Washington and also climb up to us on the Caps Ridge Trail with a stretcher. A rescue helicopter was dispatched, but could only circle us, unable to find a level spot to land, and then left. When the National Guard helicopter with a hoist and basket was able to reach us, we had stopped CPR and given up any hope of reviving Greg. John Patrick led us in a prayer over Greg and we climbed back down the mountain with heavy hearts over the loss of a good hiking friend.

Greg’s passing has left a huge hole in all of our hearts, and it is going to be difficult to fill. I know I will continue to look for him waiting to greet us, coffee cup in his hand, at each trailhead. I will miss his jokes and conversation. We have lost a good friend.

Greg Larson was 63. His full obituary appears in this week’s edition.

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