Frank Carlson, A New England Hiker Who Kept Climbing

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Frank Carlson was a cautious man and a Yankee pragmatist, detail-oriented as a CPA needs to be. He was also a quiet person — though not always.

“He would, y'know, make comments about things,” said Frank's daughter, Julia Carlson. “One of them was: 'Outhouses — too far away in the winter, too close in the summer!' Y’know he would come up with stuff like that, kind of out of the blue.”

Frank Carlson, in his saddle shoes (Courtesy Julia Carlson)
Frank Carlson, in his saddle shoes (Courtesy Julia Carlson)

Frank’s lifetime membership in the Appalachian Mountain Club began early, when his mother introduced him to the world of hiking, which of course included the world of outhouses. In 1937, a 17-year-old Frank hiked 15 miles along a high White Mountain ridge, across several summits, in saddle shoes. Those were the days when young men pounded hobnails into their heels for traction.

“Well yeah, they didn’t have hiking boots back then,” Julia laughed. “But he always liked outdoors."

Frank Carlson atop Mount Clay in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. (Courtesy Julia Carlson)
Frank Carlson atop Mount Clay in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. (Courtesy Julia Carlson)

For a few years, Frank worked as a crewsman in the AMC high huts, toting along the trails up to 80 pounds of canned food and supplies in a packboard strapped to his back.

“I remember him telling my granddaughter this story about how they were resting with these big packs, and this bear came along. She was like oh; she was like four when he was telling her this story. She said, ‘what did you do?' He goes, ‘we ran!’ "

Eventually, he left for Harvard, and a tour in Patton’s Army. He became an audit manager for the National Science Foundation, married twice, had four children. He painted, boated, hunted. But into his long late years, when most become earthbound, he was still climbing.

“So one day,” Julia remembered, “I call him up on the phone, I said, ‘what you been up to?’ He says ‘oh, I walked up to the top of the Blue Hills today.’ I said, 'oh my god,' 'cause part of me thought he’s just gonna keel over and die.”

Frank made it to the summit on his canes.

“And when he got up there he said, ‘well, there were these two guys that were kinda following me up.’ He goes, ‘yeah, they said I was the oldest person that was ever up there, and I told them I was up there before the war. And they kinda looked at me. And I said, World War II.' ”

He hiked into his 90s. That was nothing, though. He did his own taxes until he was 96.

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This segment aired on March 21, 2018.

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Elissa Ely Creator of WBUR's The Remembrance Project
Elissa Ely is a community psychiatrist in Massachusetts and the creator of WBUR's The Remembrance Project.



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