May 5, 2013

How to Write About a Mountain Top Experience




Including Schoodic Mountain, Laurel Mountain,

and Stone Mountain

I recently spent a week researching mountaineering and writing about a mountain summit experience.

Not that I plan on becoming a mountaineer. However, a Madame Rosalie de Leval, a character in my novel, climbed Schoodic Mountain in Hancock County, Maine, as a means to view the expanse of land—200,000 acres—she had a tentative contract to purchase from top land speculators in 1791.

The writing will be a chapter in my novel-in-progress, and I wanted to use it at a book reading in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

The ocean at Wallis Sands Beach, Rye, N. H.

The ocean at Wallis Sands Beach, Rye, N. H.

I’ve always been an ocean person who never gave a thought to mountains. Since my husband’s retirement I’ve driven over and through the mountains of the Laurel and Chestnut ridges in  the northern Appalachian mountain chain in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  I even live in a foothill of Laurel Mountain (on the Laurel Ridge). Yet I never considered climbing Laurel Mountain, although Monte did one year with a peace group.

The Laurel Ridge from Kentuck Knob, PA

The Laurel Ridge from Kentuck Knob, PA

We drive through the mountains in New Hampshire, and have driven up Mt. Washington and Cadillac mountains, and by the accident of making a wrong I arrived at the ski slopes at Killington Mountain in Vermont. Our family lived five minutes away from Stone Mountain outside Atlanta, a gigantic rock outcropping that was identified as a mountain. Even having all these experiences I never had an attraction for mountains, and  I never considered becoming a mountaineer.


I finally climbed a mountain—Schoodic Mountain. I did it to replicate the experience of Madame, a shared experience I hoped would help me write about her experience. She climbed Schoodic  in October 1791 to view the land promised to her by land speculators Gen. Henry Knox and William Duer—that is, if she liked it.

Monte and I—with our niece Erin, her husband and their two young children—climbed Schoodic on October 17, 2006, almost to the day 215 years after Madame did so.

Aerial view of Schoodic Mountain

Aerial view of Schoodic Mountain

Climbing a mountain and writing about the climb are two different things. I needed to read about the mountain top experiences of seasoned mountaineers to gain a sense of how they felt upon seeing some fantastic views from atop a mountain. The first thing I learned in my study was some new words, among them cairn, erratic, and drumlin.

  • Cairn: a man-made pile (or stack) of stones. It comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn (plural càirn). Cairns are found all over the world in uplands, on moorland, on mountaintops, near waterways, on sea cliffs, and also in barren desert and tundra areas. They vary in size from small stone markers to entire artificial hills, and in complexity from loose, conical rock piles to delicately balanced sculptures and elaborate feats of megalithic engineering. Cairns may be painted or otherwise decorated, e.g. for increased visibility or for religious reasons.*
  • Erratics: A glacial erratic is a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests. “Erratics” take their name from the Latin word errare, and are carried by glacial ice, often over distances of hundreds of kilometres. Erratics can range in size from pebbles to large boulder…**
  • Drumlin: …from the Irish word droimnín (“little ridge”), first recorded in 1833, is an elongated hill in the shape of an inverted spoon or half-buried egg formed by glacial ice acting on underlying unconsolidated till or ground moraine…They are formed a short distance within the receding glacier ice and record the final direction of ice movement. ***

All this learning was fine, but what I wanted to read was mountaineer descriptions of the views they saw from the top of the mountains they climbed.


My major mountaineer lesson was that climbers don’t ascend mountains to experience the view. The mountaineer’s prime reason for climbing mountains is to succeed in an ascent, to make it to the top.

Virtually all the references I found described the climb in detail but only stated how glorious the view at the top was. The view seems to be a byproduct of the climb —of a secondary, lesser, importance. Some climbers described the descent.

I couldn’t locate any writings on mountaineers thoughts, feelings, or perceptions about being on top of the mountain, or  the view from the mountain top.

Eventually I came across two sites listing mountain climber’s quotes, which was quite helpful.

Cover photo for Echoes of Earth by Sue Baugh

Cover photo for Echoes of Earth by Sue Baugh

At the same time I attended a Ligonier Valley Writers group meeting featuring Sue Baugh, author of Echoes of Earth. Sue and a partner journeyed to some of the most remote regions of the world and discovered the beauty of ancient rock formations that hold the secrets of our origins

She said one of the things she wanted her book to do was to show the shift a person goes through when approaching nature while living in the hustle and bustle of the current world.

She suggested that In nature, when you are attracted to a tree, stone etc it is not a one way attraction. The tree, stone, etc. is recognizing you, is saying come over here, I have some knowledge for  you. If you know how to listen…

This was the essence I wanted to have Madame, an astute business person, receive. I wanted to demonstrate a back and forth shift from the business person to the spiritual experience, an experience new to her.

This I wasn’t getting from the mountain top reports of climbers.  link to a paraglider off the Schoodic Mountain summit

It took me a week to complete the first draft of this chapter, using Sue Baugh’s concepts, the mountaineer’s quotes, Madame’s journal and my own experience of climbing Schoodic Mountain.

After numerous rewritings I have the chapter prepared to present at a book-in-progress reading in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

It’s time to leave this chapter to perfect another scene in another chapter that I can use at my book-in-progress reading.





My Tinge of Irish Heritage: The Googins Family

Quotes About Climbing

Sites with mountain climbing quotes:

100 Hiking Mountain Climbing Quotes



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