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Oldest hiker completes Red Line feat

July 27, 2011
SHELBURNE — Jane Gibbons of Sweden, Me., has become the seventh hiker to finish "red-lining" all 1,420 miles of trails in the Appalachian Mountain Club's "White Mountain Guide." She includes hikes that span the 62-year period from 1949 to 2011.

So far, Gibbons, who was born in Massachusetts on Nov. 13, 1936, is the oldest to finish the challenging feat and also the first from Maine.

She completed her final section on the Black Angel Trail on Wednesday, July 6, walking from its junction with the Highwater Trail to its junction with the Carter-Moriah Trail.

When Gibbons first heard about "red-lining" she was literally drawing a red line on an old Delorme Map, she explained in an e-mail exchange. "I think I heard about it in about 2004 from Jadwiga Rosenthal, who became the fourth finisher on Oct. 6, 2009," she said. "Then, in Oct. 2008, when I was down to having only 22 hikes left to do, I got a list from Tony Federer, who had recently become the third finisher on July 19, 2008, and I found that I had about 40 more hikes to do."

Gibbons started buying more maps and updating a chart on her computer.

"It was satisfying to see the list go down," she recalled.

But in the fall of 2010 when Gibbons was only three hikes short of finishing, she suffered a meniscus tear that closed out hiking for months.

"I had an operation in October and waited until the trails dried out before completing the list," Gibbons explained.

The now-nearly-75-year-old Gibbons spent her growing-up years in Northampton, Mass., and White Plains, N.Y., but always went back to her family's summer place in Sweden, Me.

"When I retired in 2002 we came to live here year round," she said. "The house we live in was built about 1828. It has a view of the White Mountains, including Mt. Washington, and lakeshore frontage on Keyes Pond.

"My parents and brothers enjoyed hiking," Gibbons continued. "I climbed Mt. Sabattus and Pleasant Mountain in Maine, but records show that in 1949, when I was eight years old, the first mountain I climbed that is included in the current "White Mountain Guide" was Speckled (elev. 2,906 feet) in Evans Notch.

"I also climbed Mt. Washington (6,288 feet) that year — my first state high point. That summer, when we couldn't get gas rationing cards for extra trips to the mountains, my parents were mountain climbing counselors for Camp Tappawingo, a girls' camp in Sweden, Me. My brothers and I went along for the ride and hikes."

Gibbons does most of her hiking with others. "I don't consider myself strong enough to go it alone," she explained. "It was hard to find people willing to hike the remote red-line trails.

"I have hiked year around, having done the Four Thousand Footers in New Hampshire and Vermont in winter," Gibbons said. Hiking is intriguing, Gibbons said, because of the variety and the sense of accomplishment. "I was not an athlete as a young person and not all that well coordinated," she said. "Hiking just takes persistence. If there is a view, that's icing on the cake.

"I am not interested in hiking the same trails all the time which is what the Grid folks do when they climb all 48 Four Thousand Footers in each of 12 months. I don't like bushwhacking which is what people do who climb the 3,000-Footers in New Hampshire. I don't like backpacking, so I won't do the AT (Appalachian Trail). But I do like doing trail work and have volunteered to do trail work with the Maine Chapter AMC, and I am an AMC leader for N.H. and Me.," she said.

Gibbons worked as a Christian educator, minister, elementary school teacher (including in Hong Kong), and ended her professional career as a Hospice Chaplain in California.

"Then I served for almost five years as Town Clerk here in Sweden, Me.," Gibbons explained, adding that she now lives where she has always wanted to be. "I had to work in California to earn enough money to retire in Maine!" she said.

In addition to being a red-line finisher, Gibbons has climbed to the high point of the lower 48 states and believes she is not only the oldest woman to complete the list but also took the longest time to finish.

"I hired guides and had to learn glacial travel to do five of these high points: Mts. Hood in Oregon; Rainier in Washington; Borah in Idaho; Granite in Montana; and Gannett in Wyoming," she said.

Gibbons also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's high point. "I hiked extensively in the Southwest, doing Sierra Club lists numbering about 400 summits. I had to learn rope work to climb some desert peaks."

Gibbons concluded the online interview: "It just goes to show that even if you are not an athlete, you can accomplish great feats if you are persistent."

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