Deep in the Maine wilderness, Mount Katahdin stands as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Known as the most rugged mountain in the 2,175-mile chain, Katahdin is not for the inexperienced or unprepared.
In July of 1939, twelve-year-old Donn Fendler started up Katahdin's Hunt Trail with his father, brother, and a few friends. Being neither experienced nor prepared, the group made their way up the mountain with little idea of what lay ahead. Before long, Donn and a friend ran ahead of the group and what began as a sunny day quickly turned dark. Thick black clouds engulfed the mountain as rain and hail began to pound the cliff side. Becoming scared, Donn tried foolishly to run back down the mountain to the safety of his father. Within minutes Donn had lost the trail and quickly found himself climbing over large boulders and through crevasses he did not remember from the climb up. Never-the-less Donn continued onward, convinced that at any moment he would come upon his father and be safe once again.
What took place next is one of the most courageous stories of survival, hope, and the will to live. Lost and alone, Donn made his way down the mountain and through over 80 miles of thick Maine forest. Over the course of nine days, Donn lost nearly twenty pounds, most of his clothing, and was eaten alive by seemingly every insect known to man. Through hallucinations, black bears and abandoned cabins, Donn never gave up hope as he continued to push onward.
Despite the efforts of hundreds of searchers, it wasn't until the ninth day that Donn dragged himself to the edge of the East Branch of the Penobscot River. In the distance, across the water, was the only occupied cabin within twenty miles. After nine days of ruthless conditions, Donn had finally found his way out.