On the rocky, snow-encrusted summit of Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain, two men wrestled into dress shirts, suit jackets and ties on Feb. 7, their fingers growing numb from the cold. Once neatly dressed, they both struck a pose of mock seriousness for the camera, which they’d duct-taped to a trekking pole a few feet away.
Both experienced mountaineers, Steve Vose, 49, of Augusta, and Scott Fisher, 54, of Ellsworth, were recreating a photo that they’d taken atop the mountain together 15 years prior. The business suits were meant to jokingly relay the message: It’s just another day at the office — for an avid hiker.
“What brought it on 15 years ago, I’m not sure,” Fisher said of the suit-and-tie idea. “Our young minds were thinking of something fun and challenging and we decided to try that. When Steve reached out to me about this trip, he said, ‘Don’t forget your suit and tie. We’ll do it again for old time’s sake.’”
Longtime friends, Vose and Fisher began climbing mountains together when they met through the Maine Bound Adventure Center at the University of Maine. They attended multiple outdoor skills courses together, including a course on wilderness first aid and a course on avalanche assessment, to increase their safety as their expeditions became more and more ambitious.
In addition to hiking Katahdin many times in all seasons, the two have hiked Mount Washington several times, and they’ve bagged other impressive peaks such as Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams in Washington State, and Mount Hood in Oregon. They also climbed Mount Aconcagua, which at 22,841 feet above sea level is the highest peak in South America.
But that was years ago.
“We were inseparable for decades, climbing and hiking. Every weekend we were off someplace new,” said Vose. “Then I got married, he got married, and I had kids. We occasionally chatted, but life gets complicated.”
Last winter — after almost a decade of not hiking together — Vose phoned Fisher with the idea to return to Katahdin and recreate the old photo of them wearing suits on the summit. Fisher agreed.
To train for the arduous trek, Fisher hiked in Acadia National Park, which is close to his home. He also visited Baxter State Park to map out their route, since major trails — including Abol Trail up Katahdin — had been rerouted since the last time they hiked the mountain together.
Meanwhile, Vose tackled mountains in the Camden Hills, often accompanied by his two sons, Ethan, 14, and Aiden, 12.
“They started getting very interested when I was going [hiking]. It got to the point where I couldn’t leave the house without them going with me,” Vose said. “They’ve been my shadows the past two months of training … They’ve decided this is going to be their new thing, and they’re going to climb Everest. Oh my god, I’ve created monsters.”
The day before the big climb, Vose and Fisher drove to the winter parking lot for Baxter State Park off the Golden Road near Abol Bridge. There they then bundled up in their winter sleeping bags and slept in their trucks until 1 a.m., when they rose and spent about an hour packing for their trip.
Entering the park on its west side, they skied to Abol Pond on a hiking trail while hauling their gear in sleds behind them to minimize the strain on their backs. From the pond, they hopped onto the unplowed Park Loop Road and followed it to Abol Campground. Mostly uphill, the trip took about three hours.
“We were swapping stories the whole way in while we were skiing,” Vose said. “Well, it’s like, if you’ve ever had a lifelong friend and you get together, maybe it’s a high school reunion or college reunion, and all of the sudden you flash back to those old times and it’s almost like you never left.”
Once at the campground, the two switched to mountaineering boots and crampons, shouldered backpacks full of survival gear, then headed up Abol Trail to the light of their headlamps.
‘It took me a month to pack for this trip,” Vose said. “I kept laying out gear and studying the weather forecast, and as it came in, I kept modifying my gear.”
The sun came up as they reached Abol Slide, the steepest part of the hike. With ice axes handy (to help arrest them if they fell and started to slide), they trudged up to the Tablelands, a flat snow-cloaked expanse that led to the mountain’s summit, Baxter Peak.
“It was so packed, so icy, that if you didn’t have full crampons, it would have been impossible,” Vose said. “It was just like walking on an ice cube.”
Having a hiking companion that you’re compatible with and trust is key for safety and support during tough climbs like that one, Vose said. He and Fisher each have their own strengths and will take the lead at different times during their adventures.
“You need someone who won’t take chances but will push you,” Vose said. “We just match really well.”
When they hiked Katahdin in the winter 15 years ago, the two endured temperatures in the single digits and winds approaching 30 miles per hour, Vose recalled. They were also surrounded by clouds at the summit. But this year’s trek was different, with temperatures reaching into the low 20s as the sun rose, a calmer wind (though still frigid) and clear blue skies.
They reached the summit late morning and stood at the highest point in Maine without another soul in sight. Together, they enjoyed open views of the snowy landscape below.
“It was just good to get together again and reminisce and get that old feeling back like we had when we were a lot younger,” Fisher said.
For the summit photo, Vose prepared his business attire ahead of time by clipping the tie onto the shirt collar. He also cut off the sleeves and bottom off of the dress shirt to lower the weight and bulk of the item — since the suit jacket would cover those parts of the shirt anyway.
Standing on either side of the Baxter Peak summit sign, the two friends posed for the camera, which had been set to a timer. They then changed back into their hiking jackets and headed carefully back down the mountain to reach the trailhead long before dark.
“A lot of people will look at that picture and think, ‘That’s crazy or stupid. I’d never do something like that. How can you enjoy the suffering?’” Vose said. “And it’s hard to describe. It’s about challenging yourself physically and mentally, and getting out there and seeing the mountains at a time when most people don’t.”