WINSLOW — When sisters Kate and Emily Nichols set a goal to hike all 14 of Maine’s 4,000-foot mountains back in 2017, they hoped to have the list completed by the time they turned 14.

Kate, 13, and Emily, 14, completed their goal on July 10, capping off a years-long family mission at Mount Bigelow, which runs through Franklin and Somerset counties.

Their mothers, Chris Nichols, a stay-at-home mom, and Brenda Nichols, a senior design engineer at Cianbro, both supported the challenge. Chris pitched the idea of accomplishing 14 by age 14, and Brenda said that both girls agreed, thinking about how far away turning 14 was at the time.

“We thought it would be good for us to make a goal and hike all of these mountains,” Kate Nichols said. “I thought it would be a cool thing to do.”

Emily Nichols said that the family began summiting mountains when she and her sister were young, which made the goal seem reasonable.

Kate Nichols, 13, right, and sister Emily, 14, have hiked all 14 of Maine’s 4,000-foot mountains. Molly, the family’s 7-year-old black lab dog, joined the girls on many of the hikes over four summers and about 100 miles on the trail. The girls and Molly are shown Monday at their home in Winslow. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The family of four and their dog, Molly, kicked off their hiking quest in the summer of 2017, starting with Sugarloaf and Saddleback mountains, two of the eight 4,000-foot mountains that are in the High Peaks range in Franklin County.

At just 9 and 10, the two sisters thought that the goal was achievable as their end goal was nowhere in sight.

“With each hike, they were getting stronger,” Brenda Nichols said. “They also have the advantage of their youth. The more we hiked, the more they started to really appreciate the views.”

Outdoor recreation has been a big part of the sisters’ lives, Brenda Nichols said. They started hiking around the age of 5 and are involved in several sports, including ice hockey, lacrosse, softball, soccer and field hockey.

In the summer of 2018, the girls faced some of their biggest challenges and bagged eight mountains.

Kate, left, and Emily Nichols said that their toughest day was when they summited three mountains, South Crocker, Redington and North Crocker, in one day in the summer of 2018. Photo courtesy of the Nichols family

The most challenging hike in their quest came in that summer when they hiked three mountains in one day: South Crocker, Redington and North Crocker.

“This one weekend, we decided to go up and hike South Crocker and maybe Redington,” Kate Nichols said. “We got there and hiked South Crocker and decided to do Redington.”

The only way to do those two peaks and then the third was to go back through South Crocker, she said.

“We decided to also do another one, North Crocker … we basically did South Crocker three times,” she said. “It was hard and a lot of tears were shed.”

Both sisters agreed that the payoff came when they summited each mountain and saw the scenic view that was offered.

On the hikes that were challenging, they said the promise of McDonald’s when they got to the bottom of the mountain was what pushed them through.

“When they were little, we motivated them with M&Ms, McDonald’s and stuff like that,” Brenda Nichols said. “As they got older their motivation started to come from within. They were motivated by getting to see the view at the top and by their sense of accomplishment. I think that change is pretty cool.”

That same summer, they also hiked Mount Abraham and Saddleback Horn in the High Peaks range, but their favorite summit came when they reached Baxter Peak at 5,267 feet, the top of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park in Piscataquis County, from the Chimney Pond side.

“Reaching the top of Katahdin was amazing,” Kate Nichols said. “The view was breathtaking.”

Though the trek was hard, Brenda Nichols said that they braved through the obstacles and finished strong.

“It was tough, but they did it,” she said. “I hope this turns into something for them and they can set other goals. We are proud that they stuck through it. We were all in it together.”

Kate, left, and Emily Nichols said climbing Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin in 2018, their eighth by finger count, was their favorite. The mountain tops 5,267 feet and is a strenuous climb by any measure. Photo courtesy of the Nichols family

That same trip they topped Hamlin Peak, at 4,756 feet, the second highest mountain in Maine, and North Brother, the sixth highest at 4,150 feet.

In 2019, the family scaled Spaulding Mountain in the High Peaks range and also went on a month-long road trip, leaving just three more mountains on their list to 14.

COVID-19 played a hand in the family’s quest to check off those last three peaks. Because of the pandemic, the family canceled a planned vacation and found fewer people on the trails they traversed.

The girls then scaled Old Speck Mountain in the Eastern White Mountains/Mahoosuc Range in Oxford County, and on July 10, they counted their last two 4,000 footers, Avery Peak and West Peak on Mount Bigelow.

At the top they were surprised with freeze-dried ice cream sandwiches and a celebration banner for their accomplishment.

For their day hikes, they packed water, gorp and rain gear. On the trips where they camped, they brought camp stoves and sleeping gear. Their dog, Molly, even had her own tent, which was Kate’s favorite part of their trips.

The family developed a deeper bond as they worked toward the same goal together, overcoming different levels of difficulty while completing the 14 summits over the last four summers.

Brenda and Chris Nichols said that watching their daughters grow through the years on the trails has been one of the best parts of the trek. Brenda Nichols recalled when the sisters began hiking around the ages of 5 and 6 and weren’t quite up to pace. Now, four summers after starting their 14-mountain quest, she said the sisters not only keep up the pace, they do it in tennis shoes.

While Brenda Nichols doesn’t know exactly how many miles they’ve hiked over the years, she estimates it to be around 100 miles altogether.

Kate Nichols, 13, right, and sister Emily, 14, have hiked all 14 of Maine’s mountains that are 4,000 feet or higher. It took them four summers and about 100 miles on the trail to complete the journey. The girls are shown Monday at their home in Winslow. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Kate and Emily Nichols are not sure what their next goal will be as they kick off their sports seasons and prepare for the upcoming school year. Kate Nichols is entering eighth grade at Winslow Junior High School, and Emily Nichols is starting her freshman year at Winslow High School.

They hope to set their next goal soon, but for now, the two are enjoying the last few weeks of summer, Emily Nichols trying to fit in as many old Hollywood films as possible and Kate making her way through classic books, including “Gone With The Wind” and “The Catcher in the Rye.”


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