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Donn Fendler, once a boy ‘lost on a mountain in Maine,’ dies at 90

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Donn Fendler, who famously survived more than a week while lost on Mount Katahdin in 1939, died Oct. 10 at age 90.

DONNFENDLER072414 001 13331113Bangor Daily News file photo/Ashley L. Conti

REMEMBERING DONN FENDLER Donn Fendler, pictured reflecting on the 75th anniversary of his being “Lost on a Mountain in Maine” in 2014 at his camp in Newport, died at the age of 90 on Oct. 10.


It would be hard to grow up in Maine in the last 75 years and not know his story. At age 12 while hiking Katahdin, Fendler was separated from his family near the summit during a storm. He was the subject of hundreds of searches over the next week, becoming national news, and eventually some began to assume he’d never be found alive.

Nine days after he disappeared, however, Fendler found a hunting camp 35 miles from where he was last seen. During his search for help, he cut his skin on thorny bushes, foraged for food, encountered a bear and scavenged for supplies in an abandoned cabin.

How the young man survived during those nine days was recounted in Fendler’s 1978 novel “Lost on a Mountain in Maine,” which was required reading for many Mainers in the fourth-grade Maine Studies curriculum.

In an interview with the Bangor Daily News in 2014, Fendler, who grew up in Rye, N.Y., said it took him a long time to understand why his story meant so much to Mainers. “Finally it dawned on me: Maine people are rugged people. They’re resourceful. They’re resilient. They’re outdoors people … People in Maine could relate to exactly what I was going through. They knew. They knew the woods. They knew the bugs. They knew the whole thing. They could follow each day and know what I was going through.”

Over the years, Fendler visited dozens of Maine schools to tell his story to students who had read his book. Two years ago, Gov. Paul R. LePage declared July 25, 2014 “Donn Fendler Day,” marking the 75th anniversary of the end of Fendler’s trek.

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