Climbing Mount Jackson

To my brother Fred, who has climbed every mountain in New Hampshire with an elevation over 4000 feet, the prospect of climbing Mount Jackson was a common occurrence; to me it was a carefully considered challenge. The possibility of seeing gray jays and photographing them and the surrounding views convinced me – a 63-year old, longtime bird watcher and photographer, who had suffered the discomforts of rheumatoid arthritis for 28 years.

Two years ago, a time when I had difficulty walking half a mile, I wouldn’t have considered the 5.2-mile round trip over the rough trail up Mount Jackson. But then I entered an experimental FDA-approved study for a new medicine called D2E7, which eventually would be called Humira. I noticed improvement within two days of taking it. After two months I felt better than I had in many years. All the swelling and heat in my joints was gone; I had no more low-grade fevers; the skin rash and eye inflammations were gone; and the pain was only 10% of what it had been. Best of all, I was able to start working out at the local YMCA. The more I worked out the more my muscles were able to support my joints, and the better I felt. I was also getting great cardiovascular exercise on the elliptical machines.

I wasn’t certain I could complete the hike as I started up the trail, but I was hopeful my conditioning was enough to override the damage done to my joints before I began taking Humira. After the first quarter of a mile I found myself climbing up a streambed full of boulders that Fred called a trail. I said “I hope this is the worst part of the trip, as I will never make it if it gets any worse.” Fred told me that this was the easy part, and I thought he was joking. He was not! Later when I was ready to acknowledge defeat and turn back, Fred encouraged me by saying the top was approximately 150 feet away. I made it!

As we walked out onto the top of Mount Jackson the view was breathtaking! Before us were blue skies, white clouds, and distant mountains with early fall colors: faint reds and yellows mixed in with the green covering the peaks.

Then we found what we had come to see: several gray jays flew from bush to bush toward us obviously hoping for a handout. They were even more beautiful than I had anticipated, handsome in their white, gray and black plumage. Their flight was remarkably buoyant; they seemed to float on the wind. We quickly dug into our packs for food, and the jays were soon eating from our hands. They even posed perfectly on the cairn marking the mountain top. I was grateful to Fred guiding me, and very thankful to Abbot Laboratories for Humira!

Of course what goes up eventually has to come down, and the trail which had taken me three hours to climb took four and a half hours to descend. I ached in every joint, I was exhausted, but I had accomplished all I had set out to do. Would I make the hike again? I don’t think so. Am I glad I was able to do it once? A big YES!