Peter Arsenault figured when he climbed to the top of Mount Washington for the 100th time, he would cry.

Instead he held up a colorful balloon with the number and posed at the trail head. In many ways the photo op on March 6 was perfect.

Looking back, Arsenault, 53, said climbing has provided a healthy lifestyle to a guy who doesn’t necessarily live it.

“I always say I hope by doing this I’m adding five minutes on at the end of my life. As a welder I don’t always work in a healthy environment,” he said.

It took the Waterboro resident 20 years to reach the summit of the 6,288-foot peak for the 100th time, with more than 60 climbs in the winter.

Peter Crane of the Mount Washington Observatory estimates roughly 2,000 hikers reach the summit in the winter from the start in Pinkham Notch, N.H. Certainly a percentage go with guides. The venture isn’t easy, given the mountain’s unpredictable weather.

Bob Bull, who helped introduce Arsenault to hiking Mount Washington when they worked together at Bath Iron Works, never understood his friend’s fascination with it.

“I didn’t know it was going to catch on with him the way it has. A hundred trips is pretty significant,” said Bull, 62, of Portland.

“And if you get twisted around in bad weather, you could be in trouble.”

Yet Bull, a former survival instructor for the Navy, said Arsenault always seemed at peace in the White Mountains.

“He just liked to go straight up. He’s just a goat. He’s cool in the bush, too. He doesn’t get bent out of shape when things go wrong,” Bull said.

Growing up in Westbrook, Arsenault loved the scale of the White Mountains. And Mount Washington was the granddaddy in every way.

His first trip up was Feb. 18, 1990. The start of the streak was kind of a fluke, but when it began the bug bit hard.

“It’s kind of funny how the thing went,” said Arsenault’s twin brother, Paul. “I was hiking it five or 10 years before he really got into it. Me and a friend of mine tried to get him to go and he wasn’t interested. Then all of a sudden he went and got the fever so bad, from that point he went quite often.”

It took Arsenault five years to get his first 50 summits of Mount Washington and another 15 years to get the next 50. But he didn’t grow less interested; he grew more intent.

Over the years Arsenault amassed three pairs of plastic climbing boots and crampons.

Paul Arsenault, who has been up the mountain 20 times, said it’s the challenge of the thing that calls his brother back in the winter, as many as four times a year. It’s a benchmark of their fitness.

It requires getting up at 2 or 3 a.m. to get to the parking lot in Pinkham Notch, N.H., by 5 a.m. After the hike some 10 hours later, Arsenault gets home to Waterboro late.

“You really have to push your body to make it up there, especially for me. I’m physically exhausted the last mile,” said Paul Arsenault. “My brother is always in better shape so he waits for me.”

Peter Arsenault said he hopes to make it up Mount Washington another 20 times, but he doesn’t know. He said he’s slowing down.

Now he says there will only ever be one more goal: The next trip up that mountain.

“Realistically, I think I’ll get in another 20. But I’m kidding myself if I think I can go up Mount Washington any time I want,” Peter Arsenault said. “But some people say they’re 50 years old and they have to start slowing down. Jeez, it’s up to you. As long as (my brother and I) can do it, I think we’ll do it.”

 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: dfleming@pressherald.com