By Eli Phillips
To describe Edna Northrup as “adventurous” would be a gross understatement. Her tenacity for exploration and living life to the fullest can, and should, be described as limitless.
The Allegany State Park Historical Society hosted the guest speaker this past Saturday, March 16 in the park’s “Camp Allegany” classroom.
There, Northrup spoke on her many accomplishments throughout life, most notably her ascent to the base camp of Mount Everest at the spry age of 84.
Born in Buffalo in 1925, Northrup’s love for the outdoors began at an early age with a passion for skiing. She recalls many trips into Ellicottville to hit the slopes, and it was there she met both her husband, Dr. Bill Northrup, and Lillian Congdon, also an accomplished skier.
The duo even published a book in 2002, “For the Love of Skiing; Our Story of Skiing in Ellicottville,” which highlights some of her and Congdon’s fondest memories in ski country.
The Northrups had six children all together, including best-selling author Christian Northrup, and Olympic Skier Penny Northrup.
Edna Northrup spoke about experiencing heartache, and persevering through the passing of several of her family.
“Then my life changed, of course like everybody else in their life: somebody had to leave.”
She recalled the pain of losing both her daughters, Cindy and Bonnie, as well as her husband Bill. Despite those hardships, she continued to blaze her own trail through life, and at 60, ran in and won the election for mayor of Ellicottville.
“My son John called me and said, ‘They need a mayor in Ellicottville, I put your name on the ballot.’ … Mayor?” She exclaimed, sharing a laugh “What would I know about being mayor?”
A few days later, John called his mother again, this time with some surprising news. The town of Ellicottville, and it’s political bodies, decided she would be a great fit and fell in love with the idea.
“And so, I became Mayor!”
Northrup recounted spending most of her time as a public servant with the people — going on ride alongs with the police, walkthroughs at the sewer and electric plant — experiencing what they did so she could do the best job she could.
It’s with that kind of energy and passion she attacked life, and after eight years of dutifully serving the town, she felt she needed a change.
“A lifelong dream of mine was to do the Appalachian trail, and after eight years [as mayor] I decided it was time to do something that I’d really wanted to do,” Northrup recalled.
She talked about sneaking away a few days a week to hike different lengths of the over 2,000-mile trail way, at one point away for so long her neighbors feared the worst.
”They thought I’d gone missing!” She laughed, and explained why she decided not to do a through hike. “… Because of how much there is to see on the Appalachian Trail, you don’t want to do any miles without seeing what you’re doing, you want to take it all in, and so it took me four years, but it was absolutely a dream come true.”
Northrup has also climbed all 46 mountains of the Adirondacks, as well as the New England Hundred highest, through weekend trips or longer excursions. Unfinished with her journey, she trekked further into her passion until she received a call from a gentleman that would make her a legend.
“He said he was putting a crew together that was going to base camp Mount Everest, and thought I would do a good job,” Northrup said. “I asked him, ‘Are you talking to the right person? I’m 84!”
However, history has a tendency to rhyme. This time it being Northrup’s daughter Penny that convinced her conquering Everest was not only something she could do, but should do.
With her daughter by her side, she did just that — reaching base camp at 18,000 feet at 84.
“That was hard,” she remarked “It’s 50 miles in and 50 miles out, and you’re only allowed to stay at base camp for about a half an hour. So it’s a lot of hiking, back and forth, just to stay safe.”
Now 93, Northrup still spends a lot of her time outdoors, hiking away her summers and snowshoeing through winter. She simply cannot be described using one or two words. It takes the full story to understand the perseverance and passion for living that this incredible woman shows everyday.
“Oh and about the age,” she added, determination filling her voice, ”I’d done everything I’ve told you about here today after the age of 60. So, if you think that’s old, 60, 84, it truly isn’t.”