No stranger to a vigorous life, Ann Brooks Carter took her athleticism to a higher level after meeting H. Adams Carter, the mountaineer she would marry.
Her parents liked to hike up Mount Washington in New Hampshire on wedding anniversaries when they were able. Mrs. Carter topped them by spending part of her first wedded winter braving the mountain’s windblown snow.
“I was no climber before our marriage in 1942 during World War II, but I was quickly indoctrinated,’’ she wrote 15 years ago for a collection of tributes to her husband, who died in 1995, that was published in The Himalayan Journal.
“I soon learned the basics of rock climbing and helped test new types of boots and rope,’’ she said of the period early in their marriage, when her husband was in the US Army. “My first ‘expedition’ was to Mount Washington in New Hampshire during the frigid February in 1943. The summit of the mountain holds the record for the world’s highest recorded wind speed. We were testing cold weather and mountain equipment and had ample opportunity to sample both wind and cold.’’
Mrs. Carter, who brought warmth and practicality to chilly mountain travels with her husband, died of colon cancer last Wednesday in Kendal at Hanover, a retirement community in Hanover, N.H., where she moved six years ago after 58 years in Milton.
She was 94, an age most consider elderly, not Mrs. Carter. Her mother lived to 101; her father to 100. After a doctor cautioned in October that she had little time left, she was walking with her son Peter, who lives nearby in Norwich, Vt.
“Instead of saying, ‘woe is me’ or ‘this isn’t fair,’ she grabbed my arm and said, ‘You know what the silver lining is about this? Now I’ll never have to grow old,’ ’’ he recalled. “And she was serious.’’
From the beginning, many chapters of her life had a timeless quality, as if torn from an adventure story.
She was the second child and the oldest of three daughters born to Malden District Court Judge Lawrence G. Brooks and Susan Morris Hallowell Brooks.
Her father considered himself a liberal Republican and was in his mid-80s when he joined the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in a civil rights march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery. Her mother was a Radcliffe College graduate, a Quaker, and a gifted storyteller who, not long before dying, wrote a series of vignettes called “Random Recollections of a One Hundred and One Year Old Grandmother.’’
Mrs. Carter was born on Feb. 10, 1917, and “we always expected a blizzard on her birthday,’’ said her sister, Charlotte Read of Concord. “She was born in a blizzard and on a remarkable number of anniversaries of her birthday we would have a wonderful snowstorm and hitch a toboggan behind the pony and go out for a ride.’’
As a girl in West Medford, Mrs. Carter “had a most beautiful little Arabian horse, which had the name Aladdin,’’ her sister said. The family purchased the horse from composer John Philip Sousa.
Mrs. Carter went to Shady Hill School in Cambridge and the Cambridge School of Weston before attending Smith College in Northampton, from which she graduated in 1938.
Longevity ran in her friendships as well as her family. She was part of a circle of six close friends at Smith, five of whom attended their 70th reunion.
After graduating, she taught at Shady Hill School and was at a party when she met Hubert Adams Carter, who went by Ad.
“They were playing touch football,’’ their son said. “He was the quarterback and she was the end. She caught a pass, and he said; ‘Well, she looks like she has some athletic talent. Maybe I’ll ask her out on a date.’ ’’
They married in 1942, when he was in the Army, trying winter food and equipment for troops.
“Our first week of married life included living on nothing but the Army’s developing K rations for testing purposes,’’ she wrote in an essay for a collection published by her retirement home.
Months later, they headed to Mount Washington in February to see how everything worked in winter weather. She used an ice ax to hike with him above the tree line at Tuckerman Ravine.
“During the night the experimental wool underwear and our heavy down sleeping bags kept us comfortably warm as the temperature dipped into the minus numbers,’’ she wrote. “The wind was anything but comforting. But it was just what we wanted in order to test the strength and stability of the tent. The constant loud flapping and snapping in the little two-man tent made sleep next to impossible for me.’’
Granted, the couple spent much of their marriage sleeping in houses, but “at the end of the war, Ann and I took our 2-year-old son, Nat, with us on our belated honeymoon to Chile,’’ her husband wrote for the 25th report of his Harvard class.
He taught for more than 30 years at Milton Academy, where Mrs. Carter became a parent-away-from-home to foreign students. She also assisted her husband when he edited American Alpine Journal for many years. And when he traveled to countries and continents around the world, she was usually with him, staying in base camp when the climbers went to the summit.
The Carters often traveled with other elite climbers such as Bob Bates, who died in 2007, and his wife, Gail, of Exeter, N.H.
“I was very lucky to have these trips with Ann,’’ Gail Bates said. “She was the best possible person to be traveling with under difficult circumstances. She was tremendously hardy, very determined, and just really good company.’’
In addition to her son and sister, Mrs. Carter leaves another son, Lawrence of Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.; a brother, John of Weston; and nine grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Feb. 12 in the gathering room in Kendal at Hanover in Hanover, N.H.
Untroubled by the constraints of age, Mrs. Carter was always willing to try something new. On Columbus Day weekend, a few days before she was diagnosed, she was 80 miles or so from Hanover, staying at her family’s place in Jefferson, N.H., near Mount Washington.
“The foliage season was fairly in full bloom, and the forecast was for three days of rain,’’ her son said. “I called her and said, ‘If you can get back over here this afternoon, let’s go up in a balloon.’ She said sure, and that afternoon, we were floating a mile up over the mountains of Vermont in a hot air balloon. That was pretty typical of her. Instead of saying, ‘Are you crazy,’ she climbed right in, and up we went.’’