Adventures with Dad Series

There are two books in the Adventures with Dad series – plus a related book called Finding the Rainbows. There are 25 reviews for the three books – 24 of them are five stars. 🙂

Heidi writes about Are You Taking Me Home Now? Adventures with Dad:
“This is a delightful book and Karen is a gifted writer. She lets us listen in to the conversations she and her 100 year old Dad have on their car trips, which had me laughing and crying. Interspersed are memories of earlier times. Having a relationship with an older person whose body and brain don’t work as well as it used to requires patience, humor and love. As someone else here said, “Karen shows us how to do it right.” I enjoyed reading this very much. I highly recommend this book and will be giving it out for gifts.”

Tom Hornbein (November 6, 1930 – May 6, 2023)

Here’s a link to the podcast.

I guess I can say something now because Wikipedia has made it official. The extraordinary Tom Hornbein died early yesterday. He was a remarkable man – and not just because of his mountaineering feats, but because of his beautiful heart and soul. His decades-long friendship with my dad, Dee Molenaar – and his outreach to Dad in his last years – meant so much to us.

The last time he and Dad were together in the person was in April 2018. Jim Wickwire, Bill Sumner and Tom all visited Dad at his adult family home, and brought a book about K2 with them. Dad and his mountaineering buddies looked through the photos in the book and shared memories of mountains climbed. I was able to be there with all of them that day, too – it was an amazing experience to be sharing the same space with all these mountain legends.

Tom called Dad on Dad’s 100th birthday a few months later to wish him a happy day. It was touching to watch these two old friends talk to each other. We borrowed someone’s iphone so Dad could see Tom’s face and Tom could see his face. I think they knew, as they were talking, that this was probably the last conversation they would ever have with each other.

Tom made the world a better place – through his work as a medical doctor, as a mountaineer, and as a friend. I will miss seeing his emails pop up in my inbox and I will miss hearing his voice on the phone. I will miss knowing he’s here on the planet with us.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Ed Webster (March 21,1956 to November 22, 2022): Author, Climber, and Human Being Extraordinaire

“I saw the flowers growing alongside the trail. Big, beautiful blooms of rhododendrons and azaleas. Pink, red, and white bouquets of richly perfumed flowers reached out to me, as if in answer to my revived optimism. I entered the thickets of flowers like I was wading into crashing waves at the beach, letting myself be alternately immersed and then carried up by their sweet fragrance and vivid color.”
Ed WebsterSnow in the Kingdom: My Storm Years on Mount Everest

“Several steps later, I was also avalanched. I brushed myself off. We continued.”
Ed WebsterSnow in the Kingdom: My Storm Years on Mount Everest

“Thanks for my birthday (63 !! ) wishes…. and Happy Spring back to you. Not much Spring here in Maine as of yet. Karen, I’m going to have to hire you as my publicist, putting up all those pithy EdW quotes from SNOW on Facebook !
– Ed Webster (in an email message to me).

How hilarious ! After I emailed you that note, I went online to Amazon….. went to SNOW’s book page…. and saw your review ! I really should hire you to do PR for my book.
– Ed Webster (in an email message to me).

“I’m so glad to hear that you & your dad enjoyed flipping through the K2 book together. That warms my heart ! Please do give Dee a warm hug from me. I wish I cold fly out here to see him again. I looked at his 100-year Birthday party video at Mt. Rainier…. just fantastic, esp. the yodeling !
-Ed Webster (in an email message to me).

Hi Karen, What a sweet photograph of your dear Dad reading the card ! I wanted to pen him some kind words and words of thanks for what he’s given to me — and to other climbers too.  As I get older myself, the more I realize what inspiration the climbers of your father’s generation gave to us collectively.  And I just wanted to add my hug to that chorus of thanks and praise ! For his beautiful art and his kind, knowing ways. “
-Ed Webster (in an email to me).

Ed Webster (March 21, 1956 to November 24, 2022) was a gifted writer, accomplished climber, remarkable human being, and friend.

Below, Dad (Dee Molenaar) opens a card from Ed Webster.

I Felt Dad with Me Today

I felt Dad with me today as I drove down Chuckanut through the changing autumn leaves. Autumn was his favorite time of year. October was his favorite month. The last few years of his 101 years, he was my companion on almost-daily drives – and I used to love driving him through forests full of gold and copper this time of year. Sometimes we wouldn’t say anything, and sometimes he’d tell me about the geology or the history of the places we drove. I miss seeing him sitting in the seat next to me, his alpine hat on his head. I miss his gravelly voice giving me lectures on glacial till and glacial moraines…

Dad: This is beautiful farm country. There used to be ice 5,000 meters deep here. (He points to the hills surrounding the flats.) Those are glacial moraines. They were created by glaciers.

(Excerpted from The Second Hundred Years: Further Adventures with Dad.)

Dad is just finishing up his breakfast when I get there. We put shoes on his feet, his alpine hat on his head, and a sweater over his shoulders and load him up in my car for a drive. First stop: Sisters Espresso for his root beer float.

As we’re driving through the Skagit flats…

Dad: What kind of bird would you like to be if you were a bird? A seagull?

Karen: Yeah, maybe. (Thinking.) Or a kingfisher… those are pretty cool… they dodge up and down and skim the water… how about you?

Dad: (Thinking.) A seagull, I guess.

(We drive along the water for a bit.)

Dad: How’d you like to be a seabird, just sitting on the water, waiting for your next meal to turn up…

(On impulse, I turn down the airport road and head towards the little Skagit airport. Every now and then I stop to take pictures of the autumnal trees.)

Karen: I love autumn!

Dad: (Nodding his head…) Yeah. I think my favorite time of year is late October.

(I discover there’s a flight museum at the airport I never knew was there and pull over to take a picture of an old propeller. Dad’s turning his head from left to right – checking things out.)

Dad: I really appreciate you taking me on these scenic drives. Thank you.

Karen: I enjoy these drives.

(We head back to Dad’s home and pull into the driveway.)

Dad: This looks familiar.

Karen: Yup. You’re home!

Dad: Are they expecting me?

Karen: Yes, they are.

Dad: What are their names?

(I tell him the names of the people who care for him, and he nods his head – I think he’s trying to remember the names of his hosts, so he can be a good guest.)

I bought Dad a pair of headphones for his television – I’m hoping they can help him hear the dialogue. Gwen and Cindy and I play around with the headphones for a while – trying to get them to work – and we finally find success! I lead Dad to his room and put the headphones on him, and he can hear the conversation on the television. We settle him onto his bed.)

Karen: (Waving good-bye…) I love you, Daddy!

Dad: (Waving back…) I love you, too!

(Excerpted from Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad.)

MountRainierMountAdamsMountBakerMountHood

I’ve said their names so many times together that they’ve morphed into one word: MountRainierMountAdamsMountBakerMountHood.

The first major volcano I climbed was 11,249′ Mount Hood. I was 15. I didn’t really understand the BIGNESS of what I was doing at 15. I just followed my dad, Dee Molenaar, up to the top of Hood, and followed him back down again. I remember feeling like I was on a whole different planet, though. I remember the smell of sulphur from the crater, and I remember it made me a little nervous. I remember the top layer of skin on my face burning a crispy red. And I remember being back in high school on Monday morning.

The summer before I turned 21 I asked Dad to guide me, and some of my friends who worked with me at Paradise, up to the summit of 14,411′ Rainier. I better understood the bigness of what we were doing by this time – this was my second summer working on Mount Rainier and I’d been around enough climbers up there to know that some people prepared their whole lives for this climb. But I don’t think I yet appreciated how blessed I was to be able to call Dad to be my guide and then two weeks later to find myself climbing in his foosteps up to the summit of Washington’s highest volcano. Climbing mountains is just what the people I’d grown up with had always done and it seemed natural that I should climb mountains, too. Our climb of Rainier that weekend was awesome – like on Hood, I felt like I was in a whole different world, but this time I wasn’t nervous about it. I remember the suncups that looked like little ice castles. I remember the deep blue crevasses. I remember climbing under the stars, in the quiet and stillness of pre-dawn, and then watching the sun rise over little Tahoma down below. It was magic!

A few years later, as a promise I’d made to one of my bridesmaids, I, once again, asked Dad to lead me and my friends on a climb of Rainier. But this time felt different for me, and for Dad, too. He was 66, had already climbed Rainier 50 times by then, and I knew his heart wasn’t in this one. He was a little grumbly. So this time, as we left Camp Sherman, I told Dad I wasn’t feeling well (this wasn’t really true) and I could hear the lift in his voice as he happily unroped from the rest of the team and announced that he and I would be heading back to camp because I wasn’t feeling good. We had a wonderful time that day just hanging out at Camp Sherman together, preparing to be a support for the other climbers when they made it back down. Dad’s friend, Pete Schoening – who’d saved my dad’s life and the lives of four other climbers with his famous belay on K2 in 1953 – was with the team, and we knew our friends were in good hands.

A year after we got married, my husband, Scott, and I moved to the northern part of Washington State, near the Canadian border. Rainier was no longer a quick drive away. Now our closest volcano was Mount Baker – Rainier’s 10,786′ sibling. Baker is humbler than her big sister and less famous, but I began to think of her as “my” mountain – and her summit was calling to me. The summer before I turned 31 I called Dad and asked him if he could guide Scott and me and some of my teaching friends from Sedro-Woolley to the top of Mount Baker. And bless him, he agreed. Dad must have been about 69 then – at the time I didn’t think much of that, but now, from the perspective of someone who’s almost 66, I am in absolute awe of who Dad was at 69. He safely led the team to the top of Mount Baker – and (just as importantly) safely led us back down again, over and around crevasses that were widening as the afternoon grew warmer. It was another wonderful day with Pop in the mountains – and Mount Baker was the first summit my husband, Scott, and I stood on together.

The summer before I turned 41 I got it into my noggin that I wanted to climb Mount Adams, Washington’s second highest mountain at 12,280′. I picked up the phone and called my faithful guide, Dad. Dad agreed to guide Scott and me and Scott’s friend, John, up Adams – and when I think about that now I am astounded! Dad was 79. In retrospect, I can see that, even if I was oblivious to Dad’s age, he wasn’t. He invited another man with a lot of mountaineering experience to join us on the climb, and that proved to be a really good call on Dad’s part.

A couple of significant things happened on our climb of Mount Adams: first, I had an epiphany that changed the way I viewed mountain climbing – it struck me, as I looked down the steep, icy slope I was traversing, that I was a mom now – I had a a three-year-old and a five-year-old waiting for me back home – and it occured to me that I could no longer be so cavalier about my own life – I had little people I loved who needed me to stay alive for them; and second, at about 10,000′ Dad let us know that he was done – that he felt he was holding us back (he wasn’t) and he would stay down below at base camp while the rest of us went on up to the summit. It felt really weird to be climbing without Dad. It was like there was this empty place at the top where he should have been standing. When our troop made it back to base camp, Dad hurried out to greet us – his arms opened wide to hug me. He said, “This is the first time I’ve had to wait at base camp for you and I didn’t like the worry of it!”

Mount Adams was the first big volcano I summited without Dad, and it is the last big volcano I ever climbed.

I look at these mountains now – MountRainierMountAdamsMountBakerMountHood – and I think to myself: “What in the heck were you thinking?! Whatever made you think you could climb those mountains?!” But then I remind myself that I did, indeed, climb those mountains and I’m sort of blown away by that. And I realize that if I hadn’t been born with the Dad I was born with I probably WOULDN’T have climbed MountRainierMountAdamsMountBakerMountHood. How blessed I am to have a father who gave me the mountains! How blessed I am to have a bank of memories over-flowing with the mountain adventures I had with Pop! I’m not climbing big volcanoes anymore, but I still get into the mountains for some good hikes. And every hike I take, I bring Dad with me.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Photos: My boots next to Dad’s boots on Hood (upper left); teacher Jim Johnson, Dad, me, and Scott on Mount Baker (middle left); Scott and me on Mount Adams (bottom left); Dad, me, and my brother, Pete, on Rainier.

K2: The Highest Paintings Ever Painted

In 1953 my dad, Dee Molenaar, was a member of the climbing expedition to K2 that attempted to be the first team to summit the world’s second highest mountain. Being who he is, my dad brought his watercolor paints with him. As anyone who’s ever been on a high-altitude climb will know, water is a precious commodity up there. After my dad painted the art you see below, his teammates (understandably) made him drink the water he’d used for the paintings. Dad was always kind of proud of that.

Dad’s painting are the highest paintings ever painted. Here are a few photos of them (I cropped one of the paintings so you could see Dad’s writing on it):

One of the two highest paintings ever painted. Painted on K2 by Dee Molenaar in 1953.
Cropped photo of one of the paintings Dee Molenaar made at 25,000′ on K2.

Posted by Karen Molenaar Terrell.

“The Children of the Belay” Podcast

In 1953 Pete Schoening saved my dad’s life, and the lives of four other men, with his belay (known as “The Belay” in mountaineering circles) on the slopes of K2, the world’s second highest mountain. If not for Pete’s belay, a lot of us would never have been born. Pete’s grandson, Brian Schoening, recently invited me to chat with him about “The Children of the Belay” on his podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.

Here’s a photo of The Children of the Belay taken when the descendents of the 1953 K2 climbers were able to get together in Leavenworth, Washington, in 2006.

The Children of the Belay

Worthy of Being a Prize

Something happened that really touched me today. It was Scott’s last day of the quarter at WWU and, unbeknownst to me, he brought in one of my books – Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad – as a prize for whichever student was the first to find out who’d painted the highest painting in the world. “Dee Molenaar?” one of his students asked, after a quick search. And she got my book! Scott explained to the class that Dee Molenaar was his father-in-law and that his wife had written the book. It just really warmed my heart that Scotty thought my book was worthy of being a prize.

Two Years Ago Today: The Last Time I Saw Him Alive

Two years ago today: The last time I saw Dad alive. He died the next day, before I could get to him.

January 18, 2020

Dad is in bed. His eyes are closed. He’s very still, but I see his chest moving. He’s still with us. I lean over and kiss his forehead and say into his ear, “Hi Daddy. It’s Karen.” (There’s no response at first. Then his eyes open and he looks at me.)
Dad: (Weakly.) Karen.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.Dad: (I can feel the effort he’s making to mumble the words.) Ah uv you.Karen: (Smiling at Dad – my heart filled with tenderness.) You old mountain goat. (That’s what Mom had always called Dad – and it comes to me – out of the blue – to call him that. Dad smiles at me. And now I find myself singing to him – that old Jeannette McDonald-Nelson Eddy song that he and Mom used to sing to each other…) When I’m calling you-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh… (I see Dad perk up a little. I get this sense that Mom is calling to him.)

We don’t say much after this. I stay for a while, stroking Dad’s forehead, and watching “Maverick” on Dad’s television. Every now and then Dad opens his eyes and checks to see if I’m still there. Eventually he falls back to sleep. I leave to go home and fetch my husband and son for a return visit. When I arrive home and describe Dad’s condition, the husband and son immediately let me know they’re with me and we go back to Dad’s house.

We enter Dad’s room and approach the bed. He’s sleeping. We pull up three chairs and watch him for a while. His foot is moving back and forth. I approach Dad’s bed.
Karen: Hi, Daddy. It’s Karen. And Andrew is here. And Scotty.
(Dad opens his eyes and looks at me.)
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
(Dad’s eyes are locked on mine and he nods his head at me once, twice. An affirmation. I nod back at him. He reaches up and holds my arm and squeezes it gently. I hold his hand and squeeze. He squeezes my hand back.)
Karen: Here’s Andrew, Daddy.
(Andrew sits close to his grampa. This is his time with Grampa. Love is exchanged. This time belongs to them and it’s not mine to share in words.)
Karen: And here’s Scotty.(Scott grips Dad’s hand and receives a strong grip in return. They both grin at each other. Male bonding.)

We all feel when it’s time to leave and let Dad get back to the business of sleeping. I get up and kiss Dad’s forehead and tell him I love him. Scott says his good byes. Andrew is the last to leave – he gets a strong good bye handshake from his grandfather before he leaves him to sleep.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell, The Second Hundred Years: Further Adventures with Dad

Jolene Unsoeld: A Powerful Presence in a Small Frame

On Sunday Jolene Unsoeld’s son, Krag, called to let me know that Jolene had passed that morning. Jolene Unsoeld was a dear friend to my parents, and one of my heroes. The last time I saw Jolene was on the day after Dad’s epic 100th birthday celebration at Mount Rainier. She held a presence in her small frame that, even in her eighties, was powerful and bolstering.

Here’s a little of what I wrote about that day (in Are You Taking Me Home Now? Adventures with Dad):
I wake up and peek outside the curtains. There are blue skies out there! My thoughts immediately turn to Dad. Yesterday he missed seeing Mount Rainier from Paradise because of the clouds. It would be a tragedy to get him this close to his mountain – knowing he’ll probably never come back here – and not try to get him up to Paradise one more time to see Rainier up-close and personal.

I confer with Scott and Gwen, Dave, and Xander (whose birthday it is today) to see what they think. They all agree that if Dad’s up for it, we should try to get him back up to Paradise. I ask Dad if he’d like to go back to Paradise today to see Rainier – and he nods his head and says yes. So it’s a go!

Dad’s dear friend, the incomparable Jolene Unsoeld (a former state representative and widow of mountaineer Willy Unsoeld) and Jolene’s son, Krag, join us at 9:00 and we let them in on our plans. They’re happy to join us on our trip to Paradise.

Dad: But where is Mom in all of this? Will she be with us?
Karen: (I have fielded this question so many times in the past – but, for some reason, I find myself at a loss today.) No…
Krag: She’ll be with us in her own way.
Dad: (Looking confused.) I don’t understand. I didn’t hear that.
Karen: (Repeating Krag’s fine answer.) She’ll be with us in her own way, Daddy. (Changing the subject.) Let’s get you loaded up in the car…

The drive to Paradise is quick and without complications. Every now and then I look back to see if Dad is checking out the scenery from the car behind us. I can see that his head is up and he’s awake. I smile, imagining him catching glimpses of Rainier through the trees…

Pretty soon Dave, and his daughter, Claire, her husband, Michael, Xander, Krag, and Jolene join us in a circle around Dad. We turn the wheelchair so he’s facing the mountain…
Karen: Do you want me to turn you back around so you can see the mountain again?
Dad: It doesn’t matter. I’m happy whichever direction I face. (This is a good answer, but I turn Dad around so he’s facing Rainier. For a while we all enjoy the mountain together.)

…We load Dad up in Gwen’s car.The rest of us head to our cars and start the trek back down the mountain…

We’re all feeling hungry now and turn into the parking lot of a Himalayan restaurant that Krag suggests to us. Dad and Jolene sit across from each other at the table and the rest of us sort ourselves out into the rest of the chairs. We talk about mountains and Nepal and the Peace Corps and politics and old friends and music and Himalayan food. Tibetan prayer flags hang around us, gently wafting in the breeze. It is peaceful out there.

When we’ve finished lunch, we load Dad back in the car with Gwen.
Dad: (Smiling and happy he had a chance to see his dear friend, Jolene, again.) Did you meet Jolene?
Karen: Yes! I love Jolene! (Kissing Dad’s cheek…) I love you, Daddy.Dad: I love you, Karen.

***

Here’s the part I left out of the book: As we were all saying good bye in the parking lot of the Tibetan Restaurant, Jolene came up to me, looked me directly in the eyes and said, “You make good things happen! You do!” And those few words were exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. Jolene saw the good in me.

I will miss her.