Preface to Dee Molenaar’s book, Memoirs of a Dinosaur Mountaineer
A light breeze came up the canyon and through the pine boughs overhead, and soon isolated white specks began descending. The snowflakes increased and soon we were encompassed in a flurry that blotted out the semi-arid valley far below, and the trail penetrating the pines below the granite walls high above. In our present light apparel and on a short, leg-stretching hike after motoring from Death Valley 80 miles in the east, our “Old Cronies Expedition” took another prolonged look around, and turned back to the trailhead at Whitney Portal.
It was then that my brother K and I and our friends, George Senner and Bob Johnson, found we were not alone among these rugged mountains.
Coming down through the mists was a lone hiker.
The heavily-bearded, long-haired chap was traveling beneath a bulky backpack that suggested he’d been out for some time. However, the big coil of fiberglass rope tucked beneath a hatchet, a large cast-iron skillet, and soft-toed boots indicated this was no modern-day mountaineer with a fetish for the latest in lightweight travel.
He stopped briefly and we questioned him about his travels. He was originally from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and more recently from the Stockton area across the mountains. Tiring of the Bay Area drug scene, he was aiming for a change of pace and was now returning from a trip into the mountains. He talked confidently of his climbing experiences and we enjoyed his free-spirited philosophy before we parted. At a distance through the mist we followed his burdened figure down the trail.
Meeting this hairy 40-ish fellow on the Mount Whitney trail rekindled my thoughts of a half-century earlier – in 1937, a late-summer trip into the Sierras Nevada with my brother K, similarly clad in jeans and carrying unwieldy loads. In that day we also had the trail and the mountain pretty much to ourselves. But in today’s world, had we passed here a couple months later, during the summer’s climbing season, we would have been part of the mountain’s allowable 75 hikers registered daily for the 20-mile roundtrip to the top of Mount Whitney.
How times have changed since those youthful days of the 1930s, during the Great Depression and prior to World War II.
Yet my life since has been a succession of fortuitous circumstances – in many cases being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right person. And though the breaks never made me rich, they provided a bounty of fond memories of fascinating places and events, people and good friends.
– Dee Molenaar