Adventure

Remembering Mount Rainier Legend Dee Molenaar—The Final ‘Brother of the Rope’

In early August 1953, the American Karakoram Expedition was hunkered at greater than 25,200 toes on the Abruzzi Spur of K2, the very best unclimbed mountain on this planet on the time. They wanted solely a window of clear climate to launch their historic summit bid. As an alternative they bought snow and punishing winds, for ten days operating. In these pioneering days of high-altitude mountaineering, no occasion had ever stayed so lengthy at such a top.

Because the seven different climbers waited and fearful and schemed, Dee Molenaar painted. A 35-year-old artist and Mt. Rainier summit information, Molenaar at all times carried a field of watercolors with him within the mountains. Now, his again to the tent’s pounding canvas, he painted two loving portraits of the mountain on which he and his mates had been stormbound. The summit was tantalizingly shut, however exterior the tent’s skinny shelter the climbers might see nothing however clouds and blowing snow, so Molenaar labored from reminiscence. The water he used to moist his brushes was an extravagance at such altitude, the place gasoline for melting snow was briefly provide, and Molenaar’s companions made him drink the gritty pigmented water when he completed his paintings. The watercolors—a dreamy view from base camp, and one other of the workforce’s Camp VII, each in shades of white and pastel browns—are the very best work ever made, although only a colourful footnote in essentially the most storied expedition in American mountaineering.

Because the workforce waited excessive on the shoulder of K2, 26-year-old Artwork Gilkey developed blood clots in his calf. Crew chief Charlie Houston, a medical physician, examined him and instructed the others that when the clots reached Gilkey’s lungs, as they nearly definitely would, Gilkey would die.

Although they knew there was little or no hope for Gilkey, all of them dedicated themselves to the unattainable job of bringing him down the world’s second-highest mountain. When the storm cleared, they wrapped Gilkey in a sleeping bag and tattered tent, put his toes right into a rucksack and began down. Towards the top of the day, 4 of the occasion had been roped in two-man groups, and Pete Schoening was getting ready to decrease Gilkey with a line wrapped across the deal with of his ice axe, which he’d thrust into the snow behind a small boulder to make use of as an anchor. Molenaar had taken a rope from Gilkey and tied it round his waist.

Then a person slipped, pulling his rope associate with him. These two swept one other pair off their toes, after which Gilkey and Molenaar had been caught up within the tangle. Because the six males hurtled down a 60-degree slope towards a sheer drop, the seventh, Schoening, dug in his heels and ready to be ripped from the aspect of the mountain. As an alternative, the others got here to a cease, one-by-one, the rope stretched pencil-thin.

Houston was knocked out, the others shaken and bruised. Molenaar had a cracked rib and a deep slash in his hip. However by some means, all of them had been alive. The climbers collected themselves, anchored Gilkey within the snow and spent a couple of minutes establishing an emergency camp close by. After they got here again for Gilkey he was gone, carried away in an avalanche or, some later speculated, having by some means forged himself free to avoid wasting the others from the harmful job of rescuing him.

The workforce by no means reached the summit, however they left an indelible mark on mountaineering. The so-called miracle belay, and the brotherhood of the rope it represents, stands as shorthand for all that’s good in mountaineering—teamwork, self-sacrifice, toughness, talent. Within the evaluation of mountaineering legend Reinhard Messner, “They failed, however they failed in essentially the most lovely method potential.”

The climb had a profound impact on Molenaar. “In my ‘twilight years’ I’ve come to appreciate how empty my life would have been if devoid of mountains and the friendships gained by way of climbing, snowboarding, and geologizing,” Molenaar wrote a few years later, reflecting on a mountaineering profession that will span greater than 80 years. “I’ve felt a rising kinship with the observations of Thoreau and Muir, and of 1 spiritual thinker, who wrote: ‘Rocks and mountains are a mirrored image of God’s stable and grand concepts.’”

Molenaar, second from left, together with his brother Ok, head information Clark Schurman and mates on the Mt. Rainier information home in 1939. The quartet drove from Los Angeles in a 1928 Ford Mannequin A. Picture courtesy of The Mountaineers.

Dee Molenaar was born in Los Angeles to Dutch immigrant dad and mom in 1918. As youngsters, he and his brother Cornelius—recognized to all as “Ok”—explored the close by San Gabriel Mountains and Sierra foothills. In 1939, when Molenaar was 21, the brothers and two mates drove north in a 1928 Mannequin A Ford, drawn to the excessive peaks of the Pacific Northwest. After they reached Mt. Rainier, they satisfied authorities to allow them to try the mountain with out a information, citing their latest summits of Mt. Shasta and Mt. Hood. Then, permits in hand, they marched all the way down to the information home to hire the required gear. There we met Clark Schurman, Chief Information of the Rainier Nationwide Park Firm, who took one have a look at their selfmade ice axes and smooth-soled, knee-length boots and provided to hire them the wanted tools for half value.

“Someway he appeared to take a liking to us, maybe by way of empathy for our mixed enthusiasm and apparent lack of a lot expertise climbing these glacier-clad volcanoes,” Molenaar wrote in a memoir, Excessive and Extensive With a Sketchpad, excerpted within the Northwest Mountaineering Journal. “Thankfully for us, the climate didn’t cooperate and we had been stormed off the mountain at 11,000 toes.”

When he bought again to L.A., Molenaar despatched Schurman a watercolor of Mt. Rainier, and acquired a job provide in return. The job paid $200 a season, with $100 deducted for room and board, and consisted primarily of herding vacationers to the ice caves on the terminus of the Paradise Glacier and infrequently guiding climbers on the Kautz Route. Summits paid a $15 bonus, $25 for lead guides. Molenaar led eight events to the highest of Mt. Rainier in 1940 and 1941, and he climbed on his personal or with Ok each time they bought the prospect. On the finish of the 1941 season, the brothers lapped Rainier in 24 hours however stored mum in regards to the feat. Pace climbs had been thought-about dangerous kind in these days, however extra to the purpose, the president of the Rainier Nationwide Park Firm felt that making the mountain look too straightforward could be dangerous for the guiding enterprise.

That Fall of 1941 Molenaar guided a bunch of Navy ensigns to the highest of Rainier. “They had been all younger, keen and in high form and had no issues negotiating terrain with which none had any earlier expertise. Later, I realized that 5 of the seven died at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, solely three months after our pleasant camaraderie on the mountain,” he wrote.

The Second World Conflict would interrupt Molenaar’s climbing profession, and kickstart his lifelong work as a cartographer and geologist. Molenaar served as a photographer with the U.S. Coast Guard within the Aleutian marketing campaign and the Western Pacific. He developed an aerial pictures approach during which he took a pair of photographs seconds aside, and later seen them by way of a stereoscope to supply a three-dimensional view from which he drew correct maps.

After the battle he returned to Seattle to check geology on the College of Washington—the place he lettered in pole-vaulting—and labored summers as a climbing information and ranger on Mt. Rainier. Molenaar made notable climbs all over the world, together with the second ascent of Alaska’s Mt. St. Elias (18,008 ft) in 1946, and the primary ascent of the Yukon’s Mt. Kennedy (13,944 ft) in 1965, during which he and Jim Whittaker led Sen. Robert F. Kennedy to the summit of the height named in honor of his slain brother, President John F. Kennedy.

Molenaar in his trademark Alpine hat, photographed in entrance of the mural of Mt. Rainier he painted on his storage. Picture courtesy Mountaineers Books

Molenaar is greatest recognized for the 1953 K2 expedition, and his deep connection to Mt. Rainier. He climbed the mountain greater than 50 instances by a dozen totally different routes, together with three first ascents. His Problem of Mount Rainier is the definitive climbing historical past of that mountain, wealthy with maps and illustrations. He met Colleen, his spouse of 62 years within the reward store at Mount Rainier Nationwide Park when he was a climbing ranger there in 1951.

Molenaar made various notable climbs on Rainier and elsewhere, and was a mentor to dozens of climbers by way of the years, amongst them Jim Wickwire, one of many first two Individuals to summit K2, in 1978.

“Dee is a Northwest icon who was revered and admired by different mountaineers of that period, like Tom Hornbein and Lou and Jim Whittaker,” says Mike Gauthier, who was in command of the climbing ranger program at Rainier for practically 20 years. “They regarded as much as him.”

His love of the mountain bubbled out of him, typically erupting in spontaneous yodels. He was a fixture on Rainier and the Northwest mountaineering neighborhood, an elfish determine, usually opinionated and at all times playful in his demeanor, Gauthier stated. “He preferred being round mountain individuals. He was at all times optimistic, nearly elfish in his demeanor—he and Colleen—they had been pleasant.”

Molenaar possessed a famously highly effective handshake, which appeared to convey a real enthusiasm in greeting mates previous and new. “At 99 he’d seize your hand and also you’d suppose a lobster had grabbed you,” stated longtime Rainier ranger Mike Gauthier.

When Everest pioneer Tom Hornbein visited Molenaar in 2018, an arm-wrestling match broke out on the kitchen desk. “I’m undecided who challenged who. It simply occurred. There was a number of energy in that arm of his nonetheless,” Hornbein, then 87, stated of Molenaar, who was two months shy of his 100th birthday. Hornbein was on the town to obtain a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Seattle-based climbing membership The Mountaineers, an honor Molenaar had acquired the earlier 12 months.

“His enthusiasm was infectious. He simply cherished the mountain he knew so properly and cherished sharing it,” stated Hornbein. “He was an artist, geologist, author, thinker. He knew how you can talk and share his ardour.” Molenaar’s love of mountains discovered expression in his artwork and illustrated maps, certainly one of which author Mike Ybarra described in a pleasant 2011 profile for Alpinist journal. “His map of Mt. Rainier is painted in muted tones, a chook’s eye view of the snow-capped volcano, its ridges radiating just like the arms of starfish. … A sequence of small sketches depict flanks, glaciers, and valleys. It’s much less an train in cartography than a hymn.”

Molenaar was additionally keen on giving slideshows that includes images and paintings of his many adventures, beginning together with his first try on Mt. Rainier in 1939. Every time he offered it, whether or not to middle-schoolers or gatherings of legendary mountaineers, he closed with a poem by Clark Schurman, the lead information who employed him in 1940 and shared his abiding love of Mt. Rainier.

Final campfires by no means die.
And also you and I, on separate methods to life’s December,
Will at all times dream by this final campfire,
And have this mountain to recollect.

Dee Molenaar died January 19, 2020. He was 101 years previous.

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