A peak experience: Molenaar was born to climb

“We were on K-2 and one of our guys got into trouble — blood clots in the legs and one lung. We had to call off the climb and were attempting to lower him off the mountain with ropes. I glanced at another of our (five-man) group, saw him slip. Before I could say a word, he was sliding down the mountain and had pulled me off my perch. We were all roped together, sliding down this washboard slope to a 6,000-foot sheer drop. I remember exhilaration and a rush of wind .... Then I was pulled up short. One of our climbers, Pete Schoening, had thrown a rope over a rock. He said later that strand of rope pulled so tight it was the thickness of a pencil — but it held. He secured that rope for two hours while the rest of us climbed back up. All but the injured man — we never saw him again.

— Dee Molenaar, recalling an incident on the world’s second tallest mountain, K-2, 28,250 feet above sea level, in Kashmir, Aug. 10, 1953; the same year Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Mount Everest.

On Aug. 9, 1993, one day short of 40 years later, the body of the long lost climber was found at the foot of K-2 by a British climbing group.

The bones were returned to the man’s family, and his parka — about the only other thing found intact — ended up in a collection of climbing memorabilia at the Eddie Bauer outdoors and sports equipment company, said Dee Molenaar.

Molenaar, 84, now a South Kitsap resident, is a combination geologist, park ranger, world-class mountain climber and guide, photographer, mapmaker and artist. His maps and paintings of mountains worldwide are on display at Collective Visions, Fifth Street and Pacific Avenue, in Bremerton throughout March.

Every scene was painted from life — either on site or from photos he took on scene. Every map was drawn and painted by hand after he’d taken 3-D shots from a chartered plane. He was once commissioned to do a series of Antarctic maps for the National Geographic Society.

Molenaar was born June 21, 1918, in Los Angeles to Dutch immigrant parents. He had a younger sister Jo and an older brother Cornelius who they called “K.”

Molenaar’s mother named her middle child “Deo,” Latin for “God.”

“The first time I was in a class where the teacher knew some Latin, she informed the rest of the students ‘we are honored by the presence of God in our classroom,’” said Molenaar making a sour face. “I never knew what it meant. From then on, I hated the name, and changed it to ‘Dee.’”

In 1939, Molenaar, his brother and two friends decided to see the states in a Model A. They started by heading up the West Coast, and climbed mountains for fun whenever they could.

“We spent weeks on Mount Hood and Mount Shasta,” he said. “While we were at Paradise we climbed Mount Rainier with our homemade pick axes — made out of garden tools. The chief guide, Clarke Sherman, felt sorry for us, and gave us some real equipment.”

Sherman, a famous Boy Scout leader who died in 1955, was something of a mentor to young Molenaar. He regaled him with countless mountain climbing stories and, because he was an artist himself and knew talent when he saw it, he encouraged Molenaar. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in geology and minor in art.

He’s made a living as a geologist, but became something of a Renaissance man of the outdoors: he was at one point a photographer for the U.S. Coast Guard, and a park ranger at Mount Rainier

“I still like to hike,” he said. “But now it’s mostly in the meadows (foothills). Went to the 10,000 foot camp on Rainier recently with my daughter and grandson .... He’s only eight, but kept ahead of me all the way,” he laughed.

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