Memories of Dad

For Guthrie Baker, 1932–1982

Father’s Day is always a unique experience for me. I have a wonderful stepson, but my own father died when I was 17. While we did not have a perfect relationship, I try always to focus on the good memories, which often involved being outdoors. Dad was a former Marine and a Princeton graduate. He played sports into college and grew up hunting and fishing. He was tall, dark, and handsome too, so the bar was set high for me.

On top of East Zigzag Mountain, Mt. Hood’s doorstep, Sierra Cup as codpiece, 1980.

When I was young, the family spent time in the Adirondack Mountains, in a spot Mother had grown up visiting: Keene Valley, home of the high peaks. Small by western standards, the Adirondacks are rocky and rough peaks. Many peaks do not have formal trails. One of my earliest memories is watching the back of Dad’s legs as we clambered up a steep rocky trail to the summit of Noonmark Mountain. It is so named for its spot in relation to town. When the sun passed over the peak, it was approximately noon. As Dad and I hiked, he really appeared to be above me, a god of sorts. I was not yet five years old.

Memories are imperfect, but I have always looked to that climb as the start of my lifetime love of the mountains, and my father was the one who led me there. Keene Valley was my mother’s childhood vacation home, and her love of the area was infectious, but it was Dad who opened up the trails and peaks to me. Other peaks followed in the coming years, including a semi-epic overnighter on Mount Marcy with my sister Hannah, where we were beset by a storm shortly after descending from the rocky summit cone. As I grew up, I also hiked with a group, the ATIS (Adirondack Trail Improvement Society), but my trips with Dad were special.

Our family moved from New York to Oregon when I was 12, and I became a mountaineer as a teen, summiting volcanos and crags around the Northwest. I surpassed Dad in mountain experience, doing multiple weeklong backpacking trips in Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. The mountains were my life, and Dad seemed more distant, caught up in a struggling business. we continued  hiking, hiking to Burnt Lake, climbing small Cascade peaks like East Zigzag Mountain and Grizzly Peak.  He finally took a mountaineering course, climbing multiple major peaks in Oregon. It was one way we bonded, even as I was being a standard issue rebellious teen.

Dad showing off newly active Mt. St. Helens. Atop East Zigzag Mountain, 1980.

In September of 1980, we planned a climb of the South Sister. Somehow, in a comedy of errors, mostly my impetuous teenage fault, we were separated between the trailhead and parking lot. I realized there was a shortcut to the trail from the back corner of the parking lot, and I made foolish assumptions. I didn’t wait for him; I hiked onward, thinking he had taken the shortcut and was ahead of me and that I was supposed to catch up to him. When I didn’t find him along the trail or on the shores of Moraine Lake a couple miles later, I was at a loss, knowing I had screwed up. I searched for him to no avail. Dad had our tent, but I was able to rig a tarp as shelter, and spent a nervous night alone.

My shelter at Moraine Lake.

In the morning, I packed up and headed back toward the trailhead. Passing hikers already knew who I was. Dad had contacted the search and rescue team. The situation was both embarrassing, comic, and ultimately, reflective of his paternal love. My father could be gruff and tough, but he also was full of love, and he wanted nothing more than to protect me.

We had other adventures, and Dad continued exploring the mountains until a heart attack took his life while he jogged in the Portland hills on a February morning in 1982.

I believe that Dad loved the mountains as much as I do, that they were a place for him to relax and reflect as well as a place to have grand adventures. I have had many subsequent adventures and learned many lessons about life because of them. I only wish we could have had more of those experiences together. My father’s ashes were scattered over the noble Mount Hood. I miss him every day.

About Josh Baker

"The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” ― John Muir

Posted on June 17, 2012, in Adventure, Climbing, Death, Family, General Hiking, Memories, Outdoors and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Wow, incredibly powerful and something I did not know you two.. I think of my Dad everyday as well. I know they are both missed. My Dad was not the out doorsy kind of guy to say the least but we did have some funny adventures out west!
    Jan

    • I suppose it’s always bittersweet to consider what we have lost, but we can treasure what we had. I stil have fond memories of being in Wyoming with you guys in ’76 at that ranch. And I was so glad that your Dad could be at Sarah’s wedding, even if ours could not.

      JB

  2. Josh….this is so beautifully written and such a loving, insightful tribute. A few tears, too. 🙂 Love you. SSBM

  3. Just a wonderful post, Josh. And yes, it made me teary, too. He left us way too soon.

  4. Hey, really nice post, Josh. I thought I’d have a look to see if you had anything written about the Adirondacks as I’m hoping to visit them for the first time around new year for a PCT hiker wedding. I’m guessing lots of snow at that time?

    I’m also grateful to my parents for my early experiences in the outdoors. In my case it was mainly via sailing in a boat my dad built and living in a house he also built right next to the ocean. Great memories.

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