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Stella Degenhardt - Personal Communication

Taped interview, 27 April 2001
At Stella Degenhardt's home in Issaquah, Washington
by Lowell Skoog

Stella joined the Mountaineers in 1950 and married Bill Degenhardt in 1951. She learned how to ski from her husband after she joined the Mountaineers. Most of her skiing was touring; she did little downhill skiing. Bill Degenhardt died in 1956.

The number of ski tourers was very small in the 1950s when she started. "If you met anyone out on the slopes you probably knew them, or at least knew of them," Stella said. The first time she met Paul and Gertrude Shorrock she was resting next to the trail and Bill had gone on ahead. They asked, "Are you out here by yourself?" And she answered, "Oh no. Bill's just ahead," without really thinking about it. And the Shorrocks replied, "Would that be Bill Degenhardt?" It was a very small world. Paul Shorrock taught school and was a seasonal ranger on the White River side of Mt Rainier in summer.

Stella recalled, "Whenever the Mountaineers scheduled a ski tour, almost everybody would sign up, but that still gave us parties of only 8 to 12 skiers." In the early years, Jack Hossack and Roy Snider were among the more active ski tourers. Later in the 1950s and into the 1960s, Stella's group included Gary Rose, Hal Williams, Cal Magnusson, Keith Gunnar, Marilyn Loranger Tilbury, Neva Kerrick, Vic Josendal, Paul Wiseman, Bill Zauche and Frank Fickeisen.

Ira Spring organized some of the really fun longer trips. One trip in the late 1950s was to the Boston Basin-Cascade Pass area. Stella remembered going up the trail toward Eldorado Peak and then skiing toward Cascade Pass. (I suspect they went up the Boston Basin trail.) She had an April 5, 1959, Seattle Times pictorial article about the trip. John Meulemans carried a monstrous pack on the trip because he joined at the last minute and the groceries he bought included stuff like large cans of peaches. Stella and the others felt sorry for him and helped him out by eating the food he'd hauled up there.

Stella recalled that Gary Rose was one of the first people she knew who tried skinny cross country skis. He used some on a trip to Summerland on Mt Rainier and found descending the trail back to the road very challenging. In the 1950s, Stella and others bought war surplus skis and took them to Wally Burr, who would steam them to add camber and make them more flexible. Burr would then install bindings. Stella recalled using simple bear trap bindings.

In 1954, Bill Degenhardt was planning to lead a trip up Mt Snoqualmie so he went up with Stella and Loretta Slater on skis to do a little scouting. They had been out of town recently, and while they were gone there had been a warm spell, then a freeze, then snowfall, classic conditions for an avalanche. During their tour the sun came out and warmed the snow. They had stopped for lunch and were about to head home when Bill decided to take a look over a nearby ridge. He later said, "The minute I stepped on the slope I knew I'd made a mistake." An avalanche caught him but he was able to stay on top of it until it went over a small cliff. He broke his pelvis in the ride over the cliff. Stella skied out for help and the Mountain Rescue Council brought Bill out. Stella recalled that it was Easter Sunday. She showed me clippings about the accident from the Seattle Times and P-I on April 19 and 20, 1954.

In 1959, Ira Spring organized a ski trip to Glacier Peak in which the party was flown in by Bill Fairchild's ski plane. Stella showed me photos from the trip (which I later copied) and gave me a copy of her story of the trip (wsd-collection). She recalled going to the Gold Hill cabin about once a year for 8 to 10 years. They would hike up the Crystal Lake trail from Highway 410 and cross over the divide into Morse Creek. Most of these trips were done before Crystal Mountain ski area opened but they continued for a few years afterward. This trip and tours into Summerland were much more practical in the 1950s and 1960s when the road to Cayuse Pass was kept open in the winter.

Stella didn't remember how Bill Degenhardt met Chuck Hessey. She recalled that one link between skiers on the east and west side of the Cascades was that they sometimes signed up for Alpine Club of Canada winter trips to Canadian huts (at places like Yoho or the Icefields Parkway). Bill Degenhardt, Marion Hessey and Rick Mack used to go on some of those trips. Chuck Hessey made a number of films but didn't have too much luck distributing them commercially. He did get one or two televised.

We talked about a few other ski trips, but not in detail. Stella mentioned a New Years trip to MacGregor Mountain organized by Frank Fickeisen. Somebody thought the south side of the mountain looked good for skiing during a summer trip to Mt Goode. In the winter it ended up being mostly a series of cliffs. They spent a night in a cabin near the Stehekin River and another night out in tents, then decided to turn around. We talked a little about backcountry cabins in the 1950s and 1960s. Stella recalled a late fall trip to Hannegan Pass with Keith Gunnar where they stayed in a cabin. She remembered that the Mountaineers opposed building the cabin at Camp Schurman on Mt Rainier. The Mountain Rescue Council people built it without support from the club. Cabins became less important in later years as camping gear and winter clothing became lighter. Stella never skied in the Methow mountains. It seems that west side skiers didn't think about that area much as a place to ski before the North Cascades highway was completed.

We talked at some length about Mountaineer history, useful references, people and photos. Many of the things we talked about have been noted elsewhere in this project since our conversation. Stella noted that Tom Miller and Harvey Manning were equally responsible for starting the Mountaineers publishing program. They were co-chairmen of the literary committee. Harvey did a lot of writing and Tom coordinated production matters. This was entirely volunteer in the beginning. Regarding the Mountaineers climbing course, Stella remembered having an argument with Leo Gallagher, one of the old guard before the course got started, during a summer outing to Mt Robson. Gallagher was upset about one of the current members of the climbing committee who seemed only interested in climbing during the trip, not teaching. Stella pointed out that this individual had been working every weekend since spring teaching and organizing things for the climbing course, but this meant nothing to Leo. In his view, the summer outing was the place to teach and shepherd less experienced climbers. So, Stella said, perhaps it was not really true that the old guard before the climbing course was reluctant to teach what they knew. Perhaps instead, they just assumed that the summer outing was the place where you were expected to teach climbing.

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