Herbert Elsner loved the outdoors and climbing, and whenever he made it to the top of a mountain or was on a new trail, he carved its name...
Herbert Elsner loved the outdoors and climbing, and whenever he made it to the top of a mountain or was on a new trail, he carved its name into his alpenstock, a type of walking stick used by climbers.
Mr. Elsner died Aug. 16 of cancer complications. He was 92.
At Mr. Elsner’s memorial Saturday, his children will have the alpenstock on display.
“He had a love of nature,” said Mr. Elsner’s daughter Kathie. “He had some strong feelings as many Northwesterners do, that if you eventually ruin the environment, you eventually ruin yourself.”
One of his most memorable climbs was reaching Mount Rainier’s summit with two friends in 1939. After he finished the trip, Mr. Elsner compiled the log and notes he kept while on the climb. His family still uses it, like the alpenstock, to tell his story:
Mr. Elsner was born in 1913 in Zenith, an unincorporated area of King County, and graduated from Highline High School in 1931. He became an Eagle Scout, and after high school received a teaching certificate in math from the Western Washington College of Education, now Western Washington University, in Bellingham.
A few years after climbing Rainier, Mr. Elsner was drafted into the Army. He served during World War II in New Guinea and the Philippines as a radio operator and construction foreman, and eventually earned the rank of master sergeant.
Herbert Elsner’s writing
Excerpts from his climb of Mount Rainier
Getting ready for the climb: “All preparations have finally been completed, we three, Grant, Cliff and I, were off on a long dreamed of trip to the summit of Mt. Rainier”
The climb begins: “Having had our climbing equipment checked and after receiving the latest weather forecast, we departed for Camp Hazard, our first night’s stopping place … After several hours of steady going, we found ourselves resting more frequently and for longer periods of time. Since the sun was still high in the sky our object, Camp Hazard, loomed a thousand feet above us.”
The ascent: “We arose, just as the sun’s rays reached the summit of Mt. Adams … In a few minutes we were on our way, heading for the Kautz icefall, which towered directly above us. It was a jumbled, broken, awe inspiring mass of ice that would require a number of hours of hard climbing before being conquered.”
Approaching the summit: “It was about two o’clock in the afternoon as we approached the final climb leading to the saddle between Peak Success and the crater … There was a small snowfield below the crater, which we had to cross, but we were glad to climb on the rocks for a change after all day on the ice.”
The summit: “After dark Cliff and I climbed back to the rim of the crater to a point where the light of Paradise Valley could be seen … Myriads of stars filled the sky against which Success Peak and Liberty Cap were solemnly silhouetted. They appeared like sentinels, who watched, sometimes in peace, more often in storm, a forlorn world of snow and ice.”
After more than 4 ½ years abroad at war, Mr. Elsner returned and married Evelyn. When he died, they had been married for 57 years.
Teaching didn’t suit Mr. Elsner, and he eventually found his niche opening a bowling alley in Bellevue after the family moved from Seattle in 1949, Kathie Elsner said.
Mr. Elsner ran the bowling alley for 15 years, and most of the family got involved in the game. Mr. Elsner was bowling well into his later years, and Kathie Elsner said the family is even thinking of setting up a scholarship for high-school graduates who want to bowl in college.
Mr. Elsner’s son, David, said he thought the reason his dad liked working at the bowling alley was simply that he enjoyed being with people.
“One of the things that I don’t think I’ll ever forget was how much he really liked people,” David Elsner said. “That’s part of the reason he liked the bowling alley, just because he liked to talk to people.”
By the time Mr. Elsner retired, he had worked a variety of jobs, including at Washington Natural Gas and the post office. But retirement couldn’t keep him idle, Kathie Elsner said.
In retirement, Mr. Elsner volunteered at Youth Eastside Services and was a natural handyman when helping out.
Mr. Elsner is survived by his wife, Evelyn, and children Kathie of Medina, David of Woodinville and Carol Elsner of Bellevue, and four grandchildren. A memorial service will be Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Sunset Hills Funeral Home in Bellevue. He will be buried Sept. 14 in a military service at Tahoma National Cemetery.
Instead of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Youth Eastside Services of Bellevue or the Salvation Army in Mr. Elsner’s name.
Ari Bloomekatz: 206-464-2540 or firstname.lastname@example.org