It's a blue bird day at Teacup Lake Nordic area and the sun lights up the snowy peak of nearby Mt. Hood. I push off on a crust of perfectly groomed Nordic track on my classic skis, trying to catch...
The Mount Hood community is mourning the loss of skier, climber, photographer, real estate pro and family man Dale Crockatt, who died from cancer at the age of 57 on Sunday, July 19, 2015.
Crockatt was a lifelong adventurer who will be remembered for his epic journeys up, down and around Mount Hood, his deep connections to the mountain community, and his timeless photographs. He climbed to the summit of Mt. Hood for the first time at age 16, worked as a pro patroller for Timberline and Mt. Hood Meadows, served as head bartender at Charlie’s Mountain View Restaurant during the 1980s and 90s, and assisted with numerous search and rescue missions with the Clackamas County Sheriffs, the 304th Airborne Rescue and the Crag Rats.
Dale spent his last 18 years with his life partner Sandi Strader, and he died Sunday morning at the home they shared in Hood River. He is also survived by his mother Anne Crockatt; his sister Debbie Crockatt Forgey; his brother and sister-in-law Brian and Jane Crockatt; his stepdaughter Shana Hay and her husband Mike Hay; his granddaughters Anika, 5, and Anya, 2; Sandi’s sisters and their husbands, Gary and Adairlyn Moon and Mike and Sherry Mcnulty; multiple nieces and nephews; and many mountain friends.
His life partner Sandi Strader describes Dale as a “giving, caring person who always saw the positive side of things and was grateful for everything he had.”
Crockatt’s knowledge of Mount Hood was legendary. He climbed and skied all of the classic routes on the mountain many times, including the High Traverse around the mountain, the Sandy Headwall, Cooper Spur and the Sunshine Route.
Longtime powder skier, racing coach and mountaineer Matt Stember was happy to tag along on as many of those adventures as possible. He remembers, “Dale would call us up and say, ‘Guys, what are you doing tomorrow? I got a dream.’ And he would do all the recon, all the homework. He would say, ‘I’ve been watching it, and the Sandy Headwall is perfect right now.’ Or the Sunshine Route. Or Cooper Spur. Standard routes — but he would know when they were ripe. He’d say we’re doing it at 9:45 — not 9:30, not 10:15. And we’d go, ‘Roger that.’ He was sharing his wealth of knowledge with us when we were young and dumb, and he knew exactly what he was talking about. When Dale says it’s ripe, it’s like an orchardist in Hood River saying the pears are ripe. He knows.”
Another longtime ski mountaineering buddy of Crockatt’s, Ralph Weary, recalls meeting Dale on the summit of Mount Hood in 1982. “Dale pretty much knew everything there was to know about Mount Hood, and he had climbed everything up there,” Weary says. “But it wasn’t all about getting rad and doing hairball stuff with Dale. He just loved getting out there and sharing that mountain experience with people.”
Stember and Weary rented Crockatt’s small cabin in Rhododendron in the early 1980s while Dale went out on an adventure with his skis and his camera, traveling to World Cup races and shooting photographs of the great racers of the era, Ingemar Stenmark and Franz Klammer and their peers. The best money shots then as now showed the base of the ski with the manufacturer’s name readable, which required getting in tight and setting up straight downhill from racers ripping it on edge at 70 miles an hour. “Dale was working the angles like none other, because he’s Dale,” remembers Stember. “And pretty soon he was getting some really good shots of the all-time greats.”
Not surprisingly, given his appetite for adventure, Crockatt survived some close calls on Mount Hood. On one south side climb in 1991, his 11th Hood ascent in 17 days, he scratched his way out of a crevasse he had fallen into and climbed down in socks after losing his boots. During another misadventure in 2009 he broke his femur while skiing out of bounds in White River Canyon and had to be life-flighted to OHSU.
Sandi Strader helped Crockatt through his femur injury, just as she later helped him through treatment and surgery after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. By the time he was diagnosed, it was already Stage IV, and radiation, chemotherapy and two surgeries could not stop the cancer's spread.
“He never complained,” Sandi said. “He always said he had a good life.”
Sandi and Dale met in 1997, when Dale was just starting out in real estate. She was also working in real estate, and she had grown up on the mountain, so they had a lot in common. Their first date was dinner at Timberline Lodge. Before long he had convinced her to buy a property on the mountain that had a barn for her daughter’s horse. Their relationship deepened as Dale moved into the roles of stepdad, life partner and eventually, grandfather.
“Dale was 40 when we met,” Sandi said. “He thought he would always be single. He never thought he would have a family, and he never thought he would have grandkids.”
Crockatt enjoyed doting on his grandchildren during his final days. The last big project he undertook with help from his mountain buddies was building a putt-putt golf course and play area for the grandkids in his back yard.
He was paralyzed from the ribs down for the final months of his life, yet even after he was no longer able to walk, he stayed active and positive. He organized a Mountain Strong fundraiser in April to raise money for cancer research as part of OHSU’s successful billion-dollar challenge with Nike founder Phil Knight. He also put a lot of effort into digitizing and organizing his old photographs, which he is donating to the Mt. Hood Cultural Museum.
Over the years, Dale captured some of the most vivid pictures of Mount Hood ever shot. His stunning image of Comet Hale-Bopp lighting up the night sky over the mountain, shot on film in the pre-digital era and shared with permission from Sandi, is a classic:
The tributes to Dale Crockatt have been accumulating like fresh powder since friends and family learned of his death.
Dale's life partner Sandi Strader wrote on his Facebook page, “Heaven received another angel today-my one true love and soulmate. He taught me so much these last 18 years. He will always be with me, now and forever.”
His niece Kami Crockatt wrote, “I find so much joy in knowing he's up there skiing down the biggest mountain he could find (with the biggest grin on his face). His adventurous spirit and love for the outdoors will continue to inspire me every day.”
Mt. Hood photographer Gary Randall wrote, “Mount Hood lost a good man today. I'll miss you Dale Crockatt!!”
LeAnn Wilson wrote, “Rest in peace, my friend. You brought Mt Hood to life for me 25 years ago. Your love of your mountain impressed itself on so many people. To many of us, you ARE Mount Hood. I know you're up there swooshing down unmarked powder, in the great out-of-bounds.”
Crockatt’s friend Gordon Lusk wrote, “My saving thought is that Dale really lived life to its fullest and enjoyed adventures most people never experience in 100 years.”
His mother Anne Crockatt shared an excerpt from the 1956 C.S. Lewis novel Till We Have Faces:
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
A Celebration of Life for Dale Crockatt will be held on Sunday, August 16 from 2-4 pm at the Crag Rat Hut, Crag Rat Road, Pine Grove, just south of Hood River (see CragRats.org for info and directions).
Here is a link to a story Dale originally wrote by typewriter in 1991 after surviving a fall into a crevasse during his prime as a pioneer of high-consequence ski mountaineering on Mount Hood.
And here is a link to Crockatt’s 3,279 Flickr photos from Mount Hood and other places that inspired him.
Anyone wishing to contribute to a fund set up in Dale's honor may write a check to Dale Crockatt, Mountain Strong, Account, Member #170073, and send it to Pacific NW Federal Credit Union, 1004 Pacific Ave, Hood River, OR 97031
Rest in Peace, Dale.