History of the Desert Peaks Section
Chester Versteeg had spent 30 summers of climbing vacations in the Sierra Nevada. During that time he made many first ascent climbs of Sierra peaks, second only in number to the famous Norman Clyde. He named more than 250 Sierra Nevada peaks, passes, lakes and meadows. Then in June of 1941 he turned his attention to the desert mountains, the Inyos, which parallel the Sierra across Owens Valley. On June 1, 1941 Chester, together with Angeles Chapter climbers Virgil Sisson & Larry Jeffries, made an exploratory trip into the Inyos. They scouted a route and climbed New York Butte, a 10,668 foot peak across the Owens Valley from Mt Whitney. Versteeg was enthralled. He wrote, "New York Butte presents one of the grandest alpine views on the entire continent, the Sierra Crest from Olancha clear to Mt Tom! You may also see the vast salt deposits in Saline Valley, over 9,000 feet below to the east"
Louise Werner, who knew Chester in 1941 and who still is a member of the DPS (1991), states: "If there was any one quality that especially characterized Chester, it was enthusiasm. Chester's flame all but died under the soggy indifference he encountered every time he brought up desert climbing. It took a great deal of fanning before it caught a few individuals, mainly because Chester was such a persistent salesman. We can see him yet, before a crowd of Friday-nighters at Boos Brothers Cafeteria, trying to warm us up to the idea."
Shortly afterwards, Chester proposed the formation of the Desert Peaks Section of the Southern California Chapter, as the Angeles Chapter was then known, of the Sierra Club. Thus the DPS, as it is familiarly called, was born and it is now the oldest hiking and climbing section in our Chapter. Its first outing, on November 15-16, 1941, was the above scheduled trip to officially climb New York Butte. Ten Chapter members made this initial climb successfully: Niles Werner, Braeme Gigas, Harry Paley, Pat Carmical, Katherine Smith, Freda Walbrecht, Bill Crookston, Carl Durrell, James Tow and Harry Greenhood.
Today the Desert Peaks Section is the oldest peak climbing section in the largest Chapter of the Sierra Club. The Section was informally organized in 1941 and was formally organized in October 1945.
CELEBRATING 60 YEARS OF DESERT PEAK BAGGING
March 6, 1992
My father came to California in his late teens for a winter vacation - fell in love with the mighty Sierra ("no s, please!") Nevada - and stayed for the rest of his life. He worked his way through U.S.C. law school while holding down various night jobs But his love affair with mountains was too powerful, so he switched from law practice to being an insurance broker-thus allowing himself precious time in the summers mountain climbing. Along the way, his ever-present enthusiasm for Sierra attracted many new recruits for numerous mountain "jaunts". Winter pastime was submitting names of peaks, lakes etc. to the USGS - over 500 place names, I recall-about 350 of which were accepted and placed officially on various topographical maps. There is a display under name at the Doheny Library at U.S.C.- where he founded the Trojan Peak Club and named Trojan Peak and Lake Helen of Troy in honor of the University. He also discovered (and swam in!) the highest lake in the North American Continent--Tulinyo Lake. It was so named because it straddles both Tulare and Inyo counties. The Inyo Museum in Independence, California, has more information on his Sierra contributions.
My early summers were all spent in the Sierra-often packed in for two to three months at a time-seeing no one but a few wild animals. We absorbed: the pristine wilderness summer after summer. My only claim to hiking was being the youngest girl (age 9) to climb Mt. Langley.
Mt. Versteeg, named after my Dad, was a wonderful honor. His helping build Harwood Lodge (the 40 days and 40 nights project) and founding Desert Peak Section were highlights for my father. But to have had an ongoing Outings Award in his name is the ultimate honor. Thank you so very much for the many fine articles and remembrances. The Versteeg family is most appreciative.
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