American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Chester David Tollakson, 1936-1994

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1995



More than anything, Dave Tollakson was a teacher. He was devoted to his students as a mathematics and drafting instructor and upon his retirement from Burbank, California’s John Muir Junior High School, he established an academic scholarship there with his wife Lynn. In 1985, Dave was a candidate for NASA’s Teacher in Space Program and in his application described his teaching philosophy in this way: “I believe my number-one educational commitment in working with school children is to be firm, fair and consistent. I try to motivate, inspire and stimulate my kids in hopes they will stretch their limits and strive for excellence.”

Dave practiced this same straightforward vision outside the classroom as well. Raised on a farm in Argyle, Wisconsin with three sisters and a brother, Dave’s passion for outdoor adventure was first sparked through his joy in hunting and fishing as a boy. Enlisting in the army in 1954, Dave served in Germany, where he discovered skiing as one of the consuming interests that would serve to shape the experiences of his later life.

From 1971 to 1994, Dave was a member of the National Ski Patrol where his devotion to service resulted in numerous awards. Many of Dave’s most enduring friendships came from his NSP participation. He was instrumental in having the NSP recognized in search-and-rescue operations. He ultimately became the Southern California Adviser for the Mountaineering Section. Dave’s instinct and passion for teaching was his great gift here, too, and one of Dave’s legacies is the generations of ski patrollers who first developed and then honed their mountaineering skills through his masterful patience and guidance.

Dave’s mountaineering adventures took him to the far corners of our planet. He climbed in the Pamirs, the Himalaya, Antarctica, the Andes. He had scaled six of the highest summits of each continent. He died before he could fulfill his dream of climbing the seventh one, Mount Everest. He was on a training climb as a member of the 1995 American Mount Everest Expedition when he fell to his death on April 9 on the Snowcreek route on Mount San Jacinto, near Palm Springs. Our expedition commemorates the early English pioneers to Everest and now Dave’s memory as well.

At his memorial service, those whom Dave had taught in the classroom and in the mountains came to offer their respect. By any measure, those who were touched by his wonderful life will remember him as the giver and as the one who honored as more important the process in working for the summit than in actually standing on it. With a grin that would brighten the darkest moment, Dave inspired us to stretch our limits, and it is fitting to think of him in the present tense, with lessons that he taught us teaching us still. As he would say in life, no matter the endeavor, “To the top!”

Paul Pfau

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