Trail Gorillas Mourn the Death of Al Golightly, Friend and Dedicated Cook

By Mark Larabee

Trail Gorilla Al Golightly, a soft-spoken but dedicated camp cook who greeted weary trail crews with food and encouragement for more than two decades, died Oct. 30 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was 79.

Al and his wife, Edwina, who goes by Neddie, were fixtures in Trail Gorilla front-country camps, where they teamed up to lavish hungry trail crews from a green, well-appointed, two-wheeled kitchen trailer that Al had refurbished. In 2004, the couple received the PCTA’s Trail Maintainer of the Year Award.

Al and Neddie Golightly making pancakes before first light.

“They earned the affection of all of us Trail Gorillas,” said Pete Fish, longtime leader of the group. “Hunger was never an issue with them on the job!”

“Al Golightly was one of the nicest men I have ever known,” said Doris Peddy, another beloved Trail Gorilla, who maintained trails and cooked for crews. “He was dedicated to the Pacific Crest Trail. I worked with him many times cooking for trail crews. I miss him very much.”

Jerry Stone, a Trail Gorilla’s section chief, said he will always remember Al greeting crews at the end of a hard day’s work with cold beers in hand.

“He would have snacks set out and a friendly smile interested in the days work,” he said. “He was quiet and talked very little of his career but was genuinely interested in all the volunteers. Volunteers come in all varieties, some boisterous others not so much—but they all have a heart for this work and Al had that to the very end.”

It was not Al’s idea to join the PCTA. Neddie had known about the PCT since the late 1950s and always wanted to hike the entire length, but her teaching career and Al’s career with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service precluded the long journey.

They loved the outdoors, she said. Al climbed Mount Whitney as a young man and the couple and their two sons scoured many backcountry trails, including sections of the PCT in Southern California. They climbed many peaks in the region as well, including Mount Baldy and San Gorgonio Peak. In the late 1990s, Al summited Mount San Jacinto.

It was after her retirement in the 1990s that Neddie saw an ad for a kitchen helper in one of the PCTA newsletters and decided to get involved. She volunteered for a project, but the lead cook for the trip had to bow out at the last minute.

“All of the sudden, I was no longer the helper,” she recalled with a chuckle. “And of course, Al was always there. We pretty much throughout our lives have done things together. I knew he would support me in whatever I wanted to do. We loved hiking. He’s the guy always behind me helping. I couldn’t have done it without him.”’

From then on, she and Al would plan meals together, do the shopping and drive to remote trailheads to put out their famous spreads.

“Every single person who was ever at any project we were on was very appreciative,” Neddie said. “There were people who would come to the project because they knew we were cooking. That’s the best compliment.”

They were a true team and an integral part of the success of the Trail Gorillas, a fact that did not go unnoticed.

“Al was a great guy,” said Mike Dawson, the PCTA’s director of trail operations. “He was a stalwart for the Trail Gorillas and really helped them be successful.”

“First and foremost, Al and Edwina showed their deep enduring love for one another always,” Jerry said. “Al fought his disease daily for many years and Edwina was there for help and encouragement. Al had good times and bad, but he continued to be Edwina’s right-hand man in the kitchen at PCTA projects.”

Pete recalled the couple’s dedication during an extended project at the at Black Mountain Trailhead.

“They were not only cooking for those staying at the trailhead, but also for a half dozen or so of us who were bivvying on Fuller Ridge,” he said. “They would cook enough for both groups, then George Boone would pack food (on horseback) the next morning for dinner on Fuller Ridge. Worked like a charm. Grub was terrific.”

On another project, Al and Neddie delivered the cook trailer to the campsite, but couldn’t stay to cook.

“As we were unhitching the trailer, Al realized he had locked their car with the only set of keys inside,” Pete recalled. “It was a brand new car, so Al’s decision to break the window did not come easily. But we had the right equipment, a brand new airless jackhammer. It did a fine job, as it should have.”

When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Al was determined to fight and worked hard to keep the disease at bay. He hiked regularly on the trails in Claremont Wilderness Park, close to home, putting in more than 100 miles a week, Neddie said.

“It keeps your body working,” she said. “If you give up it’s all over. Your body’s going to make you give up eventually, but you maintain that forward motion as long as you can.

“We were fortunate because his wasn’t a virulent disease where he went down in five years,” she said. “It was a long, drawn-out affair.”

In 2002, Al was hiking and fell going downhill, fracturing a vertebra in his neck. The injury healed, but in 2005, he fell again and spent a long time recovering, Neddie said. His hiking was severely curtailed, but he recovered.

The couple’s last trail project was in March. Al was not steady on his feet, Neddie said, and eventually she took him home and went back to the camp to cook.

“This year has been a downhill slide,” she said. “I haven’t done any more. I was afraid to leave the house.”

Neddie said she wants to continue cooking for the Trail Gorillas.

“What else is there to do except help the trail?” she asked. “I think all of us owe something to the environment and we owe something to our fellow man. Al espoused that completely. What else is better?”

In addition to his wife, Al is survived by sons Dana and Fredric, and four grandchildren, ages 5 to 15.

A memorial service is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 330 E. 16th Street, Upland, Calif. A light lunch will follow at Al and Neddie’s home, 520 Chouinard Circle, Claremont.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is PCTA's Associate Director of Communications and Marketing. He is co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.

Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton