Celebrating 50 years of the PCT
as a National Scenic Trail.

Dottie Geisler, Trail Gorilla, remembered

By Pete Fish

Dorothy “Dottie” Geisler, friend of the trail and longtime Trail Gorilla volunteer, passed away on Sept. 9. By my reckoning she was 89. My wife Joyce was a classmate of Dottie’s sister at Washington High School in Los Angeles and Dottie was two years ahead.

She was one of Alice Krueper’s original PCT volunteers and continued to work with the PCTA’s Trail Gorillas for many years. She volunteered as one of our first kitchen Gorillas in 1997 when she planned the menu, did the shopping, and cooked for more than 30 of us during a 10-day project at a remote site above Jawbone Canyon. This was in March and the weather was terrible. It rained and snowed and the wind blew almost the whole time. Dottie did a great job keeping us going. This was one of our early projects for which we lacked enough pots and pans. On short notice I asked that volunteers visit their church or senior center and borrow some or bring them from home. They were all too successful. Most everyone brought something. First the lids got mixed up and after a while folks could not remember which items they brought. As a result we wound up with a pretty complete kitchen.

Mt. Laguna, January 2003. Rain and snow started about noon, and by mid-afternoon the crew was soaked and cold.  Snowflake on the lens obscures part of Dottie’s face, but not that great smile.  Photo by Lyle Boelter.

One of my favorite recollections of Dottie was at a spike camp at Joshua Tree Spring north of Walker Pass. Packers had dropped off kitchen gear, water and food for what we anticipated would be a good-sized crew, but only five people came. And unfortunately, the campsite at the spring was close to the den of a resident black bear that made its presence known at breakfast the first morning. We banged the coffee pot and drove him off long enough to finish eating. Then we set to work building a large trapeze to get the supplies, far more than we needed, safe in a tree. That done, we started trail work. Later that day Dottie arrived hiking in alone to find the bear sitting among the supplies. This was too much for Dottie, retired school teacher that she was. Grounding her pack and assuming an authoritative posture she pointed at the bear as she scolded him and marched him across the campsite. At some point the bear remembered that this was his home and proceeded to march Dottie back to the original spot. She then hiked on to join us on the trail with a report that we had a problem.

January 2004.  Seated from the right: Bill McConnell, Jerry Stone, Dottie, Fred Fukasawa. Standing Francois Clement, Lester Olin, Tom Cowan, Pete Fish. Photo by Francois Clement.

When we arrived back at camp the bear was gone but we did note that he had tried to climb the tree and fling himself toward the trapeze. We could tell by the bare spot on the ground where he landed that he had missed. No sign of the bear that evening or the next morning so we went to work. When we returned, no bear but he had been there. He had poked a toe in Tom’s and my tents but there was nothing to interest him inside. But when he got to Dottie’s tent it was demolished, along with a red vinyl mattress that he had eaten half of. At what seemed like an impasse, we set off for work on the third day. On returning in the late afternoon we saw some bear scat with pieces of red vinyl, sure indication this was our bear. The next day we finished the project and hiked out without further bear incident. Packers returned to retrieve the equipment and supplies including those on the trapeze. Several years’ later two hastily abandoned backpacks still with wallets and IDs were found at the spring. The hikers had apparently been chased off by the resident bear. So our earlier experience could have been worse.

Dottie was an independent person of strong character. When her sister passed away, she helped raise her niece and nephew. She showed the same determination as a trail volunteer. No job was too hard or unpleasant and she did not hesitate to speak her mind. There were times when I felt she categorized me as one of her fifth-graders who was not quite measuring up. She was a friend and I am a better person for having known her.

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Fellow Trail Gorilla, George Boone, fondly remembers Dottie as a good partner on many trail work projects.

“I could tell where she worked and used to pause, grin and tell her it looked like a manicured English garden,” he said. “Her standard comeback was that this was the Sierra Club standard. Her teacher background would show up to let me know when my digging was not clean and properly finished. I had to obey. Her cooking was not yet gourmet and kinda mirrored Pete’s, but hungry Trail Gorillas appreciated the effort. Like my mother, she would say if you don’t eat it now, you’ll eat it later.

PCT Ceremony in Soledad Canyon, June 1997.  Dottie in second row, second from left.  Trail Gorilla crew in new “Gorilla suits” dressed for the occasion.  Photo by Francois Clement courtesy of Kevin Corcoran.

“At first she was not sure she liked the horses, but soon impressed by their work ethic, started to feed them treats and ask their names,” George recalled. “She was of the old school certainly, growing up in less prosperous times and so she recycled everything, including stuff we don’t anymore, like jars and pie tins, but I would save them to humor her.

“A great friend of the trails. May she rest in peace.”

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Trail Gorilla Ray Drasher remembers a few trips with Dottie. “They would take care of being sure the tread was finished properly as they were at the point of not being able hike too far in anymore,” he said. “And I believe it was Dottie who would be sure the flowers were well taken care of. Sorry to hear of her passing.”

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Trail Gorilla Jerry Stone says “you had to understand her to appreciate her work ethic. Being a school teacher, and I believe in Home Economics, which I don’t think they teach anymore, she had a system for everything and that was how it would be. Early on when I volunteered with her, it was obvious there would not be a good enough work ethic, it had to be great.”

“She is another icon of the Trail Gorillas.”

A memorial will take place at Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach, 5450 E Atherton Street, on Saturday, Nov. 10 at 11 am.