Stony Burke did this interview after Sjaak’s completion of 48 states.
How did your interest in visiting the National Parks turn into your highpointing adventure?
My first visit to the U.S. was twenty-five years ago in 1979 while visiting a friend in an exchange program. We went to Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada and then drove to Seattle for a short time.
On another trip with my sister, Lidy, and brother, Ruud, we had just visited Carlsbad Caverns and were headed back to Los Angeles when we happened to stop at the visitor’s center to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The hiking trail looked interesting and we decided to try it. Although we didn’t have the summit in mind at the start, we eventually found ourselves far enough along and just decided to go for it. With my brother and sister, this became my first highpoint on March 11, 1992.
During another trip to the U.S. to visit the National Parks of Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef we met Sherman Stambaugh and eventually joined him for a tour of Arches National Park. We met our friend, Sherman, again on our next trip in North Carolina to visit several more parks and summited Mt. Mitchell and Clingman’s Dome for our second and third highpoints.
When did you actually start planning to continue doing highpoints?
Our first planned highpointing trip was in 1995 when my sister, Lidy, and I did Arizona and New Mexico.
When did you find out about the Highpointers club?
In 1997 after climbing Mt. Elbert and Kings Peak, we met a woman from Maryland who had a friend that was a Highpointer and told us about her and the club. Although I don’t recall her name, I did meet her at the Maryland convention.
How many highpoints did you have when you joined the club?
It wasn’t until I gained access to the internet in late 1998 that I was able to find information on the club. In 1999 I contacted Don Holmes who sent his guidebook to us in the Netherlands. Lidy and I joined the club that spring. I had thirteen highpoints at that time.
How did the weather factor in on your highpointing trips?
The weather has been quite good on most of my highpoint trips, so nearly all the summit attempts took only once. In September 1998, Lidy and I had to turn back on Boundary. The Trail Canyon Road was washed away in places so we had to find another approach. Because of that we had a late start and then after getting to the trail saddle a storm moved in. Lidy wasn’t able to join me the following year but I was able to make a solo summit on July 3rd. In 2003 the weather in Washington State was so bad our group didn’t even start the Rainier climb.
Did you have any special foods or drinks while on these U.S. highpoint trips?
I really like Bush’s Best Vegetarian Baked Beans for breakfast. It was just an experiment that worked well after trying other brands and varieties. I also like lots and lots of tea, preferring Earl Grey and drink it plain. A dinner favorite is chili no beans with rice. After a successful summit, there’s always a good steak and of course, cherry pie a la mode!
What was your favorite highpoint?
There are several. Gannett my 48th along with Chuck Bickes completing his 50th. This coupled with having my sister, Lidy, there to share it with me. Whitney was a lovely day trip where I met an American colleague on the summit much to my surprise! Granite, for taking Jakk’s ashes up that difficult mountain.
What was your least favorite?
Mississippi was a very messy area with evidence of kids having parties there. I actually went to this highpoint twice during the same trip, once solo before Lidy arrived and once about a week later after she arrived. Both of these trips were after the Missouri convention.
Have you been able to attend any of the conventions?
I have been to five conventions: MO, MD, OK, IL and WA and did the group hikes with club members at the first four.
How many trips overseas did it take you to complete the 48?
On eighteen overseas trips I did one or more new highpoints. The most highpoints in one trip was 10 midwestern states in 10 days driving 4600 miles. In order the states were: IL, IA, NE, SD, ND, MN, WI, OH and IN. Thirty-two of the highpoints were in the month of September, of which seven were on the 12th. September 12th saw me at AZ in ’95, CA in ’96, CO in ’97, LA in ’99, IN and OH in ’01 and ID in ’02. It is a special date for me!
Since you weren’t always able to find climbing partners did you summit any highpoints solo?
I did 21 highpoints solo. Lidy was with me on 16 and I have 10 repeats.
Now that you have completed the 48, what are your future plans?
Someday I hope to go to Hawaii, but doing Denali is not very likely. I would also like to help Lidy to get as many highpoints as possible. Maybe I will do some more 14ers and/or Cascade volcanoes.
Special thanks should be given to my sister, Lidy. She was with me on both my first and 48th highpoint! Also my brother, Ruud, who I have climbed 4 highpoints with and Sherman Stambaugh who has shared 6 highpoints with me and hosted me in NC many times. Thanks also to my special friends in Ann Arbor, MI (who taught me a lot of American slang!), Mark Comstock (for planning the Hood, Rainier and other cascade climbs) his wife Wendy (for her scrumptious pies), Gordie Comstock (for sharing the final and most difficult climbs of WY, MT, OR and WA, and Larry Baker (for planning the Granite trip). I also want to thank Tim Haderly of WA for planning the trips to the Pacific Northwest, the Wisener family for taking me to the NJ HP, Gene Schaller of DE for sharing some western climbs, Chuck Bickes and Stony Burk for letting us join their team on Gannett and all of the great people in the Highpointers who have made me feel such a part of this great club!
Footnotes from the Interviewers.
Sjaak has become a very dear friend who we have managed to see at least once a year since 1999. He took Wendy and me to the Netherlands and Belgium highpoints when we visited him and he lays over in Detroit when he can so we can hike. It also gives him a chance to enjoy some of Wendy’s home cooking! He is the most upbeat of friends who shares a good laugh and loves to be in the outdoors. We hope to share many more adventures with him and his sister, Lidy. — Mark Comstock
Mark and I both wanted to help Sjaak celebrate his accomplishment and offered to interview him for his completer write-up. It took a few international calls and a couple of emails to get all the information and I hope we got it right. It was an honor to climb with Sjaak on Gannett and present him with his 48 completer pin and it is a privilege to have interviewed him. Kongratulations Sjaak! — Stony Burk