Hulda Hoehn Crooks was born on May 19, 1896, in a log and sod house on the banks of the White Sand River in Assiniboia, which was then part of the Canadian Northwest Territories. Later the town of Ebenezer sprang up near there and Assiniboia was assimilated into the new Canadian Province that today is known as Saskatchewan.
One of 18 children, young Hulda gorged on meat and candy and by the age of 16, she weighed 160 pounds. Shortly before she turned 18, she left the farm, became a Seventh-day Adventist, and adopted an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet. The weight came off as she worked and went to school at Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, and Loma Linda University. In school, she worked long hours in the kitchen on her feet or was sitting in a classroom, neither of which provided the proper exercise. The work and study combination damaged her health, and she was 31 by the time she completed her degree in dietetics. This was why she took to physical activity.
“Physical activity always made me feel good,” said Hulda. Eventually, of course, she regained her health, and in her talks with young people, she tries to impress on them that life is before them, but they must take care of their bodies. “Human beings are allowed just one body per customer,” says Hulda. She adds, however, that the length of our lease on life, and the quality of it is largely up to each individual, “It depends on how we take care of ourselves,” said Mrs. Crooks.
In the fall of 1927 Hulda married her high school sweetheart, Samuel Crooks, who was a long-time anatomy teacher at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. Despite his heart condition, Samuel took Hulda on many camping trips and continually encouraged Hulda to study and enjoy the outdoors.
Hiking and climbing helped her endure his death in 1950, and the death of their only son, Wesley, in 1969. She began running in her backyard, and occasionally up and down the fire escape at Nichol Hall. Hulda’s exercise routine was best described by her in a one-page biographical sketch she wrote for her file at Loma Linda University (when she was 80 years of age!).
Early to bed and early to rise. Out jogging about 5:30 a.m. Jog a mile and walk it back briskly. At the beginning of 1976 , it takes me 12 minutes to jog the mile and 15 minutes to walk it. Do some upper trunk exercises, work in the yard, and walk to the market, and work.
Hulda’s mountain-climbing feats are legendary. She first climbed Mount Whitney in 1962 at the age of 66. She subsequently climbed the mountain every year from 1962 to 1982 (except in 1965 when inclement weather did not permit her climbing). At the age of 72, Hulda climbed Mount Whitney twice in two weeks. The first was with five teenagers in the night to see the beautiful sunrise. Her second climb was with her brothers, Ed, age 75, and Chris, age 77.
Affectionately known as “Grandma Whitney”, Hulda Crooks successfully scaled the 14,505-foot (4,421 m) Mount Whitney a total 23 times between the ages of 65 and 91. In 1987, at age 91, she became the oldest woman to complete the ascent of the highest peak in Japan, the 12,388-foot Mt. Fuji. She climbed Mount Whitney for the last time later in 1987.
Hulda eventually held eight world records for women over the age of 80 including Senior Olympic events in marathon and road races. In addition she climbed a total of 86 different Southern California peaks, each over 5,000 feet between 1977 and 1983.
In addition to climbing, Hulda Crooks was also an avid backpacker. She regularly takes backpacking trip over other trails, such as the 212-mile John Muir, Trail between Yosemite National Park and Mount Whitney. She has also descended to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and has crossed the High Sierras, 80 miles from west to east. She also runs in local races, and every month or so, in the summertime, she climbs one of the mountains of southern California just to stay in shape.
Hulda Crooks contends that good health is within the reach of most Americans, and that what we have to do is let our minds take control of our bodies.
“If the mind doesn’t tell the body what to do, it won’t do anything,” said Mrs. Crooks, “It will just sit. The body will respond, at any age, to its physiological ability.”
“That doesn’t mean,” she added, “that at 88, I have the physiological ability of someone who is 18, but to the limit of my own personal physiological ability, it will do what my mind tells me to do.”
Hulda Crooks pass away peacefully on Sunday, November 22, 1997 in her Linda Valley Villa retirement home. She was 101. Mrs. Crooks is survived by three grandchildren, Bruce Couch of Yucaipa, Tammie Singer of Colorado, and Scott Hoehn of California; and two great-grandchildren, Patrick and Ariana Couch of Yucaipa.
Her many hiking companions included United States congressman Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands). Congressman Lewis said in his statement:
No mountain was ever too high for this gentle giant. With a twinkle in her eye, and purpose in her step, Grandma Whitney showed the world that mental, physical, and spiritual health is attainable at any age.