Kurt Beam, Otto Trott, Al Krupp, and Wolf Bauer (L-R) rescue Bill Degenhardt in a Stokeski litter after he broke his hip in an avalanche on Mt Snoqualmie, 1954. Photo courtesy The Spring Family Trust for Trails. (http://www.springtrailtrust.org)
  Wolf Bauer  
  Part 3  


In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a small number of Mountaineer climbers set new standards for difficult and adventurous climbing in the Cascades. They included Art Winder and Forest Farr, who made the landmark first ascent of Chimney Rock, and William Degenhardt and Herbert Strandberg, who made the first climbs in the rugged Picket Range. These climbers were self-taught and generally unfamiliar with the most recent developments in climbing technique in Europe. Wolf and his younger friends found the old guard unapproachable and felt they were reluctant to pass on their skills to the newcomers. Wolf decided to teach himself using books acquired from Europe.

Wolf Bauer climbing Mt Shuksan, 1930. Courtesy Wolf Bauer.
Wolf Bauer climbing Mt Shuksan, 1930. Courtesy Wolf Bauer.
In 1933, Wolf got permission from the Seattle Area Council of the Boy Scouts to offer Explorer Scouts basic mountaineering instruction. For rock climbing practice, he took them to a glacial boulder near his Seattle home, called “Big Rock” or “Wedgewood Rock.” This instruction was the germ of the Ptarmigan Climbing Club, a group of former Boy Scouts who a few years later would make their own mark in Cascade history.

A group of younger Mountaineers enlisted Wolf to teach the club’s first climbing course during the winter and spring of 1935. Wolf corresponded with acquaintances in Europe, including the renowned guide Luis Trenker, who helped him obtain technical books written in German. In what he later described as “an almost frantic effort to catch up with the Alps,” Wolf practiced techniques “in dark secrecy”—he made his first free-hanging rappel off the Cowen Park bridge—before showing them to his Mountaineer students. He taught snow climbing, self arrest, and crevasse rescue techniques at the sand bluffs of Fort Lawton (now Discovery Park). Other field trips were held at Little Si, McClellans Butte, and Commonwealth Basin.

During the summer of 1934, Wolf teamed with Hans Grage to make two unsuccessful attempts on Ptarmigan Ridge, the formidable north spur of Mount Rainier visible from Seattle. Grage had attempted the ridge in 1933 with Wendell Trosper and Jarvis Wallen. During the 1935 climbing course, Wolf and Jack Hossack, one of his students, decided to give the route another try. After Labor Day, they approached the mountain from the Carbon River. Over two days, they climbed to the summit, spending twelve hours cutting steps up the steep ice slopes and bivouacking atop Liberty Cap. The route was the first up the north side of Mount Rainier and the hardest ice climb yet completed in the Northwest.

The following winter and spring, Wolf taught the Mountaineers climbing course again, this time divided into basic and intermediate levels. The intermediate course included instruction in the use of pitons for rock climbing. Near the end of the course, Wolf and four of his students, Othello Phil Dickert, Joe Halwax, Jack Hossack and George MacGowan, decided to try Mount Goode, a remote summit that had repulsed the best Cascade climbers of the day, including Hermann Ulrichs, Everett Darr, Art Winder and Forest Farr. Bauer’s party not only succeeded on their “class project,” but also ushered in the Iron Age of climbing in the Northwest, placing pitons for the first time on a new route in the Cascades.

His standard-setting climbs on ice and rock would by themselves earn Wolf a lasting place in Northwest climbing history. Yet his efforts to teach others had a far greater impact. Students from his 1936 course included Ome Daiber, mountain rescue icon and leader of the team that climbed Liberty Ridge just two weeks after Wolf’s Ptarmigan Ridge ascent, William Degenhardt, one of the “greats” of the old guard and a future president of The Mountaineers, and Lloyd and Mary Anderson, who founded Recreational Equipment Co-op in 1938 to provide gear for the growing ranks of course graduates. After Wolf moved on in 1937 due to the demands of his work, his former students became teachers. In 1939, Lloyd Anderson began teaching a teenager named Fred Beckey, who graduated from the intermediate course in 1940 and immediately began making history on unclimbed peaks and routes throughout the Northwest.

The Mountaineers climbing course became the model for similar club and college programs throughout the West. In 1946, The Climbers’ Notebook, a compilation of lecture notes from the course, was published as a paperback book. In 1960, after years of work by hundreds of volunteers, it became Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, the most widely used climbing text in North America. Like a stone thrown into a pool, Wolf’s influence spread outward. For several decades following World War II, if you asked any prominent Northwest climber how they got started, chances are they would begin, “Well, I took the climbing course in nineteen-so-and-so.” Historian Harry Majors has called creation of the Mountaineers climbing course the single most influential event in the history of Cascade mountaineering.

Mountain Rescue

Following his climb of Liberty Ridge in 1935, Ome Daiber was called to help in a winter search for Delmar Fadden, a young climber who perished during a solo climb of Mount Rainier. Later, Daiber became an informal focal point for organizing rescues. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, The Mountaineers maintained a list of experienced climbers, graduates of the climbing course, who were willing to be called for search and rescue operations. A central committee made up of the climbers’ wives (“the call girls”) managed the phone list. After World War II, this informal group was increasingly called upon to help people outside The Mountaineers.

In his work as a ceramic engineering consultant, Wolf often traveled to Europe. (In 1942, he declined an invitation from Fred Beckey to climb Mount Waddington because he was too busy with his work.) In 1948, after visiting a client in Holland, Wolf spent time in Bavaria, where he learned about the Bergwacht (“mountain watch”), a volunteer rescue group much like the National Ski Patrol in the United States. Wolf obtained a film of the Bergwacht in action and some books about their methods. He realized that, as in skiing and climbing in the 1930s, Europe was ahead of the U.S. in rescue techniques and organization.

Ome Daiber (L) and Wolf Bauer (R) raise Dee Molenaar and “victim” during crevasse rescue practice on the Nisqually Glacier, 1950s.
Ome Daiber (L) and Wolf Bauer (R) raise Dee Molenaar and “victim” during crevasse rescue practice on the Nisqually Glacier, 1950s. Photo courtesy The Spring Family Trust for Trails.
Wolf concluded that a similar organization was needed in the Northwest. In 1948, he approached The Mountaineers, Washington Alpine Club and National Ski Patrol to sponsor the new organization. He brought in the State Patrol, Coast Guard, Forest Service and other government agencies to participate. Originally called the Mountain Rescue and Safety Council (reflecting an emphasis on education as well as accident response), the name was eventually shortened to the Mountain Rescue Council. Wolf organized annual conferences, the first at The Mountaineers clubhouse in Seattle and the second, in 1949, at Snoqualmie Pass. These conferences built support for the cooperative concept and shared ideas. At the Snoqualmie Pass conference, the Coast Guard brought an early helicopter and the climbers showed agency representatives what they could do.

Wolf served as chairman of the Mountain Rescue Council for its first six years. Ome Daiber became the public face of mountain rescue, featured in a 1953 Saturday Evening Post article as “The Man Who Rescues Mountain Climbers.” Dr. Otto Trott, an expert mountaineer born in Berlin and a National Ski Patrol pioneer, served as the council’s medical expert. Together, these three men founded a system that was the first of its kind in the United States.

Rescues were infrequent during the first few years, but in 1952 and 1953, more than 15 full-scale rescues were mounted for a variety of accidents—avalanches, lightning strikes, crevasse falls, glissading accidents, falls on rock, rapelling accidents, rockfall, and four aircraft crashes that alone claimed 40 victims. Local rescue councils were formed in Longview, Bremerton, Yakima, Bellingham and other cities to respond more quickly to accidents in nearby mountains. In 1957, the Mountain Rescue Council released a movie by Bob and Ira Spring called Mountains Don’t Care to raise public awareness of hazards and safe mountain travel. In 1959, the national Mountain Rescue Association was formed, largely through the work of Seattle council members.
1940s - 60s
• Founded Mountain Rescue and Safety Council with Ome Daiber and Dr. Otto Trott.
• Founded Washington Foldboat Club (later renamed Washington Kayak Club.)

• First foldboat descents of rivers throughout the Northwest.

• Developed “Stokeski” rescue stretcher with Jack Hossack.

Mountain Rescue Council incorporated.

National Mountain Rescue Association formed.

Honorary member of The Mountaineers.

Late 1960s
Successful campaign to preserve the Green River Gorge.

Drafted Natural Shorelines Act (incorporated into Shoreline Management Act of 1971).

Circa 1969
Founding member of Washington Environmental Council.

1970s & later
Early 1970s
Launched second career as a shore resource consultant.

Honorary Member of Mountain Rescue Council “in recognition of his role as the catalyst who brought organized rescue to the Northwest.”

First Citizen of Seattle “for his work to preserve the shoreline resources of Seattle.”

Special Service Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects, Washington Chapter.

Award from the Washington State Department of Ecology “in recognition of his dedication and commitment in protecting shore resources under the Shoreline Management Act of 1971.”
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