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Wolf Bauer - Personal Communication
Taped interview, 27 August 1974Harry Majors interviewed Wolf Bauer for the University of Washington's North Cascades History Project. I listened to the interview on 19 Nov 2004, taking rough notes.
by Harry Majors
UWSpecColl, Accession 1669-2, Tape 182
Notes by Lowell Skoog
Tape 182, side 1: Wolf Bauer was raised in the Bavarian Alps and started skiing in 1919. He did not learn technical climbing when he lived in Bavaria. He did mountain scrambles with his father, using an alpenstock at most. They would simply grab some rye bread and cheese and head into the hills. He immigrated to Seattle as a teenager in 1925.
Wolf joined the Boy Scouts after he immigrated. In 1927 he was one of three Seattle scouts chosen annually to receive a free membership in the Mountaineers. He joked that he was chosen because the Mountaineers found out he could ski, not because of his exemplary character. Most Mountaineers at that time were still using snowshoes. Thus, at age 15 he found himself called upon as a ski instructor. He was quickly accepted by older Mountaineers who wanted to learn to ski. He won the first slalom race west of Dartmouth using linked telemarks and increasingly became involved in ski racing. He noted that skiing brought him into technical climbing, not the other way around.
As he got more involved with ski touring through the Mountaineers, he realized how poorly they were prepared to deal with mountaineering hazards. He wrote to Germany for instructional books and began to correspond with German climbers. The early ski books were based on dangers in the Alps. Wolf was able to pass knowledge to Northwest climbers not through personal experience but through his ability to study the latest techniques in German language books.
By 1932-34, Wolf was a scoutmaster and senior patrol leader. He helped start the Explorer scout movement working with Troop 145 in Seattle's Wallingford district. He knew Ome Daiber casually through the Boy Scouts. He asked the Seattle Boy Scout council if he could try running a small climbing class for senior scouts. They used a glacial boulder in northeast Seattle that he had discovered during a walk (he mentioned the address but I didn't write it down). Kids had been scrambling on it for years. They put a mattress underneath it for the younger boys. This gave him confidence in his ability to teach climbing.
The Mountaineers Climbing Course
In 1934, Wolf approached the Mountaineers board about starting a program to systematically teach mountaineering techniques. He was still a student at the University of Washington at the time. According to Wolf, there was an established group of experienced Mountaineer climbers ("a clique") that didn't pass on their skills. It was hard to break into their circle. Wolf had access to some of the older Mountaineers because of his skiing ability. As he learned more about how they climbed he began to realize that their techniques were "amateurish." He began to think that younger climbers should start a new movement and the older group could join in, or not. The Mountaineers gave the go-ahead to start the new program the following year, according to Wolf.
With a group of younger climbers, Wolf started the Mountaineer climbing course in 1935. He was just a step ahead during the course. He had a lot of outdoor experience but his technical climbing knowledge was all learned from books. Whenever he received a new book from his German friends, he would practice "in dark secrecy" before teaching the techniques he learned. Sometimes the gap between book learning and teaching was just a few weeks. Wolf lived in the University District and practiced rappeling for the first time on the Cowen Park bridge. Later he demonstrated rappeling in front of about 40 students in the stairwell of the Realto building in Seattle over a hard marble floor. His "heart was in his pants" on this rappel. He called it the first rappel ever done in the area, apart from his secret practice sessions. They didn't have real climbing ropes. Wolf said the best was a lariat rope like the cowboys used. Soaked in a bathtub overnight it became a nice limber rope.
The course was seven weeks long and covered the basics of mountain travel, safety, friction belays, and so on. They didn't use hardware such as pitons at first. During the second year, Wolf taught both a beginning and intermediate course. They taught snow climbing, self arrest, and crevasse rescue techniques at the sand bluffs of Fort Lawton (now Discovery Park). He was able to get more technical in the second course thanks to the unique relationship he had with the "old country" and the help he got from his German correspondents. He got a lot of help from first-year students during the second year of the course. After the second year, the Everett and Olympia chapters of the club got involved.
Students from the climbing course started to form teams and head into the mountains to do first ascents. A few climbers from the older "cliques" took notice and joined in. Bill Degenhardt, Jim Martin, and Herbert Strandberg were among them. Clark Schurman, who was a prominent scout leader, taught classes in woodcraft but did not teach technical climbing. Ome Daiber was more a scout leader than a mountaineer in the early days, and was somewhat a loner. He got more involved in the Mountaineers after the climbing course got started and became more technically proficient.
Wolf stressed that for him, skiing was the thing that led to climbing. He realized that ski tourers and mountaineers had been doing things that they shouldn't have. So he decided to learn more about mountaineering in general. He corresponded with Sierra Club climbers in the mid-1930s. The Mountaineers recognized that California climbers were more experienced on rock while the Californians wanted to learn more about snow and ice climbing. There was a good exchange of information. The Sierra Club climbers were importing and manufacturing pitons. Wolf imported pitons from Munich in 1935 before they were available in Seattle shops. In the 1940s, Northwest advances spread beyond the Mountaineers.
Mt Goode, First Ascent
The interview shifted to the first ascent of Mt Goode. Wolf and others had looked at Goode for a couple years. In 1936, they made the peak a sort of class project for intermediate class graduates. They felt that previous parties had failed for technical reasons, not because of weather.
They had heard that a Canadian party planned to attempt the peak, so they went as early in the season as weather and snow conditions would allow. At Chelan they found the other climbers already on board the Lady of the Lake. Wolf's party had reserved the only available car at Stehekin so they got a head start and hurried along. According to Wolf, the other party was planning attempt the "northeast side" of the mountain.
Tape 182, side 2: In those days, Wolf's philosophy was to try not to "knock iron into the breast of the mountain." Pitons were a necessary evil to be used only when absolutely necessary. He was totally against stepping onto a piton for direct aid. They used rock belays instead of piton belays whenever possible. They climbed using short pitches of "friction climbing" where today you would use long pitches protected with pitons. This technique was slower, and the climbers stayed closer together.
Wolf thought that with ideal conditions they could have climbed Goode without pitons, using friction climbing only. The problem was a chockstone in an icy chimney, which had been the end of the line for previous parties. He recalled a finger traverse leading to a narrow ledge where you could jam the rope and then hang down and swing to a hold on the other side of the chimney. There was no other way to get across with the ice. He recalled saying to his companions, "Boys, now we're really going to do a pendulum swing." They had theoretically learned this technique in class but had never practiced it. He recalled, "It was the pendulum swing that got me across to the other side and from there on it was just friction climbing." He could see where the earlier climbers, unable to do the finger traverse and pendulum swing, couldn't get across the gap. He said they had to leave a couple pitons on the descent to rappel. [Wolf never mentioned placing pitons during the ascent. Wolf's recollection during this interview is somewhat different than the writeup in the 1936 Mountaineer Annual.]
After climbing the crux, Wolf and Jack Hossack hurried ahead to the summit where they made a hasty cairn. When Dickert, Halwax and McGowan arrived they pretended that the Canadians had beat them to the top. Harry Majors pointed out that the Grigg-Winder party made the first ascent of Dome Peak, their last big climb in the Cascades, that same day.
Mt Rainier, Ptarmigan RidgeEvery clear day in Seattle, Wolf could see the north side of Mt Rainier and he became inspired to climb it. In July or August 1934, he teamed up with Hans Grage, who was more a skier than a climber, to attempt Ptarmigan Ridge. They were driven down by a blizzard from 11,000 feet. In September they tried again and got to almost 12,000 feet and decided they were out of time. Wolf felt they had climbed the major technical portion. They descended an easier route farther west during the night.
In 1935, when Wolf was teaching the Mountaineers climbing course, Jack Hossack became eager to try the climb. They chose to go as late in the season as possible for minimum avalanche danger. The danger of the climb was not technical but exposure to rock and ice fall. Harriet Woodward, who later became Wolf's wife, came along as a support person. The plan was for the climbers to signal from their bivouac on the mountain if all was okay and she would drive around to Paradise and pick them up. The hardest part of the climb was chopping over an icefall and in and out of schrunds a few times. There was no rock climbing. Two weeks later Ome Daiber's party climbed Liberty Ridge. Wolf said in those days that Willis Wall should not be attempted; it was not good mountaineering. After climbing Ptarmigan Ridge, Wolf said he "could look Mt Rainier in the face and not feel ashamed."
On Ptarmigan Ridge, Wolf thought that a party of two climbers was safest. He said that was proven a fallacy in later years, since two people could not as well get themselves out of trouble. They justified the practice on Ptarmigan Ridge because they had a third person in support below. They carried sleeping bag covers but no sleeping bags. They had a stove to heat soup but carried no cooked meals, instead eating cold food every hour or so. They bivouacked about two hours from the summit.
Mountain RescueIn the late 1930s, the Mountaineers had a "call girl list" used to summon a rescue whenever a member had an accident. The problem was that increasingly they got called to help people outside the Mountaineers. After World War II, Wolf made a business/vacation trip to Europe and learned about the Bergwacht, a volunteer rescue group, much like the U.S. ski patrol, made up of members who made themselves available during vacation times. This group was supported by the government. Wolf visited a publishing house in Munich and picked up a book of techniques used by the Bergwacht. He also got a film about the group made shortly after the war.
Wolf felt that such an organization was needed in the Northwest. He thought they could attract and retain qualified people if they limited the scope to alpine mountaineering and didn't try to rescue every outdoorsman who got in trouble. He coordinated with the Mountaineers, Washington Alpine Club, State Patrol, Coast Guard, U.S. Forest Service, and National Park Service to set up a rescue organization. The National Ski Patrol was already in existence but didn't have technical mountaineering capabilities.
They decided to organize an annual conference to recruit rescue personnel and sell government agencies on the idea. The first conference was held in Seattle in the spring of 1948. Otto Trott and Ome Daiber joined the conference. They had been active in the ski patrol and had been on several rescues. Together, the three formed the nucleus of the new Mountain Rescue Council. Wolf was the MRC chairman for the first five or six years.
The second conference was held at Snoqualmie Pass and hosted by the Washington Alpine Club. The Coast Guard brought a helicopter. After the conference, members of the Hood River Crag Rats produced a copy of the "bergtrage" stretcher shown in in the Bergwacht film. Wolf and Jack Hossack converted a Stokes litter for mountain rescue use by making it break down into several pieces and fitting it with either a wheel or ski. Wally Burr made a special ski with fins. This was an improvement on the bergtrage and much better than a toboggan because you could keep the patient level while traversing a slope.
They held yearly conferences at various locations for five years. The combination of techniques and equipment attracted many people. They had 150 people at the Snoqualmie Pass conference. The Mountain Rescue Council was not supported by government funding and all rescues were performed without charge to the victims. Like mountaineering and skiing, mountain rescue techniques were imported from Europe, which was a few years ahead, then modified for Northwest conditions.
Taped interview, 3 August 1992This interview was done for the Mountaineers History Committee's oral history project (MHC). I watched the interview tape on 2 Dec 2004, taking rough notes. I have noted only items that were not mentioned in the interview above. I've also omitted some material that is covered in Mountaineer annual articles by Wolf.
by Morris Moen
Notes by Lowell Skoog
SkiingWolf Bauer grew up in the Bavarian Alps on the Austrian border south of Munich. He started skiing at age seven in 1919. It was common for kids to ski to school during the winter. Downhill skiing was just beginning and they hardly knew how to turn. Then the Hannes Schneider film "A Fox Chase in the Engadine" popularized skiing throughout Europe. Schneider's great technical contribution was the stem christie turn.
Wolf's family immigrated to Seattle in May 1925. His grandmother was a Seattle pioneer before the Great Fire. Wolf got into Boy Scouting and his scoutmaster was Harry Higman. He joined the Mountaineers in 1927. [The Mountaineer annual indicates that the year was 1929.] There were several skiers of German extraction in the club, particularly Hans Otto Giese and Hans Grage.
Wolf was too young to enter the first Patrol Race, so he broke trail. In the early days of the race, they used regular touring skis. Later, after the race was opened to other clubs and became more competitive, they used more specialized cross-country racing skis.
The first downhill race at Meany Ski Hut employed a mass start. Since the Mountaineers were the pioneers of downhill ski racing in the Northwest, they were called upon for advice when the Silver Skis race was organized at Mt Rainier. The first Silver Skis race had a mass start and just three control gates, at Anvil Rock, McClure Rock and Panorama Point. Loudspeakers were set up at Paradise and an announcer called the action. With the mass start, it was just like a horse race. After a fast schuss at the start, the racers hit washboards and all but a few leaders fell. Wolf fell and broke a ski, which was held together by a homemade steel edge he had installed by a machinist. Don Fraser, a cross-country skier, won the race on a pair of jumping skis. Wolf noted the improvements in ski gear since then, especially the shoes. Thanks to better gear, he skis better today than he did when he tried out for the Olympic team.
Wolf led ski tours and made a map of tours in the Snoqualmie Pass area. On one tour into Commonwealth Basin he had just told the group that there was no avalanche danger, because of the heavy timber, when they came upon a huge pile of avalanche debris that had run right down through the trees. Incidents like this made him want to learn more about mountaineering safety and led to his development of the Mountaineers climbing course.
Topics Covered in Previous InterviewWolf helped the Rover Scouts get started in Seattle and put together a climbing class for them. They started out on the Wedgewood boulder (where they had about 11 routes) and finished with a climb of McClellan's Butte. The senior scouting council spied on them during the McClellan's Butte climb and was impressed by the safety of the outing. Later he went to the Mountaineers board to propose starting a climbing course for the club. He describes the first basic and intermediate courses and running short courses for the Everett and Tacoma branches. After the second year he stepped aside to devote time to school and his former students took over the course.
On the Mt Goode climb, Wolf mentions placing one piton for a rappel. He said the climb "proved that the climbing course was up to snuff and they could conquer where others had failed."
Wolf felt that the boom in skiing after World War II led to more people getting out in the mountains and trying mountaineering. This led to more accidents and the need for a mountain rescue system. Ome Daiber had been involved in rescue before the war but there had been little coordination with government agencies. Wolf started organizing things by bringing in the Mountaineers, Washington Alpine Club, and National Ski Patrol. Otto Trott became involved through the ski patrol. Ome Daiber became the public face of the Mountain Rescue Council.
KayakingIn Bavaria kids had to go to school Saturday mornings in the summer. Wolf remembered seeing foldboat clubs heading out as he walked across the Inn River bridge on the way to school. Harry Higman (Wolf's old scoutmaster) used a foldboat to trace routes taken by George Vancouver in Puget Sound. Higman introduced Wolf to foldboating in the Seattle area. The American Canoe Association had been around since about 1900, but they didn't run whitewater rivers. Wolf helped the American Whitewater Association get started.
Wolf felt that the sport required an educational program so he looked for an organization to host it. The Mountaineers were not enthusiastic about foldboating so he linked up with the YMCA. He designed a seven week course and imported boats from Germany. Most of the early students (starting around 1950?) were Mountaineers. Wolf made the first river touring maps of western Washington, showing put-ins, take-outs, and difficulty ratings. During the first 15 years he taught about 2000 people. Initially all their boating was on rivers. Later they moved to open water. Wolf developed the idea of play spots on rivers where you could surf continuously without paddling. They developed a safety code for kayak trips, just as the Mountaineers had done for climbing.
In the 1930s in Europe you needed a folding boat because few people owned cars. It was necessary to break the boat down to put it on a train or pull it behind a bicycle. Wolf designed a fabric "whale craft" and got a fellow in Chicago to build it. In the 1960s, people started building kayaks out of fiberglass.
Wolf and his friends systematically explored rivers in Washington, making first descents. He learned to skin dive so he could go under water on a rope and study the hydraulics. These studies led to his current profession, which he calls "geo-hydraulics," the study of water's effect on the land. He and his friends were the first to kayak the west coast of Vancouver Island, the Queen Charlottes, and areas in Alaska in the 1950s. He explored Barkley Sound over four or five years. It became a protected area after Americans visited with kayaks. He told some stories of encounters with seals and killer whales. Back then they didn't know whether killer whales were dangerous or not and they would hide from them in kelp beds. Later they realized that the killer whale is a large dolphin and not threatening to people.
Shoreline ConservationWolf was a founding member of the Washington Environmental Council. He studied rivers and shorelines as a result of his kayaking. In his (semi) retirement, he has become an advisor to companies and government agencies on flood effects. For a time he butted his head against the state government trying to save rivers, but he realized there wasn't much you could do without having money behind you. He worked with John Biggs of the state wildlife department during his kayaking and Biggs became the first head of the Washington Department of Ecology after the Shoreline Management Act became law. (Wolf was involved in the establishment of the Act, but he didn't explain his role.) He has tried to combat the "bulkhead syndrome" of shoreline management, looking for softer ways to control shoreline erosion.
He comments: "I've had the privilege to do something not just for a client but for the public. Wherever you turn now in this field you make history. If what I say isn't going to be accepted 100 years from now I don't do it, becauese it's not basic. You have to get beyond value judgments to basics that will be there whether you like it or not." Wolf added that it is not his intention to become known for doing these things. At age 80, he would rather stay behind the scenes and "let other people take hold of it."
PhotosAt the end of the interview Wolf displayed some photographs for the camera:
- 1922, skiing in Europe.
- 1929, downhill race at Meany Ski Hut, jumping a cornice.
- 1936, ski jump at Mt Baker.
- Undated, telemark turn on skis.
- 1936, Mountaineers ski team at Mt Baker.
- Undated, Mountaineers ski team at Mt Hood.
- Little Si, Wolf rappels as Bill Degenhardt observes.
- Mt Goode summit photo.
- Ptarmigan Ridge, aerial photo.
Taped interview, 21 September 1992This short interview, done for the Mountaineers History Committee's oral history project (MHC), pertains mostly to the Green River Gorge. I watched the interview tape on 13 Dec 2004, taking rough notes. Wolf Bauer regards the Green River Gorge as a unique resource in western Washington. "There is nothing like it," he said. After Wolf and his friends kayaked and discovered the gorge in stages, he decided that it was a resource that needed to be protected. He took photographs of the gorge and brought them to the Washington State Parks Department to interest them in the site. Between 1965 and 1968 the state got federal money to purchase private property in the gorge. It is now protected. Wolf is proud of his work on the gorge and considers it his contribution to kayaking in the Northwest. Wolf also worked to protect a portion of the Palouse River in eastern Washington.
by Morris Moen
Notes by Lowell Skoog
At the end of the interview Wolf displayed several award certificates and plaques for the camera:
- First Citizen of Seattle for his work to preserve the shoreline resources of Seattle, 1979.
- Special Service Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects, Washington Chapter, 1987.
- Honorary Member of the National Professional Ceramic Engineering Fraternity, Washington Chapter, 1970.
- 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," presented in 1991.
- Honorary Member of the Mountain Rescue Council "in recognition of his role as the catalyst who brought organized rescue to the Northwest," awarded on the 25th anniversary of the council in 1973.
Taped interview, 9 April 2001I reviewed the interview tape on 21 Dec 2004, taking rough notes. I've noted only items that were not mentioned in the interviews above. I've also omitted some material that is covered in Mountaineer annual articles.
At Wolf Bauer's home on Maury Island, Washington
by Lowell Skoog
Wolf Bauer's grandmother was a Seattle pioneer and his mother was born in the U.S. His mother attended school in England and spent summers in the Alps, where she met his father. Wolf mentioned that late in World War I, his father, who commanded a boat in the German navy, took him aboard ship for a short time. He enjoyed noting that he "served in World War I" at age six.
After graduating from the U.W. as a ceramic engineer, Wolf became a consultant with a worldwide clientele. He designed and built cement, lime and gypsum plants (non-metallic minerals). He had a second major in geology. His first job was at the Roche Harbor lime plant in 1935. During WWII he was offered a job in St. Louis in support of the war effort. He lived there three years and was exempted from military duty. He traveled to about a dozen different plants during this period. After WWII he also did some teaching at U.W.
SkiingFor his first skis in Bavaria, it was necessary to burn a mortise through the ski and pass a metal plate through it, which was bent up to fit the boot toe. Later came the "Schuster binding" which was secured with bolts through the ski. Wolf used a rasp to groove the heel of a pair of hiking boots to hold the heel strap. If you tightened the strap too much, the boot sole would buckle. Later the bindings had heel springs instead of straps and the skis had side-hooks to hold down the heel in turns. Amstutz springs were used in the early 1930s. Sealskins were adhered to the skis with wax. Wolf didn't like canvas climbing socks because they hampered edging. In good snow, his favorite turn was the open christie.
Regarding the street car story, Wolf mentioned that he was taking the car from his home in the University District to the downtown Seattle train station. He said he "started with" the Mountaineers in 1926 and joined in 1929. He often did his school work on the train while returning from skiing. Wally Burr made Wolf's skis for the 1935 Olympic tryouts.
Wolf said that Hans Otto Giese "couldn't take a joke" and so his friends often played tricks on him. They put rocks in Giese's and Paul Shorrock's packs during the Patrol Race. Wolf was too young for the first race, so he broke trail. The route was just a tour in the early days, but the race became much more competitive after it was opened to other clubs. They used wax, not skins, on the route. The route markers were for the trailbreakers, not the racers.
During the first Silver Skis race, Wolf caught up with Hans Otto Giese on the sticky snow near the bottom. He called "track" but Giese wouldn't move out of the way. Wolf swung out of the track and managed to pass Giese. Giese then began yelling "track" but Wolf said, "I couldn't hear him." The winner, Don Fraser, was more a cross-country racer than a downhiller. The first Meany downhill was a "horse race" (mass start) and racers could choose their own route. Wolf jumped the cornice, which he had done before, crashed, and continued to the finish. "Those were rip-roaring days," he said. He did not participate in Walt Little's ski mountaineering course.
KayakingWolf tried using scuba gear to study hydraulics but decided the tanks and hoses were a bad idea in a rocky river. Instead he used a mask and snorkel only and had a Mountaineer friend belay him on a rope. These observations enabled him to teach his kayaking students what the river was doing.
He made up terms to describe how eddies work at different water levels. He described what he called "green eddy," "white eddy," "hydraulic jump," and "standing wave" stages, which occur, respectively, at increasing flow volumes. He learned how to rest in an eddy without paddling to scout the river down-stream and enjoy "play spots."
The lessons he learned from kayaking can be applied to fisheries, streamway management and flood control. Eddies are the most important systems for fisheries. In low flow conditions, it is necessary to slow down the water to form eddies for the fish. Wolf did his last ceramic engineering consulting job in 1968. Around 1970 he created a new field for himself as a shore resource consultant. He teaches classes for state fisheries people and others.
As we were eating lunch (I had turned off the tape recorder) Wolf mentioned the modern emphasis on whitewater. He noted that in kayaking, as in climbing and skiing, people are always wanting to take things to extremes. "You've got to fight that," he said. He noted that when he offered kayaking courses in Seattle, he was careful to describe the sport as "river touring" not whitewater running. He was proud that there were no fatalities during the early days of the Washington Kayak Club. As with climbing, he was proud to have helped introduce a new sport and establish a technical foundation, and to have done it in a way that stressed safety, "so any kid could take up the sport."
He has been dismayed by the tendency to turn the mountains into a gymnasium, pushing risk to the limit. He felt that was not the spirit of mountaineering. He has in the past been critical of Fred Beckey and the Whittaker brothers for some of their climbing exploits, though today they don't hold it against him. In the early days he was reluctant to place a piton while climbing, feeling it almost sacrilegious. He did place a few safety pitons on the first ascent of Mt Goode. Regarding the Ptarmigan Ridge climb, he finds satisfaction when he sees Mt Rainier from Seattle, knowing that he succeeded on the north side for the first time. "They never can take that away from you," Wolf said.
Mountain Rescue Association talk (taped), 22 June 2001I taped Wolf's talk and reviewed the tape on 21 Dec 2004, taking rough notes. Wolf gave a good overview of the early days of mountain rescue in the Northwest. He touched on the following topics with his usual good humor:
Notes by Lowell Skoog
- 1935 Rainier climbs by Wolf and Ome Daiber.
- 1936 search for Delmar Fadden on Rainier which led to Ome becoming the informal focal point for mountain rescue.
- 1948 trip to Europe during which Wolf acquired books by Dr. Romage [sp?] of Bavaria and Wastl Mariner of Austria and a film of the Bergwacht, demonstrating the superiority of European rescue methods.
- Efforts to get public agencies in the Northwest involved in mountain rescue, with conferences at Seattle, Snoqualmie Pass and Mt Rainier, starting in 1948.
- The contributions of Ome Daiber for public relations, Otto Trott as a doctor and morale builder, and Irving Herrigstad as a radio communications expert.
- Development of the Stokeski litter.
Phone conversation, 27 January 2005
By Lowell Skoog
While preparing to teach the Mountaineers climbing course in the 1930s, Wolf corrsponded with Luis Trenker to obtain technical information. Trenker was a hero to many young climbers in Europe for his books and films. Wolf said the most important thing about Trenker was not that he was a great climber, but that he knew how to write about mountaineering in a way that inspired young people. In skiing, Arnold Lunn and Hannes Schneider had a similar influence. Climbing, skiing, and mountain rescue in Europe were 20 years ahead of the U.S. in the early 1930s. Wolf was lucky to be able to read the German literature to help bridge that 20-year gap in the Northwest after he arrived.
Nobody knew anything about running rivers in Washington when Wolf and his friends started kayaking them in the 1940s and 50s. Herb Flatow (someone I knew from ski instructing) was one of those who did scouting trips with Wolf. They made first descents of most of the major rivers in western Washington.
Wolf started the kayak rating system that is in widespread use in the Northwest today. It was not clear to me whether he developed the rating system from scratch or whether something like it was used in other parts of the world. But it was definitely Wolf and his friends who applied it here. He drew a map of the river systems in western Washington that he had run and applied a rating to each section. Since the ratings were dependent on the flow level, he applied ratings for ideal conditions.
Wolf has been discouraged that the focus of kayaking has "completely degenerated" to whitewater and more risky descents. Although he and his friends pioneered many first descents, he always stressed that the sport could be approached at a moderate level, which he liked to call "river touring." He viewed kayaking as being similar to ski touring. He said "they've reversed everything" he worked for and "you'd have to start all over again" to reestablish the values that he stressed when he founded the Washington Foldboat Club. Today people are reluctant to get into kayaking because it has a reputation for being dangerous. Wolf developed playful maneuvers, modeled after skiing, where difficulty and risk were not the objectives.
I asked Wolf about the canyons on the Cowlitz River that were dammed and he recalled doing picture stories with Ira Spring when they were still free flowing. They were too late to save them from being flooded. In the case of the Green River Gorge, Wolf arrived on time. He could see the future coming. With his wife, he spent a few days descending the river taking photographs. He wanted to get people interested in applying pressure to protect the area. He put together a slide presentation that impressed the state and they bought land from individuals, railroads and timber companies to get the gorge into the public domain and prevent development of it.
Wolf was involved in the drafting of the state Shoreline Management Act. He drafted a proposal to be voted on by the people as an initiative. The ideas in his proposal were largely copied by the legislature in Olympia into the act that was ultimately approved.
At 93, Wolf feels he has a few years left and he hopes to leave a legacy. He feels his most lasting contribution will be his work in ecology in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. This work has taken up the past thirty years, since he switched from engineering to environmental education. When we were talking about photographs, he mentioned that he produced a large book with 900 pictures in it, describing rivers, saltwater shorelines, and the estuaries between them.
Conversation, 21 February 2005I visited Wolf Bauer at his home to copy some photographs, jotting down a few notes as we spoke. Wolf was born in February 1912, the oldest of five children, three boys and two girls. His brothers names (anglicized) were Hugh and Dick Bauer. One needed to have a job in this country to immigrate. Fortunately, Wolf's maternal grandmother found his father (who had a PhD in Germany) a job as a bookkeeper on Lummi Island. Wolf went to a one-room school there. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1935 and did a year of post-graduate work in 1936.
At Wolf Bauer's home on Vashon Island, Washington
By Lowell Skoog
I copied a photo of Wolf jumping a cornice above the Meany Ski Hut to win the Mountaineers downhill race. He had an undated newsclipping that said he won both the downhill and slalom that year, with Bill Miller taking second in both races. Wolf thought this was in 1929-30, but I think it was a later season, probably 1933. He said Hans Grage was born in this country. He said he forged his own ice pitons for the 1935 Ptarmigan Ridge climb, but I'm somewhat doubtful because his written account doesn't mention them.
The kayak rating system used by Wolf was patterned after a previous German system (which extended to class 6), but adapted for use in the Northwest. Wolf's ratings were applied from the perspective of an experienced kayaker (e.g. class 3 referred to the difficulty as perceived by an expert). Wolf later corresponded with clubs in the eastern U.S. and they adopted his system. I asked when he made the Boulder Drop descent on the Skykomish River and he thought it was probably in the mid-1950s. Wolf designed the early foldboats used by his friends and he also designed the fiberglass kayaks that were introduced in the early 1960s. He showed me some fiberglass kayaks outside the house "with many thousands of miles on them" that he designed.
After I finished my business, Wolf asked me to lend a hand dragging up a dock ramp that had washed up on the shore. The ramp must have weighed 250 lbs. yet Wolf had already moved it most of the way. He cut his leg while we were scrambling around in the driftwood but dismissed my concerns. Just before I left, he showed me where he planned to hang a rope swing on the tree above the beach (at least 20 feet up). At 93, he is a marvel.
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