Fritz Wiessner- A Man For All Mountains

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rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Jul 29, 2009 - 08:41pm PT
I did various climbs with Fritz over the years. Dick Dumais' book on Shawangunk rock climbing has a picture of Fritz climbing Never Never Land (5.10a) in mountain boots. I was the belayer at the other end of the rope on that. Fritz was 73 at that time. Steve posted that picture in the Cornerstone of Eastern Climbing thread; here it is again



I remember another time when Fritz happened by when I was leading some Gunks 5.11 (whose name escapes me at the moment). When I saw him later, he cheerfully and patiently explained to me how I had done it all wrong. I later went back and, using his observations, found it to be significantly easier.

I don't know what Fritz's favorite climbs were, but I know that into his eighties, he could be found soloing up Northern Pillar and down Southern Pillar (or vice versa). When you Western folks here that these climbs are 5.2, you won't be impressed, but these climbs have lots of real climbing on vertical rock and overhanging stemming way off the deck. Those of us who make it to our eighties will probably be happy if we can get up onto the toilet seat without direct aid, much less solo anything like that.

The thing about Fritz is that he just plain loved climbing. I remember getting calls from him when he was in his late seventies, maybe eighties, and he'd say, "Are you free tomorrow? I'm chust itchink to go climbink!" Then he'd show up and he'd be all smiles, as if he was in his twenties and sneaking off from work to steal a climb.

The fact that, when he came here, there was no one in America who was even remotely in the same league meant that Fritz didn't have the kind of communal support that elevated his climbing in Dresden---the bold and serious 5.8's he did here were already completely beyond his companions abilities and perhaps understanding. (And oh yeah---there is no comparison between the Mechanics Route and Vector, which I think is harder (and more run out) than some of the Tahquitz 5.9's that came later.) Moreover, Fritz was perhaps at his best on offwidth, as his effortless virtual solo of the Wiessner Crack on Devil's Tower suggests, and he never found an appropriate venue for that talent. I have no doubt that had there been others at his level here, he would have done some 5.10's in this country in the thirties.

Fritz may have had an extra twinkle in his eyes for the ladies as Jim recounts, but in my experience he was always courtly and gracious in a decidedly old-world way. He lit up a room, and indeed the entire Gunks escarpment, with his presence, and I think everyone who was privileged to know him misses him, even to this day.

Fritz

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Jul 29, 2009 - 09:43pm PT
Bump for my namesake. I picked "Fritz" in 1970 as my climber name, because the cool dudes in Sun Valley Idaho were all Austrian ski instructors with similar names.

Fritz W. was very cool!
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jul 29, 2009 - 09:58pm PT
Thanks, Roy!

"Fritz was perhaps at his best on offwidth" - an early WideFestishist, perhaps?

Wiessner wasn't quite right when he said the Waddington was the highest mountain in Canada proper. A bit like saying that Mt. Whitney is the highest mountain in the US proper. Even in 1936, it was known that there were many higher peaks in northwest B.C. and southwest Yukon, up to and including Logan. Some on the border, some entirely in Canada.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Dec 11, 2009 - 10:06pm PT
was looking for the Underhill Bulletin on euro rope techniques and found this little bump.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
Dec 11, 2009 - 11:20pm PT
Wiessner route on Inner Outlet
Wiessner route on Inner Outlet
Credit: mike m
Here is a pidture of the Wiessner route on Inner Outlet. He was the man! He put this up in 1937 along with Khayyam Spire,
Kayyam Spire
Kayyam Spire
Credit: mike m
Spire Two
Spire One on the left, Spire Two in the center, and Kayyam is the spir...
Spire One on the left, Spire Two in the center, and Kayyam is the spire with the large yellow face slightly down and right from Spire Two.
Credit: mike m
& Olton's Shoulder these are these biggest spires in the needles and these were FA's of the spires. They are still formidable climbs today and it is amazing that he even found them without any history of techincal climbing in the area This is not to mention doing the first free ascent of Devisl's Tower. The first ascent of Waddington and an altitude record on K2. He is a personal hero of mine and named aroute after him on Old Baldy called Fritz's Forehead. Lastly, his route on Devil's Tower rated 5.7 in the guidebook is very, very strenuous. You could put a line of 15 bolts up the crux crack and sport climbers would easily call it 5.10. It is also very cool because you do it with the tower to your back and facing out toward the surrounding hills.
richross

Trad climber
Dec 13, 2009 - 03:38pm PT
Some fun Fritz Wiessner Gunks routes.

Taffy Bunt on Grey Face 5.5 in 1980.

FA 1940.

Credit: richross
Credit: richross

Geoff Ohland on Lakeview 5.4,late 70's.

FA 1943.

Credit: richross

richross

Trad climber
Dec 13, 2009 - 08:10pm PT
High Exposure.

Auto-X Fil

Mountain climber
Aug 9, 2010 - 05:21pm PT
Fritz bump.
FortMental

Mountain climber
Albuquerque, NM
Aug 12, 2010 - 10:21pm PT
I can't imagine tying a loop of Goldline around my waist and setting off on some 5.7 with just a couple of pins... much less doing that in my 70s!!

Cripes, what skills!
Curt

Boulder climber
Gilbert, AZ
Aug 12, 2010 - 10:55pm PT
Rich,

Nice pics of Grey Face. That was my first lead in the Gunks--also in 1980.

Curt
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 20, 2010 - 06:12pm PT
I had the pleasure of visiting John and Ila Rupley recently. John told me a story about being benighted with Fritz while climbing Cathedral Peak near Portal in the Chiricahua Mountains. Fritz told a story at that bivy about an early trip to the Himalayas (pre K2) where he was holed up with a friend and their bivy was about to be struck by an avalanche.

One climber turned to the other and offered a friendly "See you in hell!"

"Well, at least it will be warm there," said Fritz!
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Nov 21, 2010 - 07:40am PT
I can't imagine tying a loop of Goldline around my waist and setting off on some 5.7 with just a couple of pins

So imagine what it was like for Fritz, whose early ascents involved tying a loop of hemp around his waist. I think that nylon ropes only came into use after WW II.

By the way, the pics of High Exposure are nice but out of place in this thread; High E was arguably Hans Kraus's finest Gunks accomplishment. Hans was a talented and prolific climber for sure, but came from a Western European tradition that was a lot more oriented to aid climbing than the Eastern European tradition Fritz came from, and when it came to free-climbing prowess, I don't think there was anyone even close to Fritz's capabilities, including Hans.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Nov 21, 2010 - 07:47am PT
In 1973 I was in the Gunks with my girlfriend from Philadelphia and a friend of hers. Fritz (somewhere in his 70's) volunteered to take the girls climbing so that i could go off and do something more difficult with Wunsch.
My girlfriend reported that she was belayed up a 5.6 pitch onto a big ledge. The belay, however, didn't end until she was safely and FIRMLY in Fritz's welcoming arms.
dirt claud

Sport climber
san diego,ca
Nov 21, 2010 - 09:24am PT
As a student of climbing history, I have very much enjoyed reading about Fritz W. and hope to do some of his routes if I ever get back east. Thanks all for the cool stories and pics.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Nov 21, 2010 - 09:30am PT
In 1973 I was in the Gunks with my girlfriend from Philadelphia and a friend of hers. Fritz (somewhere in his 70's) volunteered to take the girls climbing so that i could go off and do something more difficult with Wunsch.
My girlfriend reported that she was belayed up a 5.6 pitch onto a big ledge. The belay, however, didn't end until she was safely and FIRMLY in Fritz's welcoming arms.


Jim, as we approach Fritz's years, we should recall that he was, in more ways than one, a master technician.

But as least as legend has it, I'm afraid in the ledge dalliance department he was eclipsed by Hans.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 7, 2012 - 10:01pm PT
My foot just slipped off a bump...whoop-la!
tradmanclimbs

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Sep 8, 2012 - 03:38am PT
Jim. the new Vt Guide, Tough Shist is on the shelvs. there is a lot more that did not make the book. My great 3 pitch 10a on Bird mtn. did not get in. Some of these areas, Bird mtn for example are on land that the state F&G department oversees for hunting and fishing and they do not allow climbing. I have found many old WWII era pins up there. perhaps one or two of them are Fritz's?

The VT guide can be purchaced here. http://www.vermontrock.com/
Isa Oehry  on P2 of Isabella 5.10a Bird Mtn VT
Isa Oehry on P2 of Isabella 5.10a Bird Mtn VT
Credit: tradmanclimbs
Hendo1

Trad climber
Toronto
Sep 8, 2012 - 08:40am PT
In the late '40s Wiessner discovered the small Montreal climbing community and spent quite a bit of time with them, as it wasn't far from his home.

His FAs in Quebec, like John Turner's, aren't that well known because the guidebooks are in French. But he did put up some classics.

From Chic Young's "Pushing The Limits"
From Chic Young's "Pushing The Limits"
Credit: Hendo1
AP

Trad climber
Calgary
Sep 8, 2012 - 09:06am PT
Was it Messner who called Fritz the most important (or was it pivotal?) climber of the 20th century?
JerryA

Mountain climber
Sacramento,CA
Sep 8, 2012 - 09:07am PT
On a trip to NYC in the early 1980s ,I went to the Gunks for the first time and the climbing shop set me up with Kevin Bein as a guide. I had a wonderful introduction to an interesting area with a great climber . Kevin introduced me to Fritz and Jim McCarthy on the Carriage Trail . It was the highlight of a grand day.
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