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  Paul Petzoldt

Paul Kiesow Petzoldt
January 16, 1908 - October 6, 1999

Legendary mountaineer, environmentalist and founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School, Paul Petzoldt, died Oct. 6, 1999, after a lengthy illness.
"This was a man to match our mountains," said former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson. "That was Paul. Earthy, warm, wise, witty, a bear of a man with a heart as big as his body and a smile as big as both of those.”

The Early Expeditions
Petzoldt Teaching Petzoldt grew up in southern Idaho with a great love of the outdoors and nearby mountain ranges, particularly the Tetons. In 1924, at the age of l6, Petzoldt made his first ascent of Wyoming's Grand Teton, wearing cowboy boots. As the result of this nearly disastrous expedition, Petzoldt recognized the need to have better training and better preparation. He became a pioneer in a number of mountaineering techniques. He was the first to use a voice signal system for climbers and developed the "sliding middleman" technique for snow climbing and travel. In the early 1930s, Petzoldt started the first guide concession in Grand Teton National Park.

In 1938, Petzoldt was selected to join the first American expedition to K2 in the Himalayas. While on this climb, he set a record for the longest continuous time at an altitude of more than 20,000 feet without artificial oxygen.

During World War II, Petzoldt served with the Army's 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale, Colo., teaching the ski troops safety and preparation techniques. In the spring of 1942, Petzoldt worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was responsible for the buying and shipment of food to Russia with the Lend Lease Program.

The Rise of the National Outdoor Leadership School
Throughout his life Petzoldt worked to preserve and protect wild lands. In 1963 he testified before Congress in favor of the Wilderness Act.

Also in 1963, Petzoldt helped establish the first American Outward Bound program in Colorado. While working at Outward Bound, he recognized the need to teach people how to safely enjoy and conserve the outdoors. His vision was to train leaders capable of conducting wilderness programs in a safe and rewarding manner and the result was the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).

He founded NOLS in Lander, Wyo., in 1965. After being featured in a documentary on the Alcoa Hour and in Life magazine, Petzoldt's school rapidly grew and today, the school he started more than 40 years ago is the leading nonprofit outdoor education school, with more than 120,000 alumni. Paul Petzoldt later went on to found the Wilderness Education Association in 1977, and it is said he considers NOLS and WEA to be his two most lasting and important contributions to society. NOLS has 14 locations around the world and educates more than 3,000 students annually.

"Paul's contribution to the youth of America, to wilderness and to the development of leaders is unparalleled," said John Gans, executive director of NOLS. “Paul developed the concept of outdoor education, forever giving the world a gift."

More about Paul Petzoldt
Last Mountain Man? Not if He Can Help It by Jane Howard. Life magazine, December 19, 1969.

Paul Tells His Story by Molly Absolon.The Leader, Fall 1995.

"This was a man to match our mountains," by Kerry Brophy. The Leader, Fall 1999.

NOLS Founder, Paul Petzoldt
Photo: Skip Shoutis

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