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