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Old Man of the Mountains Dies at 91 - Paul Kiesow Petzoldt

January 16, 1908 - October 6, 1999

LANDER, Wyo. - October 7, 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. I worked with him on legislation. I never hiked with him, but he sure enriched my life, and he brought joy and pleasure and had the guts and courage of a mountain lion. He was just magnificent. He was all the man there is."

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 1930's, Petzoldt started the first guide concession in Grand National Teton Park. One of his clients was the Dean of St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. After the Dean's return to England, Petzoldt received an invitation to be a guest at Windsor Castle in England. While in Europe, Petzoldt did several ascents in the Alps including a one-day double traverse of the Matterhorn, which was recounted in the London Alpine Journal.

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.

Paul Petzoldt, Curly Petzoldt and Fred Brown did the first winter ascent of the Grand Teton in 1936.

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.

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 35 years ago is the leading nonprofit outdoor education school, with more than 50,000 alumni and programs worldwide. NOLS has nine branch schools 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. "We are saddened by the loss. He left an indelible mark upon our school and as founder was a keen mentor to 50,000 staff and students who have gone on to play key roles in conservation and in their communities. Paul developed the concept of outdoor education, forever giving the world a gift."

Petzoldt founded WEA (Wilderness Education Association) in 1977, to bring wilderness education to colleges around the country.

Even in his later years, Petzoldt remained connected and devoted to the mountains and to mountain climbing. In 1984, at the age of 76, Petzoldt made a successful ascent of the Grand Teton on the 60th anniversary of his first ascent. His enthusiasm and desire to teach and lead people in outdoor education never diminished. In 1996 at the age of 88, he started The Paul Petzoldt Leadership School in Maine.

Over the years Petzoldt authored several books including the "Wilderness Handbook" and "Teton Tales." Books written on his life include "On Top of the World" by Patricia Petzoldt and "On Belay" by Raye Ringholz.

Paul Petzoldt always said that while he had no children of his own, he did have a very large family. He considered all of his former students as family.

Throughout Petzoldt's lifetime he received numerous conservation awards and honorary college degrees. He was in Who's Who in America 1967-68 and was honored with the Banquet of the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement and the Conservation Award from the Department of Interior in 1951. In the early 1990s, Petzoldt was inducted into the Explorers' Club and was among a half dozen recipients of the Eddie Bauer Award for conservation, among other honors.

There will be a memorial service in Jackson, Wyoming, November 6th, 1999 at 1:00pm. The service will be held at the St. John's Episcopal Church. There will be a reception immediately following, for a visit with the family and tributes to Paul.

In lieu of flowers the family has asked that memorials and donations be made to the Paul Petzoldt Legacy Scholarship at NOLS in Lander.

We hope you can join us for this memorial and tribute to his life.

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.

Press Contact:
Jeanne O'Brien
National Outdoor Leadership School

Paul Petzoldt
NOLS Founder, Paul Petzoldt
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