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
"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
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
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
More about Paul Petzoldt
Mountain Man? Not if He Can Help It by
Jane Howard. Life magazine, December 19,
Tells His Story by Molly Absolon.The
Leader, Fall 1995.
was a man to match our mountains," by
Kerry Brophy. The Leader, Fall
National Outdoor Leadership School