Two Stories from "On Belay! The life of Legenadary Mountaineer Paul Petzoldt" by Raye C. Ringholz.
I had read about the parachutist on Devil’s tower in this book so I thought I would copy that section for the reader’s reference. In reading that story, there was another story about climbing on the Grand Teton with Hans Kraus (John’s old climbing buddy) and Glenn Exum in 1941.
[Note: The text below was not copied with permission. Since I don't have permission, I will at least put in a plug for the book.]
"On Belay! The life of Legenadary Mountaineer Paul Petzoldt" by Raye C. Ringholz is an excellent book on the life of Paul Petzoldt. It covers his climbing in the Tetons in the '20s, his attempt on K2 in 1938, and one of the stranger incidents in climbing history, his accusation for murder in India. He is the founder of NOLS and is a legendary Wyoming and American mountaineer. A small coincidence I found from the book is that Paul Petzoldt and I stayed in the same dormatory at the University of Wyoming - McIntire (the tallest building in the state of Wyoming at 12 stories).
Devil’s Tower Parachutist Story
Devils Tower rises 1,280 feet above the Belle Fourche River with a columnar vertical shaft towering 865 feet from its sloping foundation. It was formed eons ago when a mass of molten rock forced its way upward through a succession of sandstone layers until it reached a resistant mantle that stopped its progress. The dome-shaped mass cooled under the b the blanketing surface, contracted and cracked into huge, multi-sided columns, and crystallized into a granite-like rock. In time, the gradual forces of erosion from rain, head, cold, and wind, wore away, the overlying mantle and exposed the tall central shaft.
Wyoming ranchers Will Rogers and Willard Ripley had made the first ascent of the tower in 1893. Hoping to attract a crowd and raise some cash by an act of derring-do, they pounded handmade wooden pegs into a vertical crack up the side of the formation to create a ladder that would take them to the top. Rogers, decked out in a red, white, and blue suit, carried an American flag to the summit on July 4. Ripley, who had actually gained the top after completeing the upper section of the ladder, did not make his first ascent public until later. Babe White, "The Human Fly," make another unsuccessful attempt in 1927. But it wasn’t until ten years later that Fritz Wiessner, Bill House and Laurence Coveney became the first serious climbers to reach the top.
The trapped parachutist was George Hopkins, a wing-walker and stunt pilot, who parachuted from burning planes in motion pictures and collected U.S. sky-diving records. His 2,347 jumps were the most ever recorded, he had made the highest jump from an elevation of 26,400 feet, and he held the world’s record for the longest delayed jump of 20,800 feet. He had make a $50 bet that he would become the first person to reach the top of Devils Tower by parachute.
Hopkins had left Rapid City, South Dakota, at daybreak on October 1 in a two-passenger plane piloted by Joe Quinn. The morning had dawned clear and cold with a ground wind blowing about 35 miles per hour. When Quinn reached the appointed jump off point, his passenger bolted from the aircraft, taking careful aim at a small area he had pinpointed for a landing. But part way down, worried that he might overshoot the target, he partially collapsed his parachute to check his drift. Instead, he plummeted faster and faster. Skimming near the tower, he thrust out a foot in an attempt to anchor himself on a raised rock, and catapulted against a protruding boulder.
Hopkins had worked out a paper plan to climb down to the ground by pounding a sharpened Ford axle into the rock with a sledge hammer, attaching a hundred-foot rope to the axle through a hayloft pulley, and then adding another thousand feet of rope. He had calculated that he could scramble the rest of the way to the bottom freestyle.
But when Quinn dropped the axle and rope, the package hit the summit with a bounce and fell about fifty feet to snag on bushes growing out of the tower’s side. Quinn winged away toward Rapid City and it was not until late afternoon that Clyde Ice, a pilot from nearby Spearfish, was enlisted to make another attempt to drop a rope.
Ice had evacuated many flood and forest fire victims and had flown numerous mercy flights to hospitals. He figured a tower drop posed unique problems due to sudden updrafts that could ravage his 65 horsepower plane. So when he flew in with a second rope, he cut the motor, glided about six feet above the monument while his partner tossed out the line, then restarted the engine. The loosely coiled rope landed in a hopeless mass of tangles.
Hopkins had to spend the night on the rock. Ice returned just before dark to drop food, blankets, a tarpaulin, and a note promising they would get him off the next day.
Then it started to storm. Fog enveloped the top of the monument, and Hopkins crept into his make-do shelter to pass a miserable night in rain and sleet.
At dawn, Hopkins threw down a note stating that he intended to parachute to the ground. The National Park Service quickly squashed the notion. Instead, they sent for Rocky Mountain State Park ranger Ernest K. Field and Colorado climbing guide Warren Gorrell to do and alpine-style rescue. In the meantime, Ice airlifted the stranded daredevil a bearskin-lined flying suit, a megaphone, and a medium rare T-bone steak.
By the time the sky cleared that afternoon, over a thousand sightseers, photographers, press and radio reporters had gathered to watch the loner stranded on his "sky island."
Fiel and Gorrell arrived early on the third morning. The two rescuers examined the routes that had previously been climbed. Deeming them too difficult, they explored a number of alternative passages in various directions to no avail. When one of them slipped and was narrowly caught by the rope, they retreated to the ground.
People from all over the country call with suggestions that they lasso Hopkins or shoot a rope up to him by cannon, and it rumored that the Goodyear blimp, Reliance, was on its way with a special pick-up basket.
Late on the afternoon of October 3, Jack Durrance, who had successfully climbed the tower, telegraphed from Dartmouth that he was coming to help, along with a few other experienced climbers.
Day four. A new storm with rain and snow boiled over the Black Hills. News wires buzzed with the saga of "Devils Tower George," and the episode was featured in Time and Newsweek. Planeloads of curiosity-seekers circled overhead, and local motels and grocery stores tried to keep up with escalating hordes of tourists. Field and Gorrell muscled a thirty-foot extension ladder onto the top of one of the columns, and a Park Service mechanic pounded heavy iron spikes and a few two-by-fours into the upper portion. All was in readiness for Durrance to scale the rock.
But the Dartmouth climber failed to appear when expected. Storms in the Midwest had canceled all flights out of Chicago. Durrance was on a train headed for Denver. He would have to come the rest of the way by automobile.
About noon on October 5, after driving all night, Petzoldt and Rapp arrived in a snow-covered car.
"When we got to Devils Tower, a sleet storm had gone through the area," Rapp remembers. "The tower was nothing but a sheet of glass."
Petzoldt opened the car trunk to get his climbing gear and was deluged by reporters. Rapp put on his felt-soled shoes, and they pushed their way through the mob to the base of the monument. Buffeted by wind, they climbed to the top of the fixed ladder to investigate the route. The tower’s deep cracks were choked with ice all the way to the summit.
Hoping for a change in the weather, they climbed back down to the valley floor. When they reached the ground, a man handed them a note that Hopkins had thrown to the crowd.
"I do not want to be rescued by mountaineers," the message said. "I’m not a mountaineer. I got up here by air and I’m going to get down by air."
About midnight, with screaming sirens and flashing light, Durrance and three other climbers arrived in a cavalcade of police and highway patrol vehicles. He conferred with Petzoldt and the ranger and the rescue was set for daylight.
They started at 7:30 A.M. Durrance took the lead, tied into a 125-foot rope with Petzoldt and Rap. Field, Gorrell, and Chappell Cranmer were on a second rope, and Merril McLane and Henry Coulter on a third.
Durrance "climbed facing the wall, utilizing friction holds on the sloping column faces, and jamming his right foot into the larger crack when width permitted," wrote Field in a article for Trail and Timberline. He hammered wooden pegs and pitons into the rock as he progressed. The string of climbers followed him to to a point about 150 feet below the summit. Then, leaping from one sloping ledge to another over a crevice 500 feet deep, they gained a shelf that gave access to the top.
When they were within voice range of Hopkins, he peered over the edge. It was almost four o’clock. It would soon be dark.
"Well, George," Petzoldt said, "we hear you got up here by air and want to get down by air. You’ve got ten seconds to make a decision because we want to get down off this thing. It’s cold as ice."
"For God’s sake, come and get me," said Hopkins.
The rescuers, who had been climbing for eight hours, pulled themselves of the ledge.
Hopkins, ever cognizant of records, told author Dale M. Titler, "This was the greatest moment!" I knew for the first time I was really safe! The others followed until the largest assembly of men – nine in all – were gathered on the top of Devils Tower.
Durrance asked Petzoldt to get Hopkins down. Petzoldt tied Hopkins into a safety sling and demonstrated how to use the rappel rope, reassuring him that he would be belaying him securely until his feet touched the ground.
They started their slow descent a 4:45 P.M. In the gathering dusk, onlookers pinpointed them with spotlights, blinding them with the glare and making their progress more difficult. While the others followed, Rapp and Durrance stayed behind to clean up debris then joined their teammates at 9:30 amidst a loud roar of approval from the crowd.
Hopkins, ever ready with quotable comments, declared, "This was not exhibition jumping. It was partly to let people know just what a person can do with a parachute if he really knows one."
"It was the damndest example of human nature I’ve ever seen," Petzoldt told Bernice when he returned to Jackson the next evening. "I had a friend from Wyoming who was out in that crowd. Some of the comments this guy heard.! One guy said, ‘What’s the goddam fool fooling around with that rope for? Why don’t they go off?"
"Somebody else said, ‘Aw, hell, it’s getting cold. Let’s go home. Nobody’s going to fall!’"
Hans Kraus Story
That August Hans Kraus, a New York doctor and accomplished climber, hired Petzoldt and Exum for an attempt on the North Face of the Grand Teton. The difficult wall had only been scaled once when Petzoldt, Curly, and Jack Durrance conquered it in 1936. Bernice (Paul Petzoldt’s wife) convinced Petzoldt that she should join this second party and become the first woman to perform the feat.
When they started out the next morning, Petzoldt cautioned her to conserve her energy for the tough pitches. They reached timberline by late afternoon with no problem. But when he pointed out a perpendicular wall of smooth granite that loomed in the distance and told her that was their target, she began to have serious misgivings.
By daybreak the surrounding cliffs looked insignificant in comparison to the North Face. The early light that usually delineated irregularities in rocky surfaces revealed a slab as flat as a piece of paper.
"You said that when you got close to the face it didn’t look so smooth," she said.
He assured her that there were plenty of projections to hold onto and that she had proven her ability and was up to the climb. Then he told everyone to put on their crampons.
It was cold and the gathering clouds looked threatening when they kicked steps up the snowy slope of the Teton Glacier. Near they top of the ice field Petzoldt told everyone to tie into a rope and move one at a time while he belayed them around and over a maze of crevasses. The last few yards were so steep and solidly frozen that he had to hack steps the rest of the way to the base of the north wall.
The four climbers clung to the precipice, resting against the damp granite before tackling the final accent. Petzoldt tied into a rope with Bernice and instructed Exum and Kraus to do likewise. He started climbing. The other couple followed. They moved slowly and deliberately, seeking hand- and footholds in small frozen cracks. The rocky tower hid them from the sun and a chill wind drained their endurance.
Petzoldt worked his way about two thousand feet up the pitch. About eleven o’clock he stopped. A few hundred feet above them was a ledge that could only be reached through a huge crack formed by a large slab of rock extending over the cliff face, something like an "up-side-down chimney" that emptied into thin air. He told Bernice to wait while he drove two pitons where she was standing. Then she was to belay him while he maneuvered into the crack.
He proceeded cautiously. Bernice slowly fed out the line. She watched as his hands and feet massaged the wall for holds, and he slid into the chimney. Then suddenly he swung around, facing downward with his feet braced on one side of the chimney and hands on the other. He inched upward like a spider.
"Fiercely I watched his rope, guarding it with every fiber of my being!" she wrote. "It must be free with just the right amount of slack. But not too much. The slightest tug would have thrown him off balance.
As he neared the top, the chimney narrowed, and he was able to swing upright again and reach the ledge. Bernice shook with relief. Then he yelled for her to climb.
"I was astounded!" she wrote. "There was nothing to climb on the wall! Nothing! The wall was damp and icy and as smooth as glass! And bulged in the middle!"
"Climb!" he yelled again.
He belayed her firmly as she entered the chimney. She clawed halfway up the slippery walls and then began to lose traction. Her hands slid o the rock and her feet stabbed for a shelf or nodule to hold her. Then she fell. The rope caught her. She tried to regain purchase with the rock and fell again and again until her waist burned from the rough fiber tightening around her. On her fourth attempt she made it.
The other climber joined them, and they rested before continuing on a series of vertical rope leads up to the summit.
At seven P.M., they stood on top of the Grand Teton. It was snowing and the wind was vicious. Their hands were so numb they could scarcely sign the register. Petzoldt reluctantly told them that is was too late and stormy to savor the moment for more than five minutes. They retreated down the Owen Route to their timberline camp.