Fritz Wiessner

by John Rupley

Fritz's love of climbing is obvious in the photographs. From about 1970 until 1986, after each winter season of skiing with wife Muriel, he would begin his climbing year with a trip to Tucson. Fritz was raised in Dresden. His early climbing was in the Elbe Sandstone Towers. He was among the avant garde of "6th Class" climbing duing the 1920's. Routes he put up 80 years ago in the Elbe Sandstone are still considered difficult. He made classic routes in the Dolomites, on the Fleischbank, the Furchetta, and the Civetta. He was a member of German Himalayan expeditions in the 1920's. When Fritz came to this country in 1928, he brought both cutting-edge rock technique and Himalayan mountaineering experience. He made notable contributions to American climbing. Fritz discovered and opened, with Hans Kraus, the Shawangunks, made the first ascent of Mt. Waddington with Bill House in 1936, and the first climbing ascent of the Devil's Tower in 1937. He was the dominant climber on the 1939 American K2 expedition, on which he accomplished the famous feat of climbing past the difficulties to within 800 ft. of the summit, only to turn back in deference to the religion and fears of his Sherpa partner. He was for many years the American Alpine Club representative to international climbing organizations. During his first years in America, Fritz founded a chemical company that specialized in waxes, including a widely-used ski wax. He successfully developed his company during the depression of the 1930's. Fritz Wiessner was a gracious gentleman with wide-ranging interests. He and Hans Kraus were typical of many climbers of the pre-WWII era, who integrated climbing with leadership in other areas.

While climbing with John and Ila, Steve Grossman had the opportunity to climb with Fritz Wiessner as well. In a recent interview with Steve, he talks about climbing with Fritz Wiessner on Mt. Lemmon:

"Fritz Wiessner in particular was a great inspiration. When I got a chance to climb with him he was well into his 70s. It was wonderful to watch him climb. He had decades upon decades of technique and even though his arm strength wasn't what it once was, he was very into climbing. In fact I remember him saying at one point in time, in his thick German accent, 'Ven I cannot climb, I vant to die.' I thought to myself, 'Man, this guy is hardcore.' He was at the same time, very humble, considering that he almost had the first ascent of K2 before WW2 and was a world class mountaineer by anyone's estimation."

Fritz Wiessner at a belay point on the Rupley Towers
Fritz Wiessner, age 86, Mt Lemmon, 1986, at a belay point on the Rupley Towers.

Fritz Wiessner on the first pitch of R3
Fritz Wiessner, age 81, Mt Lemmon, 1981, climbing on the Rupley Towers, first pitch of R3.

Copyright ©: 2002, John and Ila Rupley
Revised: March 2, 2002