Fritz Wiessner Visits NC

by Diff Ritchie

I was hired to guide Fritz Wiessner around Western North Carolina in the seventies. He was in his 70’s at the time living in Stowe, Vermont and wanted to check out North Carolina. We climbed the short route on Sage – he was still climbing in boots rather than EBs or that sort. I ended up selling him a pair that he used on Looking Glass but said he perferred his stiff boots! We also did a route on Rock Mountain above High Hampton.

We then went down to Brevard and climbed both Sundial and the Nose on Looking Glass. Over several dinners and around a campfire he told us the amazing story of the whole ill-fated attempts to climb K-2 – one where they had passed all the major difficult sections only to have to turn back close to the summit and the very difficult attempt with amateur climbers and one serious one that led to several deaths. As the leader he took the blame back in New York. Either would have been a first ascent of the baddest, if not the biggest mountain in the world. See...

K2: The 1939 Tragedy Paperback – October, 1993

by Andrew J. Kaufman (Author), William Lowell Putnam (Author)

The story is recounted in a book that was written by a relative of the American who died and it followed Fritz for a long time in serious climbing circles- but it was amazing to hear Fritz’s story from his point of view. He also told us about his expedition to Nanga Parabat where they came close to that first ascent during the same period and an amazing story of a car chase through the streets of Kathmandu with Nazi’s on their tail after an expedition. It was amazing to hear first-hand what it was like to try the big 8,000 meter big boys during the 30’s and 40’s – just getting to the base was a major accomplishment in itself and they mainly wore wool.

Another cool story - After one trip - Fritz was a chemist and the other two climbers physicists- and the Nazi’s were rounding up German and Austrian scientist before the start of the second World War. After an amazing car chase through the streets of Kathmandu they ended up crashing through the gates of the British embassy with the guns of British soldiers pointed at the car and Gestapo agents standing outside their car just outside the compound demanding the return of German citizens. In the end they and received asylum. The two physicists went to England and Fritz came to the US. He tried to volunteer to fight but was denied due to his German citizenship but still trained a mountain division for the army as he was an excellent skier. Imagine hearing those stories after a few bottles of wine around a campfire from someone with first-hand experience of those heady days.

He was the first person to put up a route in the Gunks and had decided to come to North Carolina after speaking with Henry Barber who was a big Gunks climber and early “clean climber” advocate and got my name from Brad Shaver when he was looking for someone willing to climb with him for a week in Cashiers.

More than you wanted to know –

Fodderstack overlooks that same part of Horse Cove and I went up with Brad Shaver on a beautiful Sunday. It is fairly low angle so we spent the day free climbing all the fun looking lines and just messing around never even unpacked the ropes or any of the gear.

It was the same way with Rock Mountain in the cove= we went up there quite a bit and used equipment as it was much taller but moderate angle and did six or seven different routes but never recorded them.

Heather Phillips