The Greatest Mountaineering Rivalries: Grand Teton North Face

Paul Petzoldt steals Fritz Wiessner's first ascent

Grand Tetons     Photo: Dgrilla/Flickr

On August 10, 1936, a mercurial German mountaineer named Fritz Wiessner was poised to scale the then-unclimbed north face of 13,777-foot Grand Teton in Wyoming. Two weeks earlier, he’d claimed the first ascent of Canada’s 13,260-foot Mount Waddington, once considered unclimbable, and he was eager to grow his reputation even further. Wiessner prodded Teton guide Paul Petzoldt for information before limning his route and setting up camp for the next morning’s assault. Petzoldt realized what Wiessner was up to and hurried to wake his brother Eldon and climbing partner Jack Durrance to begin an ascent that night and beat Wiessner to the prized summit. An hour later they sneaked past Wiessner sleeping in his tent and, working through the night, reached the peak by midday, relegating Wiessner’s climb to a dissatisfying second.

Insulted and angry by the stolen summit, Wiessner later lobbied vehemently against Petzoldt’s inclusion in the American Alpine Club. In 1939, when Fritz led the American expedition to K2 to attempt the first ascent, he refused to allow the experienced Petzoldt on the weak team roster, arguably leading to American Dudley Wolfe’s death, the first K2 fatality.

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