Wolf Bauer, accomplished mountaineer and environmentalist with a passion for teaching and sharing, has died at 103. His work influenced generations of skiers, climbers and kayakers and led to protection of shoreline areas.
When Wolf Bauer turned 100 in 2012, the roomful of friends honoring him included Jim and Lou Whittaker, brothers whose names are synonymous with Northwest mountaineering.
“To Wolf Bauer, our mentor,” Jim Whittaker offered in a toast to “the person that got us out on the water and up on top of the mountains.” Whittaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest, told Mr. Bauer, “Without you, it wouldn’t have been possible.”
The moment reflected a profound respect and gratitude shared by many for this German immigrant who enjoyed, explored, shared, cherished and protected the Northwest outdoors.
Mr. Bauer, a San Juan Island resident whose family moved from Bavaria in Germany to Seattle in 1925, died Saturday, a month shy of his 104th birthday.
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“The scope of his influence has been so broad and has spanned so many years that few even begin to grasp it,” observed Lowell Skoog in a 2005 profile of Mr. Bauer for Northwest Mountaineering Journal.
Mr. Bauer’s feats of skill and strength were remarkable, including being the first to scale Mount Rainier via the challenging Ptarmigan Ridge in 1935, and setting a team record in 1936 on an 18-mile ski race from Snoqualmie Pass to Stampede Pass.
But the strongest aspects of his legacy are likely to lie in the work he did to improve the skills and safety of others, such as creating the Mountaineers’ first climbing course in 1935, at a time when some veteran climbers closely guarded their climbing know-how.
With two associates in 1949, Mr. Bauer also started the forerunner of the Mountain Rescue Council, creating a network of manpower and expertise to tap in outdoor emergencies.
Those and other contributions were cited by the Washington Legislature in a 2010 commendation calling Mr. Bauer “a leader in outdoor education and environmental conservation since 1929.”
Also noted was his work as a founding member of the Washington Environmental Council in 1969, and his drafting of what would become the Shoreline Management Act of 1971.
“His love of outdoor recreation fueled a desire to protect the natural landscape,” wrote Mary Hsue, development director of The Mountaineers, who said Mr. Bauer’s passion for shoreline protection was a natural for the man who created the Northwest’s first kayak club.
It’s been said he became interested in kayaks the first time he saw one, and his designs and innovations led to the development of the modern fiberglass kayak, Hsue said.
He made river-rafting and touring maps of Western Washington, and with friends in the 1950s, he kayaked the west coast of Vancouver Island and other areas.
Born Feb. 24, 1912, Mr. Bauer was in his teens when his family moved to Seattle.
He joined the Boy Scouts and, in 1929, was one of three Scouts selected annually to receive free membership in the Mountaineers
Although he attended Lincoln and Roosevelt high schools, he graduated from high school in West Virginia, in an area where his father had taken a teaching job.
After graduation, Mr. Bauer moved back to Seattle to study ceramic engineering at the University of Washington, setting the stage for his career as an expert in building cement, lime and gypsum plants, with clients worldwide
Daughter-in-law Ingrid Fabianson, of Friday Harbor, said testimonials about Mr. Bauer’s accomplishments sometimes miss his more lighthearted side.
“He was very playful, and a great musician. He was still playing the harmonica a week ago,” she said. He could also play the accordion, mandolin and piano, and had an interest in German folk songs.
Many of Mr. Bauer’s accomplishment and passions are discussed in “Crags, Eddies & Riprap: The Sound Country Memoir of Wolf Bauer,” co-authored with Lynn Hyde in 2010.
In addition to his daughter-in-law, Mr. Bauer is survived by a sister, Friedl Ney, of Mountlake Terrace; a son, Rolf Bauer; two granddaughters and many nieces and nephews. He is predeceased by ex-wife Harriet Woodward Bauer and son Laurence Bauer.
Fabianson said a small memorial on San Juan Island will be set later. Remembrances may be made to Friends of the San Juans, the Mountaineers or the Washington Kayak Club.