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Mourning the Passing of Wolf Bauer

Posted: 01/31/2016
by Thomas O'Keefe

We are sad to report the passing of Wolf Bauer one of American Whitewater’s original founders. Born in 1912 in the Bavarian Alps, Wolf came to Seattle at the age of 13 and was awarded a membership to The Mountaineers as a youth. Already an accomplished skier, Wolf quickly came to love his new home at the doorstep of the Cascades where he began to hike and climb with the Boy Scouts. Through college he established the region’s first instructional program for climbing with The Mountaineers and pioneered the first route up the north side of Mt. Rainier (the side that faces Seattle). Among his first students was Lloyd Anderson who went on to found REI. A teacher, who focused on safety, Wolf was also among the founders of Seattle Mountain Rescue and a leader in the subsequent creation of the Mountain Rescue Association.
After World War II and while he was established in his career as a ceramics engineer, Wolf became more interested in the rivers and the marine environment of the Pacific Northwest. As he had done with skiing and climbing, Wolf looked to Germany for resources and equipment to inspire his entry into the sport of river touring; Wolf believed “river touring” was more inviting than “whitewater paddling” and always felt that a kayak was simply a means to experience places that would otherwise be difficult to access. 
In 1948 Wolf established the Washington Foldboat Club (today Washington Kayak Club) and by the 1950s was offering courses through the YMCA. Club volunteers continue to teach the introductory paddling course to this day. In 1954 Wolf joined the conversation among paddling club representatives around the country on the need for a national affiliation of clubs engaged in whitewater paddling and the American Whitewater Affiliation was born. As one of our original founders, Wolf focused his efforts on instruction and safety and his interest in conservation can be found in our founding principles. He was also the first to introduce the concept of play boating in an article in a 1956 issue of the American Whitewater journal titled “Playing the River” where he described the benefits of taking half a day to enjoy a section of river that could be run in a half hour or less.
While any of Wolf’s accomplishments in skiing, climbing, mountain safety and rescue, or pioneering whitewater and sea kayaking in the Pacific Northwest would stand on their own, his greatest contribution has been towards the conservation of our rivers and shorelines. In trips on the Cowlitz River canyons prior to their flooding by two dams completed in 1962 and 1969, Wolf witnessed first-hand the loss that hydropower development brought. Vowing to make sure the Green River Gorge did not suffer a similar fate, he led the successful effort to establish the Green River Gorge Conservation Area and Kanaskat-Palmer and Flaming Geyser State Parks in 1969. Following the passage of the Wilderness Act, Wolf corresponded with leaders in the national river conservation community and provided input on the successful effort to create the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Wolf joined with others to form the Washington Environmental Council to a play a more effective role in environmental issues at the state legislature. He was a leader in the effort to establish the Shoreline Management Act 1971, which seeks to protect the natural character of shorelines; his influence can be seen by the provisions of in this state law to “increase public access” to shorelines and “increase recreational opportunities for the public on the shoreline”.
Following his work to protect undeveloped shorelines, Wolf began an ambitious effort to restore shorelines and began his second career as a full-time shoreline resource consultant in 1975. Many of the beaches enjoyed at our state and local parks have benefitted from the restorative touch that Wolf Bauer applied.
Wolf leaves behind a century of work with impact on the climbing, skiing, kayaking, mountain safety, and conservation communities. To learn more about his life and all his incredible contributions see his biography Crags, Eddies, and Riprap: The Sound Country Memoir of Wolf Bauer by Wolf Bauer and Lynne Hyde and published by Mountaineers Books.
Thomas O'Keefe
3537 NE 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115
Phone: 425-417-9012