American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Henry Ikarus Mandolf, 1897-1972

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1973



In October, 1972, Southern California lost one of its most influential mountaineers, Henry Mandolf. He was born in Graz, Austria, and was introduced to mountaineering by his father, who was a high ranking officer in the Austrian mountain troops. Henry was an ensign in the Austrian Navy during World War I, was captured by the Italians, escaped, and made his way back to Austria via the mountains. Before 1918 he participated in a number of actions and received his country’s highest decoration for personal valor. After the war, he earned degrees in both mathematics and engineering from the University of Graz. In 1924 he married Frida, who survives along with a son, a daughter, and five grandchildren.

He emigrated to the United States in 1923, and later took a position as an engineer for the Consolidated Aircraft Company in Buffalo, New York. He moved to San Diego in 1935, and was a chief project engineer developing the Convair PBY and PB2Y aircraft for World War II. In the 1950’s he became president of the Langley Corporation, which is well known for aircraft and missile components and for a line of fine spinning reels, which Henry designed. At Langley he was also instrumental in developing a critical liquid oxygen valve for the Atlas missile.

Henry was an active member of local climbing and skiing groups wherever he lived. He started climbing in the Eastern Alps in 1919. While he lived in Buffalo, he climbed in the Adirondacks and Alleghenies, often making winter ascents. From San Diego he climbed many peaks in Southern California and the Sierra Nevada. Following World War II, he promoted weekend trips from San Diego to the Sierra. His companions were often young people and sailors temporarily stationed in San Diego whom he would introduce to mountaineering. His ambition was to climb every major named summit along the High Sierra crest; his missed climbing only two of these.

His longer trips included climbs in the Tetons, Canadian Rockies (an attempt on Robson and successful ascents of Resplendent and Athabaska) and Wind Rivers, where he was especially proud of an ascent of Mount Henry. At Yosemite, he filmed an ascent of Lower Cathedral Spire.

Henry was always a mentor to other climbers and skiiers. While others raced down the slopes, he would patiently teach a group of new skiiers the basic techniques. At the request of the City of San Diego, he founded the first Basic Mountaineering Course of any Sierra Club Chapter. The course has continued for 19 years and has become routine through his fine organizational efforts. He realized early the need for an inexpensive textbook, and under his editorship, the very successful text Basic Mountaineering, was prepared. Very modestly he always thought of himself as editor rather than author, although its style and layout are characteristic of the man. The writing is brief, to the point, almost telegraphic, yet everything a climber needs to know to get started in the sport is there. Henry has exported the course and text throughout the United States and especially within the Sierra Club.

It was my pleasure to accompany Henry on his last Sierra climb. It was a crisp October day as we slowly scrambled up the talus of Mount Davis above Thousand Island Lake. We both realized it might be his last ascent, but in due time we made the summit. We looked across at the isolated peak of Mount Rodgers, which he had not climbed. He left it for others to climb, along with only a few other peaks in the “Range of Light.”

Henry Mandolf was a thorough, determined man, of strong drives, who never settled for anything but the best. He was always ready to promote his favorite sports of climbing and skiing, and gave everything of himself to seeing that others also enjoyed the hills. We admired him for his helpfulness and great accomplishments; we often argued with him that we could not reach his goals, but we usually found that he was right, and that together we could all do more than we dreamed. The example of his life will continue to inspire us to the best that humans can experience.

William H. Thomas

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