Franz Mohling died in an avalanche on Mount Logan last summer. With him perished two friends, Stephen Jensen and Turan Barut.
His daughter Shanti said at his memorial below the Boulder Flatirons, “Franz gave to me a sense of the frontier.” Indeed, her dad had the ability to see much of his life as an unspoiled frontier even though he was making the second or the sixteenth ascent of a mountain. His family and friends must have been infected by Franz’s way of making the traversed seem untraversed, an alpine meadow undiscovered, a folk dance never quite danced as he did.
Born in Jersey City, N.J. in 1930, Franz took his undergraduate degree at Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute. He completed his doctorate in theoretical physics at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1958. It was in the Pacific Northwest that he began his serious climbing career and contributed a chapter to a classic Seattle publication, Freedom of the Hills.
He continued post-doctoral research at Tata Institute in Bombay in 1963 and 1964. There Franz helped pioneer the first ascent of a 21,500-foot peak, which he named “Kulu Pumori.”
During his twenty years as a physics professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Franz authored more than thirty scientific papers and had just completed writing an advanced physics textbook.
I would guess that Franz’s favorite climb was the second ascent of the north face of Mount Robson, done just before the advent of high-tech ice-climbing equipment. Franz also distinguished himself on Mount Logan, in the Cordillera Blanca and on Mount Waddington.
Beyond these accomplishments, Franz’s heart was always with social and environmental issues. By his generosity in both time and money, he promoted humanitarian justice and land preservation. He was also a leading figure in the Colorado Mountain Club, where he helped establish and direct the mountaineering school. He played an equally strong role in the Boulder Folk Dance Group.
I do not think that he was always at peace with himself. Sometimes, while the rest of us were passing some oh-be-joyful around the fire, Franz would work out his day in a journal by a lone candle in the tent.
Franz had also made two previous attempts on Mount Logan before his fatal, third bid. Was this compulsion a method he had worked out for himself so that he could live with others and continue with such sustained energy?
Perhaps it makes no difference what the answer is. It is enough for his wife Judith, daughter Shanti, son Tor and those of us whose lives have touched his to know we have been lucky simply to have known this total man.