American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Roger G. Wolcott, 1895-1982

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1983



The climbing fraternity lost one of the pioneers of Eastern rock climbing and the older climbers lost a long-time friend when Roger Wolcott died January 5, 1982. His climbing career spanned more years than that of all but a few of his contemporaries. He began climbing with the Appalachian Mountain Club around Boston in the early thirties. When he moved to New York late in that decade, he joined with climbers there to develop the Shawangunks as a climbing area. Teamed with Fritz Wiessner or Hans Kraus, he played a major part in establishing many of the classic routes such as the Three Pines and Fritz’ Yellow Face. From then until the 1960s he climbed and hiked with the New York AMC. In 1944 he became a member of the American Alpine Club.

Roger’s climbing career was by no means limited to technical rock climbing. He enjoyed as well the varied demands on endurance and technique, both on snow and on rock, made by the big mountains. With Hans Kraus he made trips to the Tetons and the Wind Rivers. At an age when many climbers would call it quits, he was doing major climbs in the Alps, particularly around Zermatt, a climbing center he dearly loved. In addition to the 4000-meter summits, he took delight in the great traverses like the Wellenkuppe-Obergabelhorn—a picture of the infamous gendarme on that ridge always hung on his wall. His relationship with the guides was one of mutual respect—you might say a throwback to the classic days of alpine mountaineering. Only eye trouble and, ultimately, a stroke could hold him back from the high places.

But a mere recitation of his climbing career hardly gives a picture of Roger the man. He had a wry, straight-faced kind of humor that often caught you by surprise. Under it lay a considerate, patient nature which made him an excellent companion. Whether it was a blown-down tent or struggles with the Soviet bureaucracy, Roger could handle the situation. Although a strong, steady climber who regularly led the more difficult routes of his day, he also gave unstintingly of his time to introduce beginners to the sport. He usually started off by telling them that the hard part was not getting up the rock but managing 120 feet of nylon rope! Regardless of how inept or frightened the novices were, Roger could calmly coach them up their first climb and give them a good introduction to a new sport.

Born in Canton, Illinois, in August 1895, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin and served as a lieutenant in the Coast Artillery during World War I. Early jobs included a stretch as a cub reporter and work as a consumer consultant with the American Standards Association. Then he founded his own advertising agency, a small, highly personal organization which emphasized educational advertising.

By his first wife, Roger had a son, Roger Jr., who lives in Florida. Much later he married Delphine Wilde, with whom he went on many camping, hiking and climbing trips. Her death was a hard blow for him. In 1976 he had a stroke which left him limited control of his left arm and leg. But Roger never gave up. He courageously and patiently continued physical therapy until the end. His wife, Charlotte (Carpenter), was his constant inspiration during those difficult years— encouraging, helping with therapy and sharing with him the kind of morale-boosting activities he needed.

Roger, we all miss you. You were a valued friend and a good companion.

Percy T. Olton, Jr.

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