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Hans Kraus, 1906-1996



Dr. Hans Kraus died on March 5, 1996, in his home in New York City. He had been a member of the Club for 55 years. He was best known in the climbing world for his pioneering efforts in developing the Shawangunks. He also made early trips to the Wind Rivers, the Tetons and the Bugaboos.

Bom in Trieste, Italy, he graduated from the University of Vienna Medical School in 1929 and emigrated to this country in 1938. Introduced to climbing by his father at a very early age, he was closely associated with two of the leading Italian climbers of their respective generations, Emilio Comici and Gino Solda. Having climbed with these outstanding climbers in the Dolomites, he was trained in the use of double rope and artificial aid and introduced these techniques to the eastern climbing community after his arrival in the U.S.

Shortly after he came to New York City, he met with the late Fritz Wiessner, an Honorary Member of The American Alpine Cub. Wiessner had recently “discovered” the “Gunks” and the two began a partnership and friendship that lasted for generations. Kraus, living in New York City, was the leading developer in the development of the ‘Gunks from before WW II until the mid ‘50s. He did High Exposure and the Directissima. Although High Exposure is now rated 5.6, it was an extremely bold lead when first done by Kraus, armed with a hemp rope and what today we would consider to be very primitive pitons. On the original ascent he placed three pins on the top pitch. These two climbs are the ultimate Gunk classics. Kraus was also responsible for Madam Grunebaum’s and a wide assortment of other climbs. Hans’ Puss stood as the most difficult free climb in the Trapps area until the late 1950s.

In 1945 Kraus made a very productive trip to the northern Wind Rivers. He succeeded in doing new routes on the East Buttress of Gannett, the South Face of Woodrow Wilson and the South Ridge of the Sphinx. He did the first ascent of Skyline Peak, as well as the first west-to-east traverse of the Triple Traverse. The most notable climb that was done on this trip was a new route on the Tower Ridge of Mt. Helen. Jim Kelsey has called this “an elegant climb that has stood the test of time.”

In the Tetons he did the first ascent of the North Face of Mt. Owen, as well as the first ascent of the West Face of Disappointment, a new route on the west ridge of Teepee’s Pillar, and an early ascent of the East Ridge of the Grand Teton. In 1941 he did the fourth ascent of the North Face of the Grand Teton by a new variation and repeated the ascent in 1957. In 1941 he also climbed the North Ridge of the Grand and repeated that in 1947. In the 1950s he visited the Bugaboos on several occasions. His notable route in that area was the West Face of Snowpatch Spire. He continued climbing well into his 70s, stopped only by crippling osteoarthritis. He maintained an active interest in climbing until his death at the age of 90, and often said that he greatly regretted having to give up climbing before the advent of “sticky rubber.”

Dr. Kraus’ long and distinguished career as a pioneer and innovator in medicine no doubt overshadows his accomplishments in the climbing world.

He was trained in orthopedics in Vienna, but even before he came to this country he became interested in certain aspects of rehabilitative medicine. In Vienna, his circle of friends and patients included motorcycle racers and circus performers. When they were casted after fractures, he noted that they discarded the casts; they then seemed to heal faster than normal. This led Kraus into the area of immediate mobilization. This procedure is widely used now in orthopedics, but was considered very radical in those days.

Upon his arrival in New York City, he became closely associated with a group of brilliant orthopedists at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. He initiated, along with his colleagues, one of the first extensive studies on the etiology of back pain. They were able to conclusively show that most lower back pain is related to muscle weakness and stiffness. In association with Dr. Sonia Weber, he developed the well-known Kraus-Weber test, which is still used extensively to this day. Dr. Kraus developed a unique (for that time) approach in treating muscle pain, especially in the lower back. This involved the treatment of “trigger points” by injection with xylocaine, followed by electrical stimulation and gentle physical therapy.

As a physician in private practice, he personally funded a study conducted in this country and in Austria, Italy, and Switzerland that showed American school children were significantly lessfit than similar groups in those countries. This study came to the attention of President Eisenhower and, after consulting with Dr. Kraus, President Eisenhower established the President’s Counsel on Physical Fitness, which continues to the present day.

He was called upon to treat President John F. Kennedy and was virtually on call 24 hours a day during President Kennedy’s term. Dr. Kraus was in the White House treating the President during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Unknown to the American public, the Presidents’ back condition had become so serious at that particular time in history that he could barely stand. Dr. Kraus’ treatments helped to alleviate the President’s devastating back problems.

In his private practice, Dr. Kraus treated a great many celebrities, including movie stars and sports figures. One day he noticed that his office staff seemed highly excited when he interviewed a patient that he only knew as Mrs. Khan. He was no great movie fan; his staff quietly explained to him that Mrs. Khan was Rita Hayworth. The great American ski champion, Billy Kidd, has stated that Dr. Kraus’ treatments made it possible for him to win his Olympic medal. No less an authority than the clinical Director of the famed Rusk Institute at New York University Hospital, Dr. Bruce Grynbaum, has called Dr. Kraus the “Father of sports medicine in the country.”

In 1958 he married Madi Springer-Miller, who was one of the outstanding alpine skiers of her generation. His is survived by his wife; two daughters, a brother, and a sister.

He was a man of many talents with an incisive, inquiring intellect. With his death we see the passing of an era.

James P. McCarthy