Into The Unknown: The Remarkable Life Of Hans Kraus
Susan E. B. Schwartz
If you've ever climbed at the Gunks you most certainly owe a debt of gratitude to Hans Kraus. If for no other reason than he was the first ascensionist on the mega-classic climb, High Exposure. Although possibly not as well known in modern climbing circles as Fritz Weissner, Kraus' life story is the stuff of which legends are made. Here's the short version...
Kraus was born in Austria in 1905, growing up under a domineering father in an affluent family who fled to Switzerland just before WW1. As a young man Kraus became enamored with the mountains, spending as much time as possible hiking and climbing. As a teenager a climbing partner and friend fell to his death while they were climbing. Kraus attended medical school in Vienna in the 20's, becoming a fracture surgeon. Through his subsequent practice he developed a philosophy of treatment at odds with traditional medicine of the time. He would evolve this method, called "immediate mobilization", over his entire medical career. In 1938 the Kraus family fled Europe, just ahead of WW2, this time to the United States.
Passing his medical exams in New York, Kraus continued developing unique methods of fracture treatment, applying them to all kinds of athletes. He become especially well known in the skiing circles, performing some amazing cures. In 1940 he met Fritz Weissner, who would become a lifelong friend and climbing partner. Weissner had discovered the Shawngunks in 1934 and together Hans and Fritz spent every spare day developing routes in the area.
In addition to climbing, Kraus also continued to develop a unique approach to treating back pain in collaboration with another doctor, Sonja Weber. They developed an understanding of the underlying causes of back pain and devised the K-W test and exercises to alleviate it. Their program was amazingly successful. So successful in fact that Kraus attracted the attention of then President John F Kennedy who had significant back problems for years. Working with directly with Kennedy for several years, he was successful in completely curing Kennedy of a debilitating back problem. What's surprising is how little known he is in the back field. His extremely successful techniques have fallen by the wayside.
Kraus' died in 1995 at 90. His impact on climbing in New England cannot be underestimated and in spite of how his techniques for back health are not generally available, he did have an impact on the field. It's clear that Hans Kraus had a very real impact everything and those that his life touched.
Susan Schwartz has put written an entertaining and readable biography of a man whom every New England climber probably feels as if they know. Into The Unknown makes it obvious that we really don't even know a quarter of the story. There isn't a lot of "dirt", there aren't as many stories of his climbing exploits as I would have liked, nor all that many pictures - one notably missing is of his first wife. That said it's the only available biography of a man who has had a major impact on climbing in New England and is well worth the read.
Paperback, 283 pages, black and white photos