Adolf Bitterlich was born in 1934 near Dresden, East Germany and along with his older brother Ulf learned to climb on the sandstone rock towers that dot the rolling hillsides near Dresden. In 1951 he moved to Stuttgart in West Germany when he was seventeen to train with the Mountain Rescue Group where he earned the Green Cross, the highest order. Here he heard lots of stories about the local climbing hero Fritz Wiessner.
In 1954 the Bitterlich brothers immigrated to the west coast of Canada and continued their mountaineering. On one of their early ascents of Mount Arrowsmith they were involved with finding the wreckage of a plane which they heard crash into the mountain in a white-out while they were near the summit.
In 1954 members of the Vancouver Island section of the Alpine Club of Canada had made an attempt on the unclimbed Mount Colonel Foster but only managed to reach the easy Southeast Summit. Adolf and Ulf heard about the attempt and decided to have a look at the mountain themselves. In 1955 they hiked up the Elk Valley and set up camp at Foster Lake below the huge East Face. The next day they moved up towards the South Col but deeked out to the right towards what became known as the Snowband Route. A rock band separated the lower and upper snowfields and it was this rock band the two made several attempts to climb, unfortunately, the route was too difficult and the pair retreated to their camp.
That year also saw Adolf and Ulf make their first attempt on British Columbia's highest mountain, Mount Waddington. Adolf had heard stories about Waddington and Fritz Wiessner who in 1936 with Bill House made the first ascent. In a homemade boat, the brothers motored up Knight Inlet and began carrying loads up the Franklin River. Trying the mountain from the southeast, they reached Spearman Col after some tricky climbing on steep ice on their new 12-point crampons. With the barometer dropping rapidly they decided against being caught out in a storm high on the mountain so retreated down the glacier thus ending their first attempt. Ulf wrote: "Our opinion of Mt. Waddington is: it is a difficult one and needs expert handling. The best way would be to tackle it in a relay technique; establishing several camps, so as to be prepared for any storm, as the weather changes very rapidly in the Coast Range."
The brothers were back again in 1956 with four companions: Philippe Delasalle, Earle Whipple, Sarka Spinkova and Sylvia Lash. On this occasion they made an air drop at the base of Waddington before they began their hike in along the Franklin. Some of the party climbed Mount Agur and Fireworks Peak but they all managed to climb Waddington's Northwest Summit via Fury Gap. Here they had a good look at the main tower and Ulf wrote that this was: "a sight I will never forget." Adolf and Earle Whipple made a bold attempt on the South Face but ran out of equipment. Despite the setback the Bitterlich brothers were not disheartened and vowed to return with more and better equipment.
Adolf attended the ACC Columbia Icefields Ski camp in 1957 and the Glacier Summer camp that year with Rex Gibson and Phyllis Munday. The next year he attended the Mummery camp with Roger Neave and Harry Winstone and made the first ascent of Peak M3.
In 1958 the brothers returned to the Coast Mountains with Arno Meier, Christian Schiel and John Owen. After flying into Ghost Lake on August 7, they began carrying loads into the Tiedemann Glacier where they eventually made camp on Spearman Col. On August 15 they followed the route pioneered by the Sierra Club climbers in 1950 to the Southeast Notch and then Adolf led up the ice-encrusted Southeast Chimney, arriving on the summit at 4:45 p.m.. Owing to the perseverance of the Bitterlich brothers, Canadians had finally climbed the main tower of Mount Waddington.
However, 1958 was a stella year for Adolf as on May 30 with Leon Blumer, Hans Gmoser, Bruce Gilbert and Dick Wahlstrom, he made what was possibly the first ascent of Mount Blackburn in the Wrangell Mountains of Alaska. Then in July with John Owen and Bill Lash he led a successful expedition to Mount Howson in the Coast Mountains near Smithers. This was the peak that his friend and mentor, Rex Gibson, was killed on while attempting the first ascent in 1957. However, before Bitterlich attempted the peak they climbed to the South Col, built a rock cairn and embedded a bronze plaque in it as a memorial to Gibson. In 2006 Bitterlich returned to Mount Howson with an expedition commemorating the ACC's 100th anniversary. In his unassuming way he said that although he had made the first ascent: "This was not my mountain. It was Rex Gibson's mountain."
It was while climbing on the sandstone towers near Dresden that he learned from the local climbers how to approach the soft rock with a minimalist approach. Rather than use the potentially destructive metal pitons and other hardware, they would tie knots in the hemp and manila ropes and jam these into cracks. They also eschewed the use of chalk, considering the white marks left to be a form of defacement. These ethics he continued to observe when he climbed on the limestone cliffs around Horne Lake on Vancouver Island in the late 1950's. Almost fifty years later these cliffs became the scene where Canada's first 5.14 rock route was established. Adolf went on to climb at Squamish and in 1958 with legendary Jim Baldwin, Dick Culbert, Brendon Moss and Elfrida Pigou, climbed the North Gully on the Squamish Chief.
An early acquaintance of Adolf and Ulf Bitterlich was Ken Stoker. Ken had emigrated from the Yorkshire area of England and recalls a winter trip into Strathcona Park with the brothers and remembers they carried the bare minimum in the way of utensils. There cooking pot was an old apple tin and they carried one spoon between the two of them. Breakfast was cooked in the one pot: bacon, sausages, oatmeal, fruit and anything else they had was all thrown in to cook together; the luxury of frying the bacon and sausages separately in the mountains was a foreign concept.
Adolf Bitterlich had aspirations to lead the life of an alpine guide and for three years guided on Mount Rainer where he made roughly thirty-nine ascents of the mountain. He also ski guided Mount Hood in Oregon for the Timberline Lodge on the mountains south side. In Canada he worked at ski camps in the Rockies with his friend Hans Gmoser and attempted to establish a commercial operation at Ghost Lake near Mount Waddington.
In 1964 he married . And had two children. As his energy was redirected towards his family, his trips into the mountains became fewer. However, to continue to get the adrenalin rush he got from climbing, he worked for many years as a tree faller in the logging industry.
In 19.. Adolf
moved to Tlell on the east coast of Graham Island in the Queen Charlotte's
(Haida Gwaii) where he runs a hobby farm and a small trail riding business.
Stoker, Ken. Personal communication. 2009.
Bitterlich, Ulf and Adolf. "Trip to Mount Waddington." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 39. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1956. p. 76-80.
Bitterlich, Ulf. "Waddington Adventure, 1956." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 40. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1957. p. 47-52.
Schieb, Christian. "First Canadian Ascent of Mt. Waddington." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 42. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 1959. p. 28-35.
Blumer, Leon. "Mount Blackburn Second Ascent." American Alpine Journal. Vol. 80. 1959. New York, USA. p. ..
Ramsey, Heather. "Many Mountains to Climb: Adolph Bitterlich's Return to Howson Peak." Northword Magazine. #10, Winter 2006. Smithers, BC. p. 6-7, 32.
Scott, Chic. Pushing the Limits. Rocky Mountain Books. Canmore, Alberta. 2002.
Wagar, Kathie. "Centennial Climb of Mount Howson/Loft Peak. August 25-31, 2006." The North Col. The Alpine Club of Canada Prince George section newsletter. November, 2006. p. 2-4.