INTO THE UNKNOWN
THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF HANS KRAUS
by Susan E. B. Schwartz
In the tradition of gripping, true-life adventure tales
comes the biography of Hans Kraus.
It is a story of remarkable guts, grit, and wit . . . camaraderie
and celebrities . . . tragedy and humanity. . . and one man's
determination to find meaning and make a difference, in the mountains
and in medicine.
Synopsis to INTO THE UNKNOWN
Hans Kraus was a legendary rock climber, known for hair-raising
ascents on two continents. Few realized he was the same man considered
one of the great unsung medical pioneers of the 20th century.
Making headline news throughout the second half of the
1950's, Kraus was guest of honor at Eisenhower's White House
and the cover story of major magazines throughout America, including
Sports Illustrated. During the 1940s and 1950s, through
his pioneering work in muscles and fitness, Kraus uncovered a
shocking truth about American children. And Kraus work
curing back pain brought him into the Kennedy White House and
inner circle of Camelot.
INTO THE UNKNOWN: THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF HANS KRAUS includes
the never before told story of Kennedy's back, based on new documentation,
including Kennedy's own White House back records and first time
interviews with two Kennedy White House doctors. Kraus lived
his life so fully and so fearlessly, another famous climber said
of him, His cojones were so big, he needed a bag to carry
Preface to INTO THE UNKNOWN
"Into the unknown with a few small soft-iron pitons
and a hemp rope, boldness and big cojones."
Climbing author, Dick Williams, describing Hans Kraus in the
"So far ahead of his time; it will take fifty years
for others catch up."
White House doctor, Dr. Gene Cohen, describing Hans Kraus in
"The Side of a Cliff, Two Hundred Feet above the Ground"
1965, Shawangunk Mountains, New York State
He was hanging there, in the air.
Air was everywhere. Above, below, ahead. To the left and
right. Seemingly against logic, wherever he looked hundreds
of feet of sheer, open air. The wind whipped at his face, hawks
swooped below his feet, and he felt serene and at peace.
At sixty, also seemingly against logic, he was very much in his
prime. After all, how many menof any agecould crank
a one-arm pull-up or full split like he still could? Or climb
such a fearsome, overhanging, exposed rock wall, such as the
rock buttress from which he now dangled?
Steep and jutting sharply from the cliff, the buttress looked
unscalable, unattainable; or, as the guidebook put it, like a
journey "into the unknown." Perched on a hillside,
to a climber dangling off its side, the buttress felt even higher
than its footage, and colder, windier and wilder than anywhere
else on the cliffs. And seemingly against logic, it offered complete
exposureair on four sides.
Experts warned: "Its psychological grade
is several notches harder than its climbing difficulty grade."
What did they say, then, to the sixty-year-old man dangling from
He had been the first, nearly a quarter of century ago,
to scale the rock buttresswearing sneakers, tied to a hemp
rope little better than laundry line. Years passed before anyone
else dared try. Even after climbers had specialized, safer gear,
the buttress remained a climbing test piece, entitling bragging
One climbing expert shook his head and marveled, "His
cojones are so big, he needs a bag to carry them in." The
mans reputation continued to grow with the years. When
climbers spotted him on the hiking trail below the cliffs, they
murmured and pointed in excitement.
"There he goes, thats him."
"Is it? Are you sure?"
"Yes, yes, see!"
They looked closer.
"It is! It is!"
"Thats Hans Kraus!"
Yet climbing was just one part of Kraus remarkable
story. During the week, Hans Kraus led a separate, equally remarkable
life outside the mountains, pushing into other unknown territory.
Twenty-nine years later, it was 1994, and I was recently elected
to the American Alpine Club Board of Directors and wrote regularly
for adventure magazines. When the climbing magazine Rock+Ice
asked me to feature Hans Kraus (1905-1996), I was thrilled.
A Shawangunks climber myself, I knew that the 56"
Kraus was a giant in the sport of rock climbing; first in his
native Dolomites in Italy, then, after moving to the U.S. in
1938, in the world famous Shawangunk Mountains of New York. What
I did not know was that Kraus was also a giant outside of the
mountains as well.
In 1963, Time Magazine had compared Kraus to three towering
scientific luminaries who changed human existence foreverthe
inventors of the polio vaccine, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin,
and the inventor of the smallpox vaccine, Edward Jenner. So what
was Kraus remarkable medical breakthrough?
The answer is startlingly simple: Exercise!
It was Kraus, based on his landmark research during the
1940s at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, who
first linked exercise and health. Exercise, he would explain
to dubious audiences, plays a crucial role in almost all aspects
of health. Lack of exercise causes many diseases, he would warn,
citing obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis,
depression, diabetes, back pain, and many cancers. Exercise even
cures some of these diseases, he would continue to skeptical
looks, occasional guffaws, sometimes outright laughter.
Kraus also sadly predicted the current U.S. health crisisepidemic
obesity, which is poised in 2005 to replace smoking as the leading
cause of preventable death and to shrink the U.S. population
lifespan for the first time in 200 years.
In the 1950s, Kraus created sensation, controversy,
and headlines, as he exhorted Americans to exercise. While Kraus
is largely unknown to Americans todayexcept for thousands
and thousands of adoring former patients and fellow climbersin
his day, Kraus was big news. When President Eisenhower invited
Kraus to the White House in 1955, the event was covered by the
major newspapers and magazines. (Sports Illustrated, for instance,
ran a feature article, separate cover story, and two-page photographic
spread). Throughout the rest of the decade, Kraus and his fitness
campaign were front page newseven the Sports Illustrated
cover of August 1957.
Yet not only did Americans resist Kraus exercise
message painfully clear todayamazingly, many declared
themselves insulted. Some even went as far as to call Kraus a
Nazi! (Ironic, considering that the Trieste-born Kraus was part
Jewish, and fled the Nazis for New York.)
But until Kraus retired at age 89, his practice boomed.
Kraus treated many for free, as well as a blue chip roster of
Nobel scientists, Olympic athletes, royalty, millionaires, movie
stars, and U.S. presidents, like John F. Kennedy. In fact, the
complete story of Kennedys back has never before been told,
since Kraus had never previously allowed his White House medical
records on Kennedy to be seen.
While researching the Rock+ Ice article, I realized that
a 3,000-word magazine piece could never capture Hans Kraus
complex and remarkable life. I vowed to write it as a book. My
motivation, as readers will see in the books epilogue,
was as much personal as literary. But first I had to make sense
of Kraus seemingly two distinct lives in the mountains
In the course of the ten years of researching and writing this
book, I came to see that they were, in fact, two halves of a
seamless whole. The glue was a searing boyhood tragedy when Kraus
was sixteen years old. From it, he drew the strength to face
his wealthy, domineering father, define meaning in his life,
and live life on his own terms.
Pushing into the unknown, both in the mountains and in
medicine, was Kraus way of making sense of what had happened
and dealing with his lifelong guilt: In the mountains, the physical
and emotional commitment of hard climbing brought Kraus numbing
relief from his emotional pain. In medicine, the satisfaction
of healing others physical pain brought him the closest
he knew he could ever come to finding something like atonement
When Hans Kraus set off at age ninety, on that last, ultimate
journey into the unknown, he died a fulfilled man, in his own
bed, surrounded by his family and wife of thirty-eight years,
at peace, in control, knowing he touched the lives of thousands
and thousands and thousands of people for the better.
Throughout it all, he never lost his trademark wit, verve,
passion, or sense of purpose. Or his youthful zest of meeting
challenges head-on, chin-up, eye-to-eye, with dignity and unswerving
honesty. Hans Kraus led a remarkable life, and he did it with
a remarkable soul.
Not to mention that bag of remarkable cojones.
here to buy the book!
There will be a slideshow at Rock
and Snow, Sept 10. 8pm. 845-255-1311