First rock adventures and Alpine apprenticeship
Oskar Bühler was born on January 4th, 1911 in Nuremberg, Bavaria. He enjoyed a caring relationship with his family. Aged just about 13 years, he soloed his first climbing adventures in his rocky Franconian homeland
. These were limit experiences which did not, however, prevent him from starting a livelong climbing and alpine career.
Looking for climbing mates, he found contact with other climbers via the local YMCA, and joined at the age of 15 Section Nuremberg of the German Alpine Club (Deutscher Alpenverein). Already in this summer 1926 he had his first occasion to see the Alps, making a trip with his youth group to the Lechtal and Verwall area, where he summited his first 3000m peak. 3 years later he participated in an ice climbing training in the Zillertal Alps, led by the later famous ski filmmaker Oskar Kühlken, and immediately afterwards he graduated in a climbing course headed by the also famous Walter Flaig in the Verwall group. Flaig was destined to become his climbing guru, and with both Kühlken and Flaig he maintained a livelong friendship. In the consequence, Bühler undertook as early as 1929, at the age of 18, independent climbs in the Zillertal Alps and in Wilder Kaiser. One year later, he made his first „14er“, mounting to Monte Rosa with skis.
First commitments in the Alpine club
From 1926 to 1939, until WW-II interrupted such activities, Bühler actively participated in the Section Nuremberg, giving climbing courses and leading the mountaineer's and skier's groups.
Bühler climbing in Frankenjura, 1935
His soloing of the Marinelli-Couloir in Monte-Rosa east face in 1938 caused a sensation among mountaineers, and so did his climb of the Pallavicini couloir at Großglockner (together with Nuremberg mates, considered „flatlanders“). One of his favorite stories is the one of the big bike tour 1933, when he - making the best of his being jobless like millions of Germans - biked from Nuremberg to the Bernina Alps and climbed the Bianco ridge to Piz Bernina, followed by the Zmutt ridge to Matterhorn. Thus he gave more than 30 inspiring mountain-related talks in the following 30 years.
Following the Abitur (high school diploma) Bühler graduated as a mason, studied civil engineering and - having no chance of an employment in that branch in 1932 - added a study in structural engineering. During the war he was working in railway construction in Germany, France and Austria, an occupation he continued also afterwards, primarily with the electrification of long distance connections.
Commitments in the Alpine Club and in the Alps renewed
In 1946 Oskar again took over the leadership of the Section Nuremberg's mountaineer's and young man's group s. Although there was a lot of repair work to be done at his home, the Sundays were reserved also in these stinted years for climbing in summer and skiing in winter. Every vacancies he was found in the Alps, conquering great routes, mostly en tete. He was the guide for 3 comrades over the complete Rochefort ridge (Montblanc group), including a bivouac on Calotte de Rochefort, and descending finally south to the Jorasses hut. Likewise, the complete traverse of Mont Blanc itself in 1952 - before the Aiguille du Midi cable car was constructed - was still a real big enterprise.
As a member of the managing board of the Nuremberg Section of the German Alpine Club Bühler shaped the club life for decades. He received reward for his unweary commitment in being appointed honorary chairman of the section in later years, and also of the new IG Klettern (community of interest in climbing) of the Frankenjura, which emerged in the 80ies.
It was not before the age of 82 that Oskar put away his skis, stating that „Now I can't get up any anymore when I fall“. However, his last summit at the age of 88, the Brecherspitze in the Schliersee pre-Alps, was still 6 years in the future at that time.
Editing the Climbing guide of the Frankenjura
As early as 1946 Bühler composed the 1st climbing guide for the Frankenjura, containing 893 route descriptions. Aged over 60, he tried to keep pace with the stormy development of climbing in Frankenjura and released new editions
in quick sequence. At the age of 80 he completed the 6th edition with 4200 descriptions of climbings on the limestone towers and walls of Frankenjura.
Restoration of pitons
The "Bühler" - seminal development for climbing
This is Oskar's second and most important contribution to climbing in Frankenjura (and, in a sense, worldwide). When he started climbing en famille with his daughters, he also started replacing old bolts by new ones. However, being an engineer, he did not want to simply rely on new classically set bolts but looked for a safer and more durable solution. In 1960 he had developed, in night-long work, the concept of cemented pitons and started to realize it together with his mate Wilhelm Meßner. From 1965 on he used bolts made of rustproof steel, which are nowadays dubbed simply „a Bühler“ in the climber's jargon. About 2000 of them he has personally put in place using a hand-held boring cutter, and another 500 after year 1990 using a battery driven drilling machine. Furthermore he has documented some 7000 pitons set by comrades.
It has to be said that this restoration work was in no way without controversy. Besides of fierce discussions there were also people who not only sawed pitons off but - worse - cut them open. This „piton war“ was very irksome for Bühler, but he did not give up his idea. He continued hanging in the ropes in his spare time, preparing the construction site, chiselling a 10-12cm deep hole, moistening it by spitting water into, and carefully filling it with fast binding cement, in which he plugged finally the new piton. Then he removed the old bolt and rappeled down to the next working position. It took between 30 minutes and several hours to restore one bolt, the installation of the abseil-piste being often the most laborious part of the work.
Nowadays the idea of piton restoration has become widely accepted also in the Alps. For example the security group of the German Alpine Club with Pit Schubert has tested many types of bolts and has restored a lot of climbs in the climbing areas readily reached from Munich. Public approval of Bühler's work for secure climbing was expressed by awarding him the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1988. A particular delight for Bühler was being awarded in 1996 in Austria the Dietmar-Eybl-price for outstanding accomplishments in service of security on mountains, because this meant crowning his work with even international approval.
CreditAuthorized condensed translation by Reinhard
of the German original by Christl Gensthaler, born Bühler
Those interested in the the full German original may follow this link