Estelle M. Wetzler, 85, enthusiast of the outdoors

July 11, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Estelle M. Wetzler, an avid outdoorswoman who in her early 70s attempted to climb Mount Everest, died in her sleep Monday at the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville. She was 85.

Miss Wetzler, who had lived in Manhattan for many years, had been a member for more than 60 years of the Mountain Club of Maryland, the Sierra Club, the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Keystone Travel Club.

"She began hiking as a kid growing up on Augusta Avenue in Irvington and never really stopped," said her brother-in-law, Jerry Bracken of Catonsville.

She compiled an extensive resume of outdoor accomplishments. In the 1990s, she went on a canoe trip near the Arctic Circle, dog sledding in Minnesota and trooped through the jungles of Belize, said a niece, Maureen Bracken Kirby-Smith of Catonsville.

"She stood 5 foot 3 inches, was trim with sandy blond hair, blue eyes and a ruddy complexion," the niece said.

She described her aunt as being "hearty as an ox," who only "last Friday was dancing the polka at Charlestown."

In 1983, at 71, she joined an expedition climbing Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain. Mount Everest stands on the border of Nepal and Tibet with an elevation of 29,028 feet.

"She reached 16,000 feet before having to go back down because of pulmonary edema, which is not an uncommon affliction of those climbing Everest," said Mrs. Kirby-Smith.

In addition to mountain climbing and canoe trips, Miss Wetzler included in her catalog of adventures white water canoeing, ice climbing, rock climbing and just plain day hiking.

"You name it, and she loved doing it," said Clinton C. "Mike" Emich of Ruxton, a longtime friend and fellow hiker.

"When we'd go to camping, she always chose the third-grade hikes, which were the most difficult, and she was still doing it. I suppose she was one of the oldest climbers to ever attack Everest," he said.

Born and reared in Irvington, Miss Wetzler was a 1931 graduate of Mount de Sales Academy. In 1943, she enlisted as a Navy WAVE and was stationed in New England and later Hawaii.

After being discharged from the Navy in 1945, she enlisted in the Army and served in Japan until the late 1940s.

"While she was stationed there, she was the first American woman to climb Mount Fuji," said her niece.

In the early 1950s, she joined the State Department and worked as a secretary in the U.S. embassys in London and Paris. In the late 1950s, she returned to New York City, where she was secretary to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations until her retirement in 1979.

"In order to keep fit, she used to walk the 40 blocks from her apartment in Stuyvesant Town in East 20th Street to the United Nations headquarters," her niece said.

"After she retired, she decided to take college courses at Hunter College on East 85th Street and packed up a peanut butter sandwich and added another 20 blocks to her walk. And she did this both ways and would only take the bus if she had to carry packages," said Mrs. Kirby-Smith.

Mrs. Kirby-Smith recalled her aunt's admonition to other family members: " `Save your money so you can go places.'

"She enjoyed every bump in the road and the vistas. Her idea was to get up as high as you could and look around."

Miss Wetzler was a communicant of St. Joseph's Passionist Monastery Church, Old Frederick Road and Monastery Avenue, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

She is survived by a brother, Jack Wetzler of Boca Raton, Fla.; a sister, Dorothy Wetzler Bracken of Catonsville; six nephews; and seven other nieces.

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