History Retraced on Mount Everest This Spring

The spring climbing season soon begins in the Himalaya, and this year Eddie Bauer is outfitting an expedition with hopes to summit the mountain via the South Col and the West Ridge, the latter a rarely-climbed route that was first ascended in 1963.

Led by Norman Dyhrenfurth, the 1963 American Mt. Everest Expedition (AMEE) chose the standard South Col route as their primary approach but with a part of the team also pushing a new line up the West Ridge. This year, members of the Eddie Bauer 2012 expedition will attempt much the same plan.

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Jim Whittaker on the summit of Everest in 1963

A bit of history. . In 1963, Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld of the AMEE led the attempt on the unclimbed and challenging West Ridge, and they summited just before sunset. The pair descended via the South Col route with only the boot tracks of their teammates, Lute Jerstad and Barry Bishop, to guide them in the darkness.

Remarkably, Hornbein and Unsoeld met up with Jerstad and Bishop late that night and the four bivouacked at 28,000 feet, the highest exposed night out at the time. They survived, protected by Eddie Bauer down apparel.

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The 1963 American Mt. Everest Expedition gears up for summit bid

According to Eddie Bauer, “on the night of May 22, 1963, when Tom Hornbein, Willi Unsoeld, Barry Bishop and Lute Jerstad bivouacked at 28,000 feet after having reached the summit by two different routes, they only had their clothing — no tents and no sleeping bags.” Hornbein wrote of the feat that the climbers collapsed around midnight, and he and Unsoeld took their down parkas out of their packs and put them on but couldn’t maneuver the zippers from the fatigue and cold.

Presumably Bishop and Jerstad also had on their parkas plus several layers underneath. They were fortunate in that there was virtually no wind that night. Had it been blowing, they probably wouldn’t have survived. As it was, all but Hornbein lost multiple toes to frostbite.

For the 2012 climb, though the team will be outfitted in Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent apparel and outerwear, they hope to avoid the kind of drama seen on the historic climb. Part of this year’s expedition will follow the route taken by Jim Whittaker as he became the first American to summit Everest with his Sherpa partner Nawang Gombu in May of 1963. Another group of climbers this spring will attempt the rarely-climbed West Ridge.

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Willi Unsoeld and Barry Bishop on the West Ridge

Barry Bishop’s son, Brent, climber Charlie Mace, and First Ascent guides David Morton and Jake Norton will attempt the West Ridge. First Ascent Guide Dave Hahn, who has reached the summit of Everest 13 times, more than any non-Sherpa, will guide Leif Whittaker, Jim Whittaker’s son, as they retrace Jim and Gombu’s ascent.

Dave and Leif will be assisted by First Ascent guide Melissa Arnot. If successful in summiting, Melissa will set a new record for the most Everest summits by any non-Sherpani.

Both teams depart this month for Nepal. News and updates on the expedition will be posted on the First Ascent blog at http://blog.firstascent.com.

—Sean McCoy is a contributor based in Denver.

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Oxygen, Eddie Bauer outerwear, and a long way to climb: Hornbein on Everest’s West Ridge

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