This May will mark 50 years since Jim Whittaker stood as the first American on the summit of Mount Everest. Days after Whittaker’s historic ascent, two of his expedition team members, Dr. Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld, went on to complete the first traverse of Everest via a groundbreaking and difficult new route on the West Ridge.
The teams were supported by 19 Americans, 32 Sherpas, and 909 porters carrying 27 tons of gear. At the time, the expedition carried the highest-tech mountaineering equipment the world had ever seen: New oxygen masks (developed in part by Hornbein); down parkas supplied by Eddie Bauer; the newest external-frame backpacks; high-altitude boots; and winter mountaineering tents that could survive on Everest’s flank.
Later this month, The American Alpine Club will celebrate the achievement of the American Expedition at an event in San Francisco. Jim Whittaker and many of the 1963 expedition members will be there for what is sure to a nostalgic and inspirational night.
GearJunkie got an exclusive on new photos of the gear used by Whittaker, Hornbein, Unsoeld and team. The studio shots here, by photographer David Swift and the American Alpine Club, offer a glimpse back to a time when mountaineering gear was often custom one-offs or even homemade. The photos remind us of the courage it took 50 years ago to climb high into what was then a great unknown past 29,000 feet and plant an American flag on the top of the world.
—See the American Alpine Club’s page on its 2013 Annual Benefit Dinner for info on the “Americans on Everest: 50th Anniversary” event.