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Everest Legend Tom Hornbein Dies

He ushered in modern mountaineering by completing the first-ever traverse of an 8,000-metre peak

Photo by: (of) the west ridge of Everest

American mountaineer Tom Hornbein died this week while at his home in Estes Park, Colorado. He was 92. Of all his achievements, the first ascent of the west ridge of Everest in 1963 with Willi Unsoeld might be his greatest.

During the expedition in 63, Jim Whittaker became the first American to summit Everest via the South Col. Hornbein and others opted to attempt the then-unclimbed west ridge. After reaching the summit, they traversed Everest and descended the South Col, spending a night at 8,500 metres. It was the first-ever traverse of an 8,000-metre mountain. The famous Hornbein Couloir on the north side of Everest is named in his honour. The route is rarely repeated and is still considered difficult.  Hornbein later released a book called Everest: The West Ridge.

In 2018, Hornbein received The Mountaineers Lifetime Achievement award presented to him by Jim Whittaker. After Everest, Hornbein focused on medicine and went on to chair the University of Washington’s Department of Anesthesiology. He published over 100 journal articles during his career and continued to spend time in the mountains.

In an interview with Peter Dunau for Mountaineer, Hornbein was asked what advice he has for other climbers, he said, “I don’t have any advice. All I can extrapolate from my own experiences is that you fall in love with something and you follow your dreams. What you discover in the mountains is life changing. When my parents sent me to summer camp, I fell in love with the natural environment. But the enduring foundation is not the mountains; it’s the people I’ve shared them with. Over the long haul it’s enduring friendships. With Everest, for me, the best part was these relationships as they unfolded in the years after the expedition.”

Lead photo: (of) the west ridge of Everest