Everest’s West Ridge has long represented a foreboding challenge and a dangerous route to the summit. On the 1963 AMEE expedition, climbers Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld completed the first successful ascent of the West Ridge route. Climbing in alpine style they traversed past the point of no return above the Hornbein Couloir and linked up on their descent with Lute Jerstad and Barry Bishop who summited via the South Col route just hours before. The climb was historic, but the descent was legendary. All four were forced into a desperate bivy at 28,000 feet with no tents and no bottled oxygen. The foursome survived due to good weather, good fortune and the warmth of their minus-85-degree Eddie Bauer Mount Everest Parkas.
The first ascent of the West Ridge is still universally respected as one of the greatest achievements in the history of mountaineering. The route is a dangerous one that has presented an equal chance of death or success during the past 50 years.
Including the West Ridge direct variation, it has been attempted more than 60 times with only 15 successful climbs yet 20 fatalities, including six French climbers who were killed in an avalanche while attempting the route in 1974. To this day, the West Ridge remains a route and a climb that deserves careful consideration and great respect.
To honor the anniversary of the first West Ridge ascent, Jake Norton, David Morton, Charley Mace and Brent Bishop travelled to Everest and followed in the footsteps of Unsoled and Hornbein’s route to within 150 vertical meters of the West Ridge. They spent 45 brutal days battling the mountain but due to dry, wind-scoured terrain, excessive rockfall and brutal climbing conditions that included avalanche danger and bulletproof, ancient ice in the Hornbein Couloir, the West Ridge refused to be climbed in 2012. The West Ridge team was turned back and forced to abandon their climb, but the images they captured are a potent reminder of the magnitude of the first West Ridge ascent and the challenge that still remains.
This video features never-before-seen footage from that historical West Ridge ascent.
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Keynote speaker Brent Bishop spoke to Mountaineers Leaders on 9/13/14 about growing up in a legendary climbing family, challenging oneself, climbing Everest, looking for the things you can do to promote conservation efforts that are right in front of you, and passing on the benefits of an outdoor life to the next generation.