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EverestHistory.com: Lute Jerstad


The 1963 National Geographic Society sponsored expedition to Everest accomplished a lot of firsts in the history of Everest. It brought the first American (Jim Whittaker) to the summit, as well as the first summit from the West Ridge. It included the first traverse of the peak, and the first Ohioan (Barry Bishop) and the first Oregonian (Lute Jerstad) to reach the summit. Fellow Oregonian Willi Unsoeld would summit a few hours later. Jerstad was also the first person to take movie film from Everest.

Jerstad and Bishop were ropemates who followed the known route via the South Col, three weeks behind Whittaker, while climbers Unsoeld and Thomas Hornbein summited via the previously unclimbed West Ridge. As Jerstad and Bishop began their descent they heard the voices of Unsoeld and Hornbein from the gathering darkness above. The four men met up and began to descend together but were forced by darkness to bivouac at 28,000 feet without shelter.

Jerstad escaped the worst of the frostbite that bitterly cold night losing only the fleshy pads on his fingers and toes. Unsoeld and Bishop would suffer much greater damage losing nine and ten toes respectively.

The successful American expedition would bring Jerstad fame but its hardships wouldn’t dampen his enthusiasm or his adventurous spirit. Jerstad would go on to become the head of the drama department at Lewis & Clark College and earn a doctorate in Asian culture, arts and anthropology while continuing to climb.

In 1970 Jerstad left academic life behind and formed his own adventure and travel company, “Lute Jerstad Adventures.” The company specialized in trips to India and Nepal as well as river rafting in Oregon.

Lute Jerstad died of a heart attack while trekking in Nepal in 1998. He was 61. His body was cremated and the ashes were spread at the Thyangboche Monastery on the Everest trekking route.




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