“You've climbed the
highest mountain in the world. What's left? It's all
downhill from there. You've got to set your sights on
something higher than Everest.”
-- Willi Unsoeld
If you’re part of the first American
expedition to summit Everest, what do you do for an encore? If you’re Willi
Unsoeld you go on to become a Peace Corp director in Nepal, an inspirational
speaker and a mountaineering legend.
Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein ascended Everest’s
difficult West Ridge route in May 1963 on a National Geographic Society
sponsored expedition while Barry Bishop and Lute Jerstad followed Edmund
Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s South Col route established during their 1953
climb. It was the first simultaneous attempt from two directions.
The grueling expedition would cost Unsoeld
nine of his toes and require several months of recovery in the hospital.
Unsoeld and the team reunited in July 1963 when they were presented with the
National Geographic Society’s highest honor, the Hubbard Medal, by John F.
After his stint in the Peace Corp Unseold
joined Outward Bound and traveled about the country giving speeches and
promoting the organization. Unsoeld lived and died by his philosophy that
spirituality and a real grasp of the soul could be gained by risk and pushing
past your personal comfort zone.
After leaving Outward Bound he took a job at
Washington’s Evergreen College. The union proved a good fit and Unsoeld spent
years teaching there. In the following years he would marry, raise a daughter
and continue climbing. He climbed Mt. Rainier over 200 times. Evergreen’s
annual Willi Unsoeld Seminar is held as a living memorial to Unsoeld as a
mountaineer, a philosopher and a theologian.
In 1976 Unseold and his daughter Nanda Devi
were on an expedition to climb her namesake mountain (Nanda Devi), the highest
peak in India. His daughter died during the climb, which was plagued by
accidents and eventual tragedy.
Unseold died in an avalanche during a winter
climb of Mt. Rainier in March of 1979 at the age of 52.
Books on Unseold include: