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EverestHistory.com: Will Unsoeld


“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. Kennedy.

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:






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