1963 was an American
year on Everest. Unlike the present day, which might see
multiple expeditions from different countries and a
thousand climbers on the slopes of Everest during the
climbing season, 1963 saw one, an American expedition.
Mount Everest Expedition was sponsored by the National
Geographic Society and led by Swiss-born climber Norman G. Dyhrenfurth.
Dyhrenfurth himself had been a member on a Swiss attempt at the summit in
1952. Though that expedition would stop short of the summit, the experience
would drive Dyhrenfurth forward leading him to spend the early 60’s raising
funds for the massive American assault on the peak.
would eventually cost 400,000 dollars and include 19 Americans, 37 Sherpas,
and 907 porters. Following a 187 mile trek to base camp in early 1963,
Jim Whittaker, along with
Sherpa Nawang Gombu, would summit on
May 1 becoming the first American to stand atop the world. Americans
Barry Bishop and
Lute Jerstad followed three weeks later
along the same South Col. route pioneered by Sir Edmund Hillary and
Tenzing Norgay in
Will Unsoeld and
Tom Hornbein were performing the first
ascent along the previously unclimbed West Ridge at the same time. The four
men met up on the South face after Unsoeld and Hornbein performed the first
traverse of the peak. Deadly tragedy nearly struck as the four men were
forced by darkness to bivouac at 28,000 feet without shelter. Though the
bone-chilling night on the slopes of Everest would cause serious frostbite all
four men would live to see the sunrise. They were able to continue their
descent, eventually being carried by Sherpas to a point where they could be
removed by helicopter.
four men bivouacked on Everest that night would escape alive, not everyone on
the expedition was so fortunate. John “Jake” Breitenbach was crushed by a
falling ice wall while climbing the treacherous Khumbu Icefall on March 23. It
would continue to be a hazardous passage claiming 17 climbers over the next 38
summit of Everest would bring fame to the American climbers. They were
presented with the National Geographic Society’s greatest honor the Hubbard
Medal. John F. Kennedy presented the award in the White House Rose Garden in
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