Thomas Hornbein - climber - Everett, WA
© Jim Herrington
Thomas Hornbein, along with Willi Unsoeld, made the first ascent of the West Ridge of Mt. Everest in 1963. He also designed the oxygen masks for that expedition, one of which he is wearing here.
They were along on the expedition that put the first American (Jim Whittaker, seen elsewhere on this blog) on the summit of Everest. While summiting Everest by any route is to be commended, Whittaker had taken the already established South Col route and had done it expedition-style… using Sherpas, fixed ropes, etc. Hornbein and his partner, on the other hand, had climbed the much more difficult and daunting West Ridge in a fast and lightweight style and unsupported by others. They summited at 6pm and not long after starting their descent down the South Col route, they ran out of oxygen and were exhausted. They bivouacked over night, very high up the mountain, getting frostbite in the process… Hornbein managed to keep all of his toes, Unsoeld did not fare as lucky.
I’ll leave you with words from Hornbein’s account of the bivouac:
“The night was overwhelmingly empty. The black silhouette of Lhotse Mountain was lurking there, half to be seen, half to assume, and below us. In general there was nothing - simply nothing. We hung in a timeless gap, pained by the intensive cold air with nothing to do but shiver and wait for the sun to arise.”