In 1963 Jim Whittaker, in partnership with Sherpa Nawang Gombu, became the first American to climb to the roof of the world and summit Mt. Everest. He did it outfitted in Eddie Bauer down. On that same American Mount Everest Expedition, Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld completed the first successful ascent of the challenging West Ridge route, which remains one of the greatest achievements in the history of mountaineering.
To celebrate of the 50th anniversary of these triumphs, Eddie Bauer returned to Mt. Everest in 2012 with two teams of world-class, high-altitude climbers, an entire line of award-winning, guide-built First Ascent gear, and a mission to retrace the steps of the historic American achievements on Mt. Everest. The mountain again revealed its power and proved that, five decades later, Everest still represents adventure in its grandest form.
Standing as the tallest point Earth, 29,035-foot Mount Everest has long represented the ultimate challenge in the worlds of mountaineering and exploration. The peak itself is located deep in the Solu Khumbu region of the Himalaya and is perched on the border between Tibet and Nepal. On May 29, 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary became the first climbers to reach the summit of the world’s tallest peak. In 1963, Jim Whittaker became the first American to reach the summit, while Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld completed the first ascent via the daunting West Ridge route. Hundreds now attempt Everest in a single season, with 97% who climb from Nepal attempting via the South Col route. The West Ridge remains the ultimate in high-altitude adventure. More men have stood on the moon in the last 50 years than have successfully repeated the 1963 ascent via the Hornbein Couloir.
Five decades ago, on May 1, 1963, American Jim Whittaker stepped side by side with Sherpa Nawang Gombu onto the summit of Mount Everest and became the first American to summit the world's tallest peak. His achievement was possible due to the tireless efforts of the American Mount Everest Expedition, a half-million-dollar undertaking funded by 350 sponsors that required moving 27 tons of food and equipment to base camp with the assistance of 909 porter loads, as well as navigating a route through the Khumbu Icefall and establishing the high camps.
Led by Norman Dyhrenfurth, the Eddie Bauer-outfitted expedition was the third ever to successfully place climbers on the summit. The success turned Whittaker into a national celebrity and elevated the stature of all six
climbers who reached the summit. The entire AMEE team was awarded the Hubbard Medal by President Kennedy for their achievement. Hundreds now summit Everest in a single season and the camps on the mountain are a very different place, but the events of 1963 still resonate deeply throughout climbing culture and still permeate the fabric of our brand.
To revisit the pioneering steps of the AMEE expedition, we've compiled a never-before-seen gallery from the Bishop archives and original video footage from the first American expedition to successfully summit Mt. Everest.
First American to summit Mount Everest, and national hero who went on to guide Robert Kennedy up Mt. Kennedy in 1965. Longtime Seattle resident, who led the expedition that completed the first American ascent of K2 in 1978 and was the first full-time employee and former CEO of REI.
Sherpa who summited Mt. Everest in partnership, and at the same time, as Jim Whittaker in 1963. The third man ever to summit Nanda Devi and the first man to climb Everest twice. Recipient of the Tenzing Norgay Lifetime Achievement Award, who dedicated his later life to the Sherpa community.
Member of AMEE who summited Everest via South Col, survived the legendary open-air bivy at 28,000 feet and lost the majority of his toes to frostbite. Longtime editor, photographer, and employee for the National Geographic Society who, along with the AMEE team, was awarded the Hubbard Medal by President Kennedy for his efforts on Everest.
Member of AMEE who summited via South Col with Barry Bishop, placed an American flag on the peak, and survived the legendary unplanned, open-air bivy at 28,000 feet after linking up with Hornbein and Unsoeld. Along with the entire AMEE team, was awarded the Hubbard Medal by President Kennedy for his efforts on Everest.
West Ridge team member, who completed the first summit of Everest via the West Ridge and completed the first major traverse of a Himalayan peak with Willi Unsoeld. Author of Everest: The West Ridge and longtime professor of medicine at the University of Washington. The Hornbein Couloir is named in his honor.
West Ridge team leader who completed the first summit of Everest via the West Ridge and the first major traverse of a Himalayan peak. Pioneering member of Outward Bound, founding faculty at Washington’s Evergreen State College, and survivor of the 1976 tragedy on Nanda Devi that took the life of his daughter.
Everest’s West Ridge has long represented a foreboding challenge and a dangerous route to the summit. On the 1963 AMEE expedition, climbers Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld completed the first successful ascent of the West Ridge route. Climbing iin tough terrain, they traversed past the point of no return above the Hornbein Couloir and linked up on their descent with Lute Jerstad and Barry Bishop, who had summited via the South Col route just hours before. The climb was historic, but the descent was legendary. All four were forced into a desperate bivy at 28,000 feet with no tents and no bottled oxygen. The foursome survived due to good weather, good fortune and the warmth of their minus-85 Eddie Bauer Mount Everest Parkas.The first ascent of the West Ridge is still universally respected as one of the greatest achievements in the history of mountaineering. The route is a dangerous one that has presented an almost equal chance of death or success during the past 50 years. Including the West Ridge Direct variation, it has been attempted more than 60 times with only 30 successful climbs but 20 fatalities, including six French climbers who were killed in an avalanche while attempting the route in 1974. To this day, the West Ridge remains a route and a climb that deserves careful consideration and great respect.
To honor the anniversary of the first West Ridge ascent, Jake Norton, David Morton, Charley Mace and Brent Bishop traveled to Everest and followed in the footsteps of Unsoeld and Hornbein’s route to within 150 vertical meters of the West Ridge. They spent 45 brutal days battling the mountain, but due to dry, wind-scoured terrain, excessive rockfall, and trying climbing conditions that included rotten blue ice on the difficult approach to the Hornbein Couloir, the West Ridge refused to be climbed in 2012. The West Ridge team was turned back and forced to abandon their climb, but the images they captured are a potent reminder of the magnitude of the first West Ridge ascent and the challenge that still remains.
On the South Col side of the mountain, a challenging and crowded climbing season still granted Eddie Bauer First Ascent guides Dave Hahn and Melissa Arnot access to reach the summit on May 26 and set Everest records in the process. With calculated patience, Hahn earned his 14th summit of Mt. Everest, setting a new record for most non-Sherpa summits of the world’s tallest peak. Melissa Arnot claimed her fourth summit, setting a new record for the most summits by any Western woman. As part of the Eddie Bauer South Col team, Leif Whittaker retraced the record-setting steps of his father Jim to the summit.
"It was a slightly surreal day, as always, hanging out at 8,000 meters," Hahn says in his characteristically understated tone. But in a season that once again presented challenges— from avalanches, rockfall, and tragedy to long lines of climbers on prime summit days—Hahn was called the "King of Patience" for his efforts in leading the team to a safe and successful summit. "I never thought I would be lucky enough to summit Everest once, let alone four times," Arnot summarizes. "The experience has given me a sense of gratitude grounded in the idea that anything is possible."
Eddie Bauer had its sights focused on Everest when our pioneering brand partnered with a team of world-class guides in 2007 to develop advanced mountaineering gear that would excel in harsh, high-altitude environments such as the Himalaya. The First Ascent® line launched in 2009 and in three short years this monumental development effort brought the
storied brand back to the pinnacle of high-altitude technology with a succession of award-winning, guide-tested products from the Katabatic Tent, Alchemist Pack, and Karakoram sleeping bag to the MicroTherm™ Down Sweater and the BC MicroTherm Down Parka.
During the 2012 Everest climbing season, both the Eddie Bauer West Ridge and Eddie Bauer South Col expeditions were equipped with First Ascent gear that excelled in the harsh weather and thin air of the world's tallest mountain. To skeptics, the pinnacle performance of the First Ascent line was a surprise, but for climbers who knew the history of Eddie Bauer's deep connection to pioneering expeditions in the golden age of mountaineering, it was simply a return to our roots of outfitting the world's best climbers with exceptional gear built specifically for the job.
If Everest is your mountain and you want to climb the world's tallest peak with record-setting climbers, Rainier Mountaineering, Inc.—co-owned and operated by Peter Whittaker—is the exclusive employer of Everest guides Dave Hahn and Melissa Arnot. Click here to find out how to Live Your Adventure with RMI on the tallest mountain on Earth.