In 1963, Eddie Bauer outfitted the most famous expedition in American mountaineering history. On May 1, Jim Whittaker became the first American to summit Mt. Everest, along with his Sherpa partner, Nawang Gombu. Three weeks later, on May 22, four of Whittaker’s teammates attempted an even more spectacular feat—a rendezvous at the top of the world by approaching the summit via two different routes, the South Col and the unclimbed West Ridge. This was also the first traverse of an 8,000 meter peak.
This Everest season, Eddie Bauer will outfit and support the attempt to retrace those unparalleled steps to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that historic expedition and its heroic accomplishments.
Led by Norman G. Dyhrenfurth, the American Mt. Everest Expedition chose the South Col route as their primary approach; it offered the most opportunity to get the first American to the top. But some of the team also wanted to push a new line, so Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld led the attempt on the unclimbed and challenging West Ridge. After 12 hours of arduous climbing, the West Ridgers summited at 6:15 pm. then descended via the South Col route with only the boot tracks of their teammates Lute Jerstad and Barry Bishop to guide them in the darkness. Remarkably, they met up with Jerstad and Bishop late that night and the four bivouacked above 28,000 feet – the highest bivouac at the time. They survived, protected only by their Eddie Bauer down apparel.
First Ascent Guide Dave Hahn, who has reached the summit of Everest 13 times(more than any non-Sherpa), will again guide Leif Whittaker, Jim’s son, as they retrace Jim and Gombu’s and Jerstad’s and Bishop’s 1963 South Col ascents. Dave and Leif will be assisted by First Ascent Guide Melissa Arnot. If successful in summiting, Melissa will set a new record for the most Everest summits by any non-Sherpani (4). Attempting the rarely climbed West Ridge, and led by First Ascent Guide Jake Norton, will be Barry Bishop’s son, Brent, Charley Mace, and First Ascent Guide David Morton. If successful, Jake Norton will be the first person to summit Everest by all three original ridge routes.
The 1963 first ascent of the West Ridge is considered one of the most legendary mountaineering triumphs in the Himalaya; and the West Ridge is still one of the most committing routes in the world’s highest range. The statistics speak for themselves: over the last 50 years, the West Ridge routes have seen many attempts, very few ascents (the last summit being in 1989), and numerous deaths. They are arguably the most dangerous routes on the mountain.
“Eddie Bauer symbolized expedition outfitting in the heyday of American mountaineering. Climbers came to Eddie specifically requesting he build gear for them because the last thing they wanted to worry about was their clothing…and they knew Eddie Bauer meant the highest quality available. The pinnacle climb for that generation was the 1963 Everest expedition. In his congratulatory telegram, President Kennedy praised the entire team for ‘pushing human endurance and experience to their farthest frontiers.’ They were pioneers of exploration and living representations of the untamable spirit of adventure that has been Eddie Bauer’s hallmark since 1920. Those climbers blazed a trail for all future American adventurers to follow. We are excited, this year, to support our teams as they pay homage to those legendary mountaineers and attempt to recreate the legendary ascents of 1963.” David Chamberlain, Eddie Bauer CEO.
Both teams will depart in March, and expedition news will be posted on the First Ascent blog at blog.firstascent.com. They will be fully outfitted in First Ascent, the expedition-class gear and apparel that Eddie Bauer launched in 2009. First Ascent continues to be designed and tested on the world’s highest mountains by some of the world’s best mountain guides.
Click here for more information on the Eddie Bauer Heritage.