Tom Hornbein has died aged 92.
Born in St. Louis in 1930, Hornbein is famous above all for his groundbreaking first ascent of the West Ridge of Everest in 1963 with his climbing partner Willi Unsoeld.
Hornbein and Unsoeld were members of the 1963 American Everest Expedition which travelled to Nepal with the aim of sending the first American to the summit of the highest mountain in the world. On arrival though the expedition split into two teams, and while Jim Whittaker summited via the South Col route with Nawang Gombu to become the first American to climb Everest, Hornbein, Unsoeld and a small group of other climbers aimed for the unclimbed West Ridge.
Three weeks later, at 18:15 on 22 May, Hornbein and Unsoeld stood on the summit.
The pair then tenaciously descended the South Col route where they met up with fellow expedition members Barry Bishop and Lute Jerstad who had summited earlier that day via the South Col.
Having run out of supplementary oxygen and exhausted, the climbers endured a windless bivouac at around 8500 meters before descending to safety; this first traverse of the highest mountain in the world, or of any eight-thousander for that matter, has often been described as a quantum leap in high altitude mountaineering.
After Everest Hornbein successfully pursued a career in anesthesiology and studied the limits of the human psychological limits and performance at high altitude.
Even today, 60 years after its first ascent, the rarely repeated West Ridge route stands as testament to Hornbein’s determination, spirit of adventure and quest for uncertainty. The stunning Hornbein Couloir on the north side of the mountain represents the technical crux of the entire route and was named in his honour.