The Greatest Moments on Everest: 5. The West Ridge Is Climbed

With the 2012 climbing season underway, we look back at some of the most incredible moments to take place on the world's tallest mountain over the last 150 years

West Ridge

West Ridge of Mount Everest via Shutterstock     Photo: Jason Maehl

In 1963, while a large, heavily funded south-side expedition focused its energy on putting the first American on the summit, a small team split off to attempt the daunting first ascent of Everest’s West Ridge. Much of it a steep and discouragingly serrated knife edge, the ridge had yet to be tried and was widely thought to be unclimbable. After several near-lethal incidents, including hurricane-force winds and climbing on fragile shale that fell away like ceramic roof tiles, a pair of Americans, Willie Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein, scrambled alpine style up and over the summit, following a faint set of boot tracks down the Southeast Ridge. The West Ridge would go on to become one of the most fearsome lines on the mountain, with a death rate exceeding 100 percent (more people have died trying than have actually summited via this route). This year, at least three teams are planning a serious West Ridge anniversary climb. Should they all make it, it will be an unprecedented trifecta.

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