Alpinism has a long history fraught with controversy and competition. The world's great mountains are also among its greatest stages on which heroes and villains enact compelling dramas that hold us earthbound mortals, with our lower tolerances for suffering, rapt. When the first International Olympic Committee (IOC) chairman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, bestowed the gold medal in alpinism on the 1922 British Mount Everest Expedition, he applauded their "absolute heroism on behalf of all of the nations of the world." Though Olympic medals are no longer awarded, elite alpinists remain our ambassadors to the high places.
Watching from below, we weep when tragedy hits, applaud when new peaks are climbed, and relish when old-fashioned rivalries develop. We celebrate them because they push our human race to its limits, and, in doing so, redefine them time and again. Here are our six favorites.