Mountainfilm to Celebrate 50 Years of Americans on Everest
by Peter Shelton
05.13.13 - 12:00 pm

Whittaker and Hornbein Will Be Guests

TELLURIDE – The recent, shocking, news of a fight high on Mount Everest between Western climbers and Sherpas, has refocused attention on the world’s highest mountain in the weeks preceding Mountainfilm’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Americans to summit, in 1963.

Two of those successful climbers, Jim Whittaker and Tom Horbein, will be Mountainfilm guests over the Memorial Day Weekend event, Mountainfilm’s 35th. The festival will also screen the world premier of High and Hallowed, a film about the 1963 expedition by guide and climber Jake Norton.

On May 1, 1963, Whittaker became the first American to stand on top of the world, getting there with Sherpa Nawang Gombu. These two men, part of a large and ambitious American team, led by Norman Dyhrenfurth, followed the South Col route to the top, the one pioneered by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay 10 years earlier. (Gumbu is Norgay’s nephew.)

American team members Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld decided to take a different and more dangerous route to the summit by going up the West Ridge, which included climbing a long, harrowing gorge high up on the mountain that was later named the Hornbein Couloir. To this day, it is widely considered one of the most audacious ascents in the annals of mountaineering and one that cost Unsoeld several of his toes due to frostbite.

After the Everest triumph, Whittaker continued to climb all over the world. In 1965 he guided then-Senator Robert F. Kennedy on the first ascent of Mt. Kennedy, named for his late brother, in Canada’s St. Elias Range. He was also the first full-time employee of REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.), retiring after 25 years as CEO. He was last at Mountainfilm in 2009.

Hornbein also continued to climb but focused much of his energy on his career as a doctor.

Festival Director David Holbrooke said, “It will be great to have Jim Whittaker back in Telluride, and we are thrilled to be welcoming Tom Hornbein to the festival for the first time. These two men so embody the indomitable spirit that we celebrate at Mountainfilm.”

Peter Kenworthy, Executive Director of Mountainfilm said, “It is particularly rewarding to have our presenting sponsor, Eddie Bauer, involved in bringing Jim and Tom to the festival, because it was Eddie Bauer that sponsored and outfitted the first American ascent of Everest 50 years ago.” Kenworthy also noted that Mountainflm’s national media sponsor, Outside Magazine, featured the 1963 Everest expedition as its May cover story.

The two legendary mountaineers are part of a larger program Mountainfilm will stage to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Americans on Everest. High and Hallowed will make its world premiere. And following the film, Conrad Anker, one of the world’s leading contemporary mountaineers and a frequent Mountainfilm guest, will moderate a discussion and Q&A session with Whittaker and Hornbein. (No doubt, the long-simmering tensions between Sherpas and westerners will be a topic of conversation.)

Brent Bishop, the son of Barry Bishop, one of the 1963 Everest team members, will exhibit his father’s photographs. The younger Bishop has summited Everest twice himself, in 1994 and 2002. He is also a co-founder of the Sagarmatha Environmental Expedition, an organization dedicated to removing trash from the slopes of Everest.

High-altitude medical specialist and Everest veteran Dr. Peter Hackett will be on hand to host a Coffee Talk with Hornbein.

And 1996 Everest tragedy (Into Thin Air) survivor, and Telluride local, Charlotte Fox, has agreed to participate as a judge for the annual Charlie Fowler Award, presented to the best mountaineering film at the festival.

“We want to really honor these great men at Mountainfilm this year, and I think our focus on their Everest summits 50 years ago will be a real highlight of the 2013 festival,” said Holbrooke.

pshelton@watchnewspapers.com

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