Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Washington State Senate Honors 50th Anniversary of Americans on Everest

Above, from left: Jolene Unsoeld, Lt. Governor Brad Owen, Jim Whittaker, and Dianne Roberts in the Washington State Senate chambers after the passage of Senate Resolution 8655 last week.

by Janine Unsoeld

In one of many recent, national acknowledgements of the 50th anniversary of Americans on Everest, the Washington State Senate commemorated the historical event by passing Senate Resolution 8655 last week.

In attendance were Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mt. Everest in 1963, his wife Dianne Roberts, and Jolene Unsoeld, widow of Willi Unsoeld, who, with Tom Hornbein, summitted Mt. Everest three weeks after Whittaker via a first-ascent of the West Ridge route.

Jolene Unsoeld is a former Washington State representative and United States Congresswoman. A similar resolution, HR 4650, was passed in the House the same day.

Several senators spoke in support of the resolution, which was initiated by Senator Karen Fraser. Fraser said she was inspired to write the resolution because of Washington state's deep ties to the expedition, noting that a large percentage of those involved were from Washington State, and later built their careers here. Many Washington State individuals and companies contributed cash and gave in-kind contributions, including beer, candy, clothing, and supplies, and the team trained and tested equipment at Mt. Rainier.

Senator Curtis King of Yakima noted that the Yakima Rotary Club gave the expedition money; Senator Mike Hargrove showed off a 1963 National Geographic, saying he was not quite ten years old when the ascent was made, but the event got him fascinated in geography. Senator Rodney Tom, a three time summitter of Mt. Rainier, thanked the Sherpas on the expedition, and Senator Kohl-Welles said she once met Sherpa Nawang Gombu who guided her husband up to summit Mt. Rainier.

By Senators Fraser, Hargrove, Honeyford, Kohl-Welles, King, Keiser, Tom, Kline, Parlette, Sheldon, Brown, Pearson, Murray, Dammeier, Mullet, Chase, Hill, Padden, Fain, Ranker, Baumgartner, Shin, Hobbs, Eide, Nelson, McAuliffe, Hasegawa, Conway, Harper, Schlicher, Darneille, Rivers, Cleveland, Rolfes, Becker, Schoesler, Holmquist Newbry, Braun, Roach, Litzow, Benton, Hewitt, Ericksen, Smith, and Bailey
WHEREAS, During May 2013, many Washingtonians will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the nationally and globally acclaimed successes of the 1963 American Mt. Everest Expedition, because Washington climbers achieved its most notable successes, and Washingtonians enthusiastically supported this historic achievement in many ways; and
WHEREAS, Members of this Expedition are famed for four unprecedented mountaineering
(1) On May 1, Jim Whittaker, a Washington State native, climbing with Sherpa Nawang Gombu by the South Col route, became the first American to reach Everest's 29,028 foot summit, the highest point on Earth;
(2) On May 22, Willi Unsoeld, who would become a faculty member at The Evergreen State College, and Tom Hornbein, who returned from Everest to the faculty at the University of Washington School of Medicine, pioneered the unprecedented and exceptionally difficult West Ridge route to the summit and descended by the South Col route to complete the first traverse of a major Himalayan peak;
(3) A few hours earlier that same day, Lute Jerstad, a former Washington resident, and Barry Bishop of Washington D.C. reached the summit by the South Col route; and
(4) Both teams were benighted during the descent, Unsoeld and Hornbein catching up with Jerstad and Bishop. All four survived an unplanned and unprecedented all-night bivouac above 28,000 feet without oxygen, tents, or food, and Unsoeld and Bishop suffered severe frostbite; and
WHEREAS, These mountaineering achievements are successes of the human spirit, involving supreme human effort, extraordinary physical capability and endurance, clear vision and goals, intense determination and focus, superior teamwork, high tolerance for discomfort and danger, and exceptional organizational and logistical preparation; and
WHEREAS, These mountaineering achievements are also the successes of the highly appreciated, dedicated, expert Sherpa climbers who accompanied and supported the members of the Expedition; and
WHEREAS, Human survival at the upper elevations of Mt. Everest is possible only for brief periods of time because the air contains roughly one-third of the oxygen density of sea level, temperatures are generally around negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and hurricane force winds are frequent; and
WHEREAS, Throughout the 109 days of the Expedition, the team steadily engaged in scientific research relating to physiology, psychology, sociology, geology, and glaciology; and
WHEREAS, The Expedition's worldwide acclaim included recognition by President Kennedy at a White House ceremony, by the National Geographic Society, by King Mahendra of Nepal, by the United States Ambassador to Nepal Henry Stebbins, by India Prime Minister Nehru, by the United States Ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith, by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, by mountaineering organizations throughout the world, by major news media around the world, and more; and
WHEREAS, The people of Washington State played a very significant role in the historic successes of the Expedition, through team members with deep Washington ties, including Barry Prather of Ellensburg and John Breitenbach who attended the University of Washington and tragically died when a massive wall of ice in the Khumbu icefall shifted and buried him in tons of ice blocks; through many contributions of cash and in-kind donations from Washington businesses, organizations, and individuals; through Washington State's United States Senator Warren G. Magnuson serving on the Expedition's Advisory Committee; through the Expedition's training and equipment testing taking place at Mount Rainier; and more; and
WHEREAS, Washingtonians' outdoor recreation heritage of hiking, climbing, and camping in the State's extensive mountain ranges, and the widespread appreciation by Washingtonians of the State's beautiful mountains and stately snowy peaks, served as the inspiration for and enthusiastic support of the Expedition in 1963;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Washington State Senate, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the historic first American ascent of Mt. Everest:
(1) Congratulate members of this historic Expedition Jim Whittaker, Nawang Gombu, Willi Unsoeld, Tom Hornbein, Lute Jerstad, Barry Bishop, and all those who supported them;
(2) Express appreciation to all Washingtonians, to the hundreds of others from around the country who assisted its achievements, and to Norman G. Dyhrenfurth who, with his determination and genius, organized and led the Expedition; and
(3) Encourage Washingtonians to continue to engage in outdoor recreation in Washington's welcoming mountain ranges and to continue to appreciate their splendor and be inspired to greatness by them; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That copies of this resolution be immediately transmitted by the Secretary of the Senate to Jim Whittaker, Jolene Unsoeld, Tom Hornbein, Norman G. Dyhrenfurth, to the other four surviving members of the team, and to the surviving widows or nearest of kin of the team members now deceased.
I, Hunter G. Goodman, Secretary of the Senate, do hereby certify that this is a true and correct copy of Senate Resolution 8655, adopted by the Senate
April 16, 2013
Secretary of the Senate

Above, from left: Tom Hornbein, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Jolene Unsoeld, and Jim Whittaker at a 50th Anniversary celebration of Americans on Everest in Seattle on April 20, 2013. Sponsored by The Mountaineers, the event honored Jim Whittaker, who was presented with The Mountaineers Lifetime Achievement Award.
Above, from left: Jim Whittaker, Norman Gunter Dyhrenfurth, Tom Hornbein, Jolene Unsoeld, and David Dingman at the 50th Anniversary on Americans on Everest held in the San Fransisco area, sponsored by the American Alpine Club and Eddie Bauer in February 2013.