Schaffer, Grayson. "Lost on Everest." Outside May 2013: 64-76. Print.
The article by Grayson Schaffer titled “Lost on Everest” highlights the upcoming 50th anniversary of the first American ascent of Mt. Everest by Jim Whittaker and Sherpa Nawang Gombu. It serves to give a timeline of events as well as the main participants, but also highlights a lesser well know accomplishment. Whittaker and Gombu reached the summit on May 1st, 1963 via the already established South Col route, but two other American climbers would summit by a different route that hadn’t been climbed successfully prior to their ascent. On May 22nd, 1963, Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld became the first climbers to summit Mt. Everest via the West Ridge route (67). Compared to other routes on Everest, the West Ridge has proven to be one of the most difficult. As Shaffer wrote, “In 50 years, only 17 climbers have repeated variations on Hornbein and Unsoeld’s ascent, and 13 have died in pursuit” (76). The article looks to highlight the achievements of Hornbein and Unsoeld, since their accomplishment seems to have become forgotten by historians, but is well recognized in the alpine climbing community.
As a magazine article, the text is presented in a way that is both factual and engaging to a wide audience. It presents both factual data such as dates and other pertinent statistics, but it also addresses the attitudes and mindset of the climbers (74-76). It also serves as a historical document that compiles information for multiple sources to summarize the events of the 1963 expedition (76). Most of the expedition members wrote books about their experiences, but not all of them. Willi Unsoeld was the most notable to not write a memoir, “Unsoeld, the team’s most articulate member, never wrote a book, but his career was celebrated as well” (76).
This article can be read and enjoyed or understood by a wide variety of readers. The audience could consist of hobby outdoor enthusiasts, to alpine climbers, to historians. There are elements of all three aspects included since this is both a historical article as well as an outdoor article, which gives the piece a broad target audience. The article struck a chord with me as I’m both an avid outdoor enthusiast as well as interested in history. The article summary does an excellent job of catching the reader’s attention by stating “Fifty years ago this month, Jim Whittaker became the first American to summit Everest. Three weeks later, a second party from the same team made an even more stunning assault on the mountain’s unclimbed West Ridge” (64).
Without knowing the authors background, you can get a sense that he has a strong background in various outdoor pursuits, as well as an interest in history. He is also an articulate writer, the work has a smooth flow to it, so it is very possible he has a degree or extensive education in writing. According to a sentence at the end of the article referring to a previous piece Schaffer wrote about Everest, it lists him as a senior editor for the magazine (76).
A point I feel the author made a significant attempt to stress was that even reaching Everest in 1963 was no small feat, let alone making it to the summit. This was an era well before established guiding companies and established routes, and the funding to even make it to base camp usually entailed either government sponsorship or research grants (68). The expedition leader, Norman Dyhrenfurth had to raise $400,000 through several sources to make the expedition possible, so to be the first American team to successfully summit Everest would have been an amazing feat unto itself. This also would serve to overshadow the other accomplishment of the West Ridge summit, to the point that Dyhrenfurth tried to prevent this from occurring by initially not releasing the names of the first summit team. According to Schaffer “Dyhrenfurth had at least two more assault teams, as they were called, still trying to make the summit - one of them via the fearsome new route up the West Ridge, a steep and technical line - and the group didn’t want its potential to accomplishments overshadowed” (66).
Historically speaking, the achievements of Hornbein and Unsoeld have gone relatively unnoticed outside of the climbing community. With the 50th anniversary of the first American ascent approaching, I feel Schaffer was compelled to revisit the expedition’s story and expose a newer generation to the events of 1963. History is written in hindsight; as new information or new revelations come about, history is revisited and revised. Since Schaffer had access to transcripts that hadn’t been published, he could put more pieces of the story together to paint a bigger picture of the expedition, as well as Hornbein and Unsoeld’s achievement. Schaffer ends the piece with a quote from Tom Hornbein that I feel accurately sums up the dedication it took to achieve the West Ridge and why it has been such a difficult route to be followed, saying “the total feeling of detachment with anything else in the world that seemed to matter - family, child - only Mount Everest was there at the time, and only the summit above us seemed to be beckoning me” (76).