Tom Hornbein is known for one of mountaineering’s epic achievements: the 1963 climb of Mount Everest’s West Ridge with Willi Unsoeld (1926-1979), in which the two men traversed the 29,028-foot summit of the earth and spent a night exposed at 27,900 feet. He wrote a celebrated book, Everest: The West Ridge, reissued in 2013 to mark the 50th anniversary of the climb. But Hornbein never returned to the Khumbu region of Nepal, explaining simply, “It was a once in a lifetime event. Life goes forward” (Interview, April 24, 2013).
Mountains shaped Hornbein’s life but, in the words of climber friend Bill Sumner, “He is far from a one-dimensional famous climber” (Interview, January 7, 2014). Hornbein spent his career as a physician and medical researcher, much of it in Seattle, where he joined the faculty of the University of Washington Medical School shortly after his historic climb and later served for 16 years as chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology.
After retiring he moved with his wife Kathy to Estes Park, Colorado, within
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