Americans on Mt. Everest

Two members of the 1963 expedition on Mt. Everest.

Two members of the 1963 expedition on Mt. Everest. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Daniel E. Doody papers.

In 1963, 19 Americans, 32 Sherpas, and 909 porters set out to climb Mount Everest. The first successful assault on the summit had occurred just 10 years before under the command of Englishman Sir Edmund Hillary, but no American had ever reached the top. Neither had any Russian or Chinese expedition. So there were shades of Cold War rivalry when Norman Dyrenfurth put together his trek under the sponsorship of the National Geographic Society.

Dyrenfurth was a Swiss-born naturalized American and an extraordinary administrator. His careful preparation work ensured that money and sponsorship was in place to support such an ambitious climb. Among the team he assembled were Jake Breitenbach, a climbing guide from Wyoming’s Grand Teton; Daniel Doody, who was designated the expedition cinematographer; and Luther Jerstad, a climbing guide on Mount Rainier. Of the four, only Jerstad actually reached the summit. Dyrenfurth apparently did not attempt a final ascent, and Doody developed thrombophlebitis, which confined him to base camp. Jake Breitenbach was killed on March 23 by the collapse of an ice wall. His body was recovered by a Japanese expedition in 1969. Five others on the expedition also reached the summit. They were James Whittaker, Nawang Gombu, Tom Hornbein, Willi Unsoeld, and Barry Bishop.

The American Heritage Center contains papers, photographs, and audio recordings of Norman Dyrenfurth, Jake Breitenbach, Daniel Doody, and Luther Jerstad.

For more information about the 1963 American Everest Expedition, see The Vast Unknown, by Broughton Coburn (Crown Publishers, 2013)

-D. Claudia Thompson, Processing Manager

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