Dispatches from the roof of the world
From the Editor April 16, 2012
Why Climb Everest?
Tom Abercrombie
Willi Unsoeld (right) and Barry Bishop (center), two members of the 1963 National Geographic Society Expedition to Mount Everest, await evacuation by helicopter from Namche Bazar.

The mountains are not fair or unfair—
they are just dangerous.
—Reinhold Messner

For those of us who love spending time in the mountains, danger became personal on March 4, 1979. That day we were shocked to learn that a climbing hero of the Pacific Northwest, Willi Unsoeld, had perished in an avalanche. It didn’t happen on Mount Everest, where he’d made his name on the 1963 National Geographic-sponsored expedition, but on Mount Rainier—a peak many of us had climbed and skied since we were kids. Unsoeld had summited Rainier more than 200 times. It was there he’d refined his skills so that in 1963 he and Tom Hornbein could be the first to ascend Everest via the difficult West Ridge route. The avalanche took Unsoeld’s life and that of Janie Diepenbrock, one of his Evergreen State College students. It still seems so unfair.

This spring, Conrad Anker and Cory Richards will follow Unsoeld and Hornbein’s 1963 route and attempt to summit Everest via the West Ridge. To say it will be dangerous is an understatement.

Why climb Everest at all if it’s so perilous? Mountaineer George Mallory had a famous response to that question: “Because it’s there.” But Geographic writer Mark Jenkins—who will be climbing the mountain by the Southeast Ridge route while Conrad and Cory tackle the West Ridge—has another answer. He calls it “the brotherhood of the rope.”

“Being on the mountain is about being with other people. It’s the team that matters,” Jenkins says. “You always have to trust the other person at the end of the rope. It’s an intense social experience.”

Now we’re inviting you to join the brotherhood of the rope (and sisterhood, too—among the climbers accompanying Jenkins are Hilaree O’Neill and Emily Harrington, with photo editor Sadie Quarrier checking in from Base Camp). Look to this app every weekday to read our team members’ blogs, see the photos they take, and follow our two groups’ progress up the mountain on an interactive map. We want to do more than just show you Everest. We want to take you along.

Editor in Chief

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