Next Wednesday, May 22, is the 50th anniversary of OSU Professor Willie Unsoeld’s legendary ascent of Mount Everest. As part of the first team of Americans to reach the summit from the more difficult West Ridge, 36-year-old Unsoeld became just the 14th human to stand atop the world’s highest peak. As a result of the endeavor, he ended up losing nine toes, spent months in the hospital recovering, and was given the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal by John F. Kennedy.
Born Oct. 5, 1926 in Arcata, California, Unsoeld graduated from OSU in 1951 with a degree in physics, later coming back to the university as a professor of philosophy and religion—he also helped found the OSU Climbing Club.
In 1976, tragedy struck when Unsoeld attempted to climb Nanda Devi, India’s second-highest peak, with his daughter Nanda Davi, ironically named after that very mountain. An accomplished climber in her own right, she died during an ascent plagued with complications.
On March 4, 1979, at the age of 52, Unsoeld was killed in an avalanche while climbing Mt. Rainier with an expedition of students from Evergreen College. He was once quoted as saying, “Death is not too great a price to pay for a life full-lived.”