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372 Doctor Tom 2011-04-07

Sharkstooth in Rocky Mountain National Park


A few years back, okay, maybe 13 or so, a friend of mine and I were climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park. We had left the trailhead at a descent hour and quickly walked five miles to Petit Grepon in the Sky Pond Area. The South Face of the beautiful spire is one of the Classic Climbs of North America (from the book).

After summiting the tower, we began our descent. After a rope length rappel, we scrambled up to the ridge line behind the spire. It was still morning and the skies were clear. The peak to our west, Sharkstooth, was calling our names. We scrambled down a few hundred feet and found the start of another RMNP classic, the East Ridge. A party was a few pitches ahead of us; but the ridge had many possible routes and they did not seem to be blocking our passage. We soon met and then passed the other party.

We did not have to wait long on the summit before they arrived. It was a foursome. Two of the climbers I recognized as Steve Komito, the Estes Park climbing shoe and boot cobbler, and Jim Detterline, the Head of the Climbing Rangers in the Park. As we chatted, we found that one of the other climbers was Jon Krakauer, the famous climbing author. Though all of these climbers were somewhat famous, it was the fourth, unnamed, climber who seemed to be the star of the group.

He talked with us a bit about our climbs - linking the two climbs together, and our speed. The others called the fourth climber, Dr Tom. It was easy to see that he was a climber and was highly respected by the others in his group.

Soon we left the summit and began the long hike back to the trailhead. My climbing partner and I discussed our brush with the famous. Finally it dawned on us that Dr Tom was indeed, Dr Tom Hornbein. I knew that he had lived in Colorado when he was young and had climbed quite a bit in the Park. He went on to become a medical doctor and a famous climber.

In 1963, on the first American ascent of Mount Everest, Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld made the first ascent of the West Ridge and then descended the South Buttress, making the first traverse of the mountain. It was a heroic, all or nothing, kind of climb. Shortly after they left their high camp, they realized that their only way off the mountain was going to be over the top and down the route that their team mates were climbing. It was an epic climb and story of survival.

The climb is one of the greatest in Himalayan history. Tom Hornbein wrote a well read book on the climb, Everest: West Ridge. Dr Tom is being inducted into the Hall of Mountaineering Excellence. My climbing partner and I remember him as a kind and gracious gentleman. Congratulations to the Doctor.

(Denver Post Article)

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