It was an evening none of us will soon forget. Hosted at Boy’s Trails End Ranch, BTE Campers, Haiyaha Campers, and numerous staff attentively listened to a very special guest at last night’s campfire.
Tom Hornbein is an infamous mountaineer. In 1963, he was a member of the first ascent of the West Ridge of Mount Everest, as well as the first traverse of the mountain. He is one of the world’s most accomplished climbers, and an idol to generations of mountaineers.
But if you ask him, he will refuse to say he is a professional. Rather, he does it for the adventure and love of climbing mountains.
Originally from St. Louis, for reasons Tom does not know, he was sent to Cheley Colorado Camps when he was thirteen years old.
While initially homesick, Tom soon discovered an unknown and irreversible adoration for peaks.
With piercing blue eyes, his BK around his neck, and a continuous smile – Tom told us his story.
As a camper, Tom made his first ascent of Long’s Peak in his second year. An iconic mountain to Estes Park and Colorado, Long’s is a beautiful 14er that many seek to climb. It takes time, patience, and a respect for every challenge along the way.
Once a Backpacking and Hiking Counselor at Cheley, Tom began to tackle Long’s over and over again. He continued this in college, utilizing the peak as a sort of training ground. He believes he probably climbed her 80 times throughout his life.
Later down the road, an opportunity arouse that was immensely daunting, but beyond appealing for Tom.
Everest. With a team of climbing colleagues, Tom tackled the mountain in 1963 for nearly five months. During the journey, he described the mountain as inviting, provocative, exhilarating. When we later asked for the gritty details, he spoke of the frigid air, risky ascents, and lonely nights. Supremely, Tom spoke of uncertainty.
He said, “Mountains are just a metaphor for all the rest of life” and “Uncertainty is an essential part of the seasoning of life”.
Why did he climb? Initially inexplicable, Tom has since been able to pinpoint the reason for this fascination. He noted that one wonders “Is it even possible?” and “Can I push myself to the peak?”.
Further, doing so exposes you to how small you really are. The perspective from climbing mountains shows that even though you are in fact, a speck, you can still be a part of something incredible and grand.
Tom noted that in his life, there were these incredible pivotal moments that naturally occurred, and changed the path his life would take. For him, attending Cheley as a camper when he was thirteen was the greatest pivotal moment.
For showing him how to climb, preparing him for a long life of exploration, and leaving him mystified by the natural world and the people in it – Tom thanked Cheley.
He told us that he never wanted to be known as the guy that hiked Everest, so we will honor this and know him in other ways. We will remember him as a former-camper – passionate about mountains, and embracing of uncertainty.
Tom is not different from today’s campers. In fact, he said Everest has changed more than Boy’s Trails End has. The support and opportunity we offered to Tom years ago will be the same we give to our camper’s this very term.
With Tom’s wisdom in our hearts, and uncertainty driving our passions, we are overjoyed to see where our camper’s go in the future.
For a once-in-a-lifetime presentation, and sharing an inspirational evening with us, we thank Tom Hornbein once again.