To the Far Horizon of Experience

Nawang Gombu drapes a friendship scarf around John F. Kennedy's neck. Photograph by George F. Mobley, c. NGS.


At a White House Rose Garden ceremony on this day in 1963 , President John F. Kennedy presented the Society’s highest honor, the Hubbard Medal, to the members of the American Mount Everest Expedition for “outstanding contributions to geography through high-altitude research and exploration, conquest of Earth’s highest peak by six courageous climbers, pioneering a west ridge route, and making the first summit traverse.” Norman G. Dyhrenfurth, leader of the expedition, received the gold medal, and all twenty members received replicas, including National Geographic staffer Barry C. Bishop, who can be seen in the photo behind Nawang Gombu. Bishop is wearing white socks and sandals due to a bad case of frostbite that resulted in a hospital stay in Kathmandu. Another member of the team, Willi Unsoeld, was still hospitalized due to frostbite and unable to attend. The widow of John E. Breitenbach accepted the award on behalf of her husband, who was killed by an icefall during the expedition’s early days.
In his remarks, Kennedy referred to mountaineering as “a special form of the vigorous life,” noting that the team members had journeyed “to the far horizon of experience.” Dyhrenfurth then presented Kennedy with an American flag that Bishop and his climbing partner, Luther Jerstad, had carried to the summit. Five Sherpas also attended the ceremony, and one of them, Nawang Gombu, draped a friendship scarf known as a kata around the President’s neck.


Human Journey