Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

Willi Unsoeld Collection, 1963-1979

Biographical Note:

Renowned mountain climber William Francis Unsoeld was born in 1926 in Arcata, California, and attended high school in Eugene, Oregon. In 1944 he enrolled at Oregon State College, studied physics, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1951. While at Oregon State, Unsoeld helped found the OSC Mountain Club. He received a divinity degree from the Pacific School of Religion in 1954 and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 1958.

Unsoeld joined the faculty of the OSC Department of Religion in 1958. From 1962 to 1967 Unsoeld took a leave of absence from OSU and worked for the Peace Corps in Nepal, and later worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. At the time of his death in 1979, Unsoeld was on the faculty of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where he had taught philosophy and religion since 1970.

Unsoeld was a world class mountain climber who started mountain climbing as a boy in Oregon's Cascades. He was best known for his participation in the successful 1963 climb of Mt. Everest by the first group of climbers from the United States. On that climb, Unsoeld and Thomas Hornbein became the first climbers to scale Everest's west ridge. Other significant climbs in which Unsoeld participated included the 1954 California Himalayan Expedition to Malaku and the 1960 American-Pakistan Karakorem Expedition to Mt. Mashabram in the Western Himalayas.

While a student at Oregon State, Unsoeld met Jolene Bishoprick when they were both members of the OSC Mountain Club. Unsoeld and Bishoprick married in 1951, and had four children. Jolene Unsoeld graduated from Oregon State in 1953 and later served as a U.S. Representative from Washington from 1989 to 1995. Willi Unsoeld died in an avalanche on Mt. Rainier on March 4, 1979.


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