PHOTOGRAPH BY REBECCA HALE
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Barry Bishop made it to the top of Everest but was crippled by frostbite on the descent. He wore these hiking boots—each weighing nearly four pounds—as Sherpas carried him partway down.
PHOTOGRAPH BY REBECCA HALE

These boots took the first American to Everest’s summit

But they couldn’t save the wearer’s toes from frostbite.

This story appears in the July 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Barry Bishop returned from a historic Mount Everest expedition with his reindeer-hide boots, Vibram-soled hiking boots, knee-high overboots with crampons—and no toes.

A polar researcher turned National Geographic photographer, Bishop was on the first U.S. expedition to summit Everest. (See the story from the October 1963 issue of National Geographic.) At 3:30 p.m. on May 22, 1963, he and his climbing partner reached the top, dropped to the ground, and wept. On the descent they couldn’t find their camp. Bishop stamped his feet to warm them but soon felt sharp pain, then numbness. “Knowing it is hopeless, I abandon the effort,” he later wrote.

After Bishop spent a night without shelter, his toes turned “dead white, hard, and icy to the touch.” Crippled by frostbite, he was carried partway down the mountain by Nepalese Sherpas and evacuated by helicopter to a hospital in Kathmandu. An American doctor flew in to administer an experimental drug to revive the damaged tissue in his feet, but it failed.

Along with all of his toes, Bishop lost the tips of two fingers. Still, he continued to climb—and his son, Brent, conquered Everest in 1994, making it a father-and-son feat. “There are no true victors,” Barry Bishop wrote of the mountain. “Only survivors.”

From the Vault: Shoes That Made Our Greatest Explorations Possible

National Geographic explorers travel the world in pursuit of knowledge and science—and nothing is more important than a reliable set of footwear. Here's a look at some well-worn pairs from Geographic archives that have set records. Read more about the well-worn footwear in National Geographic's archives.