Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Thomas (Tom) Hornbein attended camp near Estes Park at age 13. It was there that he discovered mountains, which he counts as the major pivotal event of his life. A few years later, as a student at CU Boulder, he set out to become a geologist; from his involvement in mountain rescue activities, he also became interested in medicine and subsequently pursued a career as an anesthesiologist. Additionally, he studied human physiological limits and performance at high altitude, and later became professor and chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Washington.
But back to Tom’s interest in mountaineering, and Spring Break in the late-1940s.
Donor-Advised Fundholder (DAF) and Legacy Society member at your Community Foundation. “During Spring Break, we’d climb Longs Peak.
“One day, two of us decided we’d hitchhike from Hewes-Kirkwood into Estes Park; alas, no cars passed, so we enjoyed a long walk. On the way, we spied an interesting rock spire on Prospect Mountain. We climbed what my friends would later refer to as Tom’s Thumb.
“We got up there, and I clung to a tiny hold for what seemed like forever. When I decided to go back down, I fell onto a sloping slab. The rope stopped me, but I was left with a painful chest as we resumed our walk into town.
“I went to see Doc Jacob Mall, who examined me, placed three pieces of wide tape over my three broken ribs, and sent me on my way. He charged me $2 per tape – $6 total – and I was just fine, except when coughing or laughing!”
That’s why, on top of his $1K DAF donation to the Access Fund this year, Tom’s total DAF donation comes to $1,006, courtesy of Dr. Jacob O. Mall (1902-2003).
“If we don’t act quickly to protect the area, public access could be lost forever to a private sale, and a future landowner could develop the area,” says Access Fund Policy Director Erik Murdock. Learn more about the Access Fund’s efforts to protect this popular climbing area with a commitment to raise $67,500. The first $15,006 will be matched by Tom and his wife, Kathy, and other local leaders.
As for Tom, he and his partners Willi Unsoeld and Dick Emerson went on to attempt climbing Mount Everest in 1963 as part of the American Mount Everest Expedition. Tom wrote about the experience – hailed as one of the greatest pioneering feats of mountaineering – in his book, Everest: The West Ridge. In 2018, Tom was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based mountain club and publisher of mountaineering books.
Today, Tom and Kathy – who’s a retired pediatrician and young adult novelist – live in Estes Park.
This video made for the Access Fund describes the Thumb Open Space project to stop development on Prospect Mountain, featuring legendary U.S. climbers Tom Hornbein and Tommy Caldwell.