Mountaineer, filmmaker, ski instructor

Passing Date: 
Sunday, September 24, 2017

Norman G. Dyhrenfurth, the climber and filmmaker who in 1963 led the first American expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest, died on September 24 in Salzburg, Austria. He was 99.

Norman Dyhrenfurth was born in Breslau, Germany, the son of Himalayan explorers Günter and Hettie Dyhrenfurth.  The family emigrated to Austria in 1923, and then, in 1925, to Switzerland, where they became citizens. As a teenager, Norman learned cinematography, and is said to have worked briefly on a Leni Riefenstahl production. In 1936 Hettie, who was half Jewish (Günter had one Jewish grandparent), went to the United States, and a year later, at age 19, Norman followed. He got work teaching skiing in New Hampshire, and guiding on mountains across North America. His adventures included the 1938 first ascent of Mt. Marcus Baker on Kiska Island in the Aleutians.

During World War II Dyhrenfurth attended Officers Candidate School. The Army put him to work shooting training films, but he participated in the 1943 invasion of Kiska Island, alongside the 87th Mountain Infantry. After the war, now a dual Swiss-American citizen, he made documentary films and founded UCLA’s film school. but resigned that position in 1952 to work as cameraman for an unsuccessful Swiss attempt on Mt. Everest. In 1953-54 he was a Fulbright scholar in Italy, and in 1956 accompanied a successful Swiss expedition to Mt. Everest.

After shooting more Himalayan climbs, in 1961 Dyhrenfurth obtained a permit to mount a U.S. Everest attempt in 1963. He led that expedition, which put six climbers on the summit and pioneered the new West Ridge route.

Later, Dyhrenfurth ran the film division of General Dynamics in San Diego, and was technical adviser to Hollywood movies about climbing, including The Eiger Sanction (1975) and Five Days One Summer (1982)

He is survived by his longtime partner, Maria Sernetz.

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