Richard “Dick” Bass was a Texas oil baron and rancher who traded cowboy boots for climbing boots, eventually becoming the first man to summit the tallest mountain on all seven continents. He died of pulmonary fibrosis this weekend at his home in Dallas at the age of 85.
Bass took on the audacious goal of climbing each continent’s tallest peak: Africa’s Kilimanjaro, North American’s Mount McKinley (Denali), South America’s Aconcagua, Europe’s Mount Elbrus, Australia’s Mount Kosciuszko, Antarctica’s Vinson Massif, and Asia’s Mount Everest. He made history when he completed the challenge by summiting Everest in April 1985, on his third attempt. (He was guided on that expedition by David Breashears, whom I traveled with to Everest in April of this year.)
The feat changed mountaineering forever, though not necessarily for the better, according to climber-writer Jon Krakauer. In his book Into Thin Air, Krakauer writes that “serious” climbers began looking down on Everest after Bass’ ascent:
Our contempt was only reinforced in 1985, when Dick Bass—a wealthy fifty-five-year-old Texan with limited climbing experience—was ushered to the top of Everest by an extraordinary young climber named David Breashears, an event that was accompanied by a blizzard of uncritical media attention. Previously, Everest had by and large been the province of elite mountaineers. Bass’s ascent changed all that.
Bass co-authored a best-selling book about the achievement called Seven Summits, which inspired hundreds of would-be adventurers. More than 325 people have since joined the seven summits club by following in Bass’s footsteps.