Barry Bishop was an American mountaineer and photographer who was a part of the first American team to summit Mount Everest, on May 22, 1963. He spent most of his career with the National Geographic Society and was also a renowned scientist and scholar. Adventurous and full of energy from a young age, he joined the Colorado Mountaineering Club when he was just nine or ten years old. He quickly learned mountaineering skills from the experienced mountaineers in the club and was guiding expeditions in the Rockies and Tetons by age 12. His love of the mountains led him to study geology in college and he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in geology in 1954 and proceeded to earn a masters in geography from Northwestern University in 1957. He continued his mountaineering adventures throughout his college years and studied shear moraines on the Greenland Icecap. After a stint in the Air Force where he monitored international scientific programs in polar research, he was hired by the National Geographic Society as Picture Editor for ‘National Geographic’; he would stay with the organization until his retirement in 1994. He gained much international attention in 1963 when he became a member of the first American team to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
Childhood & Early Life
Barry Chapman Bishop was born on January 13, 1932, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father, Robert Wilson Bishop, was a sociologist who went on to become the dean at the University of Cincinnati, and his mother, Helen Rebecca Bishop, had a degree in English.
He grew up to be a very energetic boy and his mother enrolled him in the YMCA outdoor classes to channelize his boundless energy. The young boy loved the outdoor activities very much and joined the Colorado Mountaineering Club when he was nine or ten years old.
At the club, he was mentored by experienced mountaineers who were also members of the 10th Mountain Division. Under their guidance, Barry quickly learned the skills of mountaineering and was guiding expeditions in the Rockies and Tetons by age 12.
He also performed well in school, learning the arts of public speaking and writing well. His love for the mountains led him to choose geology as his major in college and he graduated with a bachelor's degree in geology from the University of Cincinnati in 1954. He did field work in the Mt. McKinley area in the summer of 1951, as part of his undergraduate research.
He furthered his training at the Northwestern University where he studied shear moraines on the Greenland Icecap. During his work there he met the famed polar explorer, Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who would play a role in Bishop’s future career. He earned a masters in geography in 1954–1955.
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Barry Bishop had a long-standing dream of working under Byrd. In 1955, he joined the Air Force and the following year he was assigned to work as scientific advisor to Byrd's staff and his successor Admiral Dufek, at the Antarctic Projects Office in Washington, D.C. During this time he monitored international scientific programs in polar research.
He served as the Official United States Observer with the Argentine Antarctic Expedition in late 1956-57. He was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1958. Aged just 27, Bishop had already accumulated considerable skills as a mountaineer, polar scientist, photographer and explorer.
His skills as a photographer earned him a job with the National Geographic Society as Picture Editor for ‘National Geographic’ in 1959. He quickly rose through the ranks in the ensuing years and was made a photographer for the magazine in 1960.
Around this time, the prominent mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary became aware of Bishop's work on shear moraines and invited him to join the Himalayan Scientific and Mountaineering Expedition of 1960–1961. Bishop served as the expedition's official glaciologist and climatologist.
During the expedition, Bishop along with fellow expedition members Mike Gill, Mike Ward and Wally Romanes, made the landmark first ascent of Ama Dablam. His achievements on this expedition along with his breathtaking photographs cemented his place with the National Geographic Society and earned him much acclaim.
His rising stature as a mountaineer led to an invitation to join the 1963 American Everest Expedition, which aimed to make the first American ascent of Mount Everest. Along with his team mates, Jim Whittaker, Lute Jerstad, Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein, Barry Bishop successfully scaled the summit of Mount Everest on May 22, 1963, becoming the first American team to do. This achievement, however, came with a cost: he sustained severe frostbite that resulted in the loss of all his toes and the tip of his little finger.
The loss of his toes marked the end of his technical climbing career, and he shifted his focus to academics. He joined the University of Chicago's Ph.D. program in geography in 1966. His dissertation was a cultural-ecological analysis of the Karnali Zone of western Nepal. The extensive dissertation was eventually published in 1980.
He continued his work with the National Geographic Society throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. He was made the Vice-Chairman of the Committee for Research and Exploration in 1984 and the Chairman in 1989. He also led Himalayan research expeditions in 1983 and 1985 and continued to write for ‘National Geographic.’ He retired in 1994.
Awards & Achievements
In 1963, Barry Bishop and his team were awarded the Hubbard Medal by President John F. Kennedy for their achievement of becoming the first American team to summit Mount Everest.
Following his death, the National Geographic Society honored him posthumously with the Distinguished Geography Educator award in recognition of a life that "reflected National Geographic's mission of increasing and diffusing geographic knowledge."
Personal Life & Legacy
Barry Bishop married Lila Mueller in 1955. The couple had two children.
He died in an automobile accident on September 24, 1994.