It was a mistake, the mountaineer and filmmaker Norman Dyhrenfurth wrote in 1960, to speak of “climbing” the Himalayas.
The Alps could be climbed — Mr. Dyhrenfurth had done so himself, ascending with his mountaineering parents when he was 8 — and so too could the Tetons in Wyoming, where he had summitted as a young man. Or, for that matter, the Chugach in Alaska, where he had brought a film camera and made his first documentary on climbing.
Among the string of 8,000-meter peaks along the border of Nepal and Tibet, however, mountains were taken by a team, and ascended only after a months-long siege that required tons of food, countless oxygen canisters and a succession of ever-higher encampments.
“There are no Lindberghs in the sport-science of mountain climbing,” Mr. Dyhrenfurth wrote in Sports Illustrated, describing an expedition he led that year to the top of Dhaulagiri, a mountain near Everest that had never before been scaled. “A lone climber would be swatted off the face of Dhaulagiri like a fly off the doorstep of God.”
Mr. Dyhrenfurth, who died Sept. 24 at 99, was a talented Swiss-American climber and an exceptional siege master, one whose talent at fundraising and alpine logistics enabled American climbers to reach the peak of Mount Everest for the first time in 1963.
The New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay had reached the summit of Everest a decade earlier, concluding a decades-long quest to surmount the world’s tallest mountain. But for climbers such as Mr. Dyhrenfurth, its appeal remained — in large part, as mountaineer George Mallory once put it, simply “because it’s there.”
Mr. Dyhrenfurth was at a camp high on the mountain, managing supplies and coordinating individual climbing teams, when the news rang out over the radio that “the Big One and the Small One,” Seattle climber Jim Whittaker and Sherpa Nawang Gombu, “made the top” on May 1.
Four more Americans would follow, and two of them — Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld — would pioneer a route up the mountain’s treacherous West Ridge, becoming the first to traverse Everest by going up one side and coming down another.
Mr. Dyhrenfurth never got a chance to reach the summit himself, but the expedition he led and filmed became a sensation in the United States. His “Americans on Everest” documentary aired on CBS with narration by Orson Welles, becoming National Geographic’s first television special, and he and his team visited the White House, appeared on the cover of Life magazine and were credited with elevating the popularity of climbing in the United States.
Their success, occurring amid the tumult of the Cold War and civil rights movement, “gave a collective psychological boost to America,” said writer Broughton Coburn, who chronicled their efforts in his 2013 book “The Vast Unknown.”
Still, the expedition nearly didn’t happen. “Americans, when I first raised it, they said, ‘Well, Everest, it’s been done. Why do it again?,’ ” Mr. Dyhrenfurth recalled in 2013, at a celebration of the climb organized by the American Alpine Club.
For 2 ½ years, he scraped together funding from groups including the National Geographic Society, Air Force, NASA and the State Department, framing the mission as a scientific endeavor. At one point, he proposed the installation of a nuclear-powered weather station near the summit.
The idea was nixed, but Coburn reported that Mr. Dyhrenfurth and his team — 19 climbers and scientists, including glaciologists and psychologists — eventually helped to install a device used to monitor a Chinese nuclear test facility.
To reach the foothills of Everest from an airfield in Kathmandu, Nepal, the expedition enlisted more than 900 porters who carried 27 tons of food, clothing and equipment in a caravan that climbers christened “the millipede.”
Three days after establishing Base Camp, one climber died when he was crushed by ice. Two more nearly died during a contentious effort to send two teams to the top of Everest at the same time. According to the plan, Hornbein and Unsoeld were to take the West Ridge to the summit, where they would meet up with Lute Jerstad and Barry Bishop, who had taken the relatively safer southern route to the top.
But the timing was off — the West Ridge team had been forced to climb a 60-foot vertical wall of crumbling limestone to reach the summit — and the two teams reached one another only late in the day.
Forced to bivouac at 28,000 feet, they spent the night without food, water or shelter. Unsoeld lost nine toes to frostbite; Bishop lost all 10, as well as the tips of his pinkie fingers. The climbers were eventually carried down the mountain by Sherpas, piggyback style, and helicoptered to a hospital in Kathmandu.
The near-fatal experience had long been envisioned by Mr. Dyhrenfurth, who faced medical evacuation himself after suffering a rare thyroid condition while attempting another Everest climb in 1971.
“There is no guarantee we’ll make it,” he said before the 1963 ascent. “Anyone who does guarantee it is either a fool or a confidence man. We may fail.”
Norman Günter Dyhrenfurth was born in Breslau, in what is now Poland, on May 7, 1918, and raised in Austria and Switzerland. His parents, Günter Oskar and Hettie, were accomplished climbers who made early ascents of Himalayan peaks and glaciers. His mother held the world record for highest climb by a woman for two decades, and the couple was honored for their alpine exploits with a gold medal at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
Mr. Dyhrenfurth learned filmmaking in part from Leni Riefenstahl, whose videos of the Games were used as Nazi propaganda, and subsequently moved to the United States with his mother, who was part Jewish and sought to flee Europe.
He received U.S. citizenship after serving in the Army during World War II, and became a film professor at UCLA while shooting television series and planning climbing trips on the side. He later worked on climbing sequences for the movies “The Eiger Sanction” (1975), starring Clint Eastwood, and “Five Days One Summer” (1982), with Sean Connery.
Ditta Vogt, the sister of Mr. Dyhrenfurth’s longtime partner, Maria Sernetz, told the Associated Press that Mr. Dyhrenfurth died at a hospital in Salzburg, Austria, but did not disclose the cause. Mr. Dyhrenfurth was previously married to Sally Sudler.
Mr. Dyhrenfurth’s arduous attempts to climb Everest have largely become a thing of the past, as wealthy climbers have effectively been able to pay their way to the top of the mountain, following fixed ropes and guides for a hefty fee.
For Mr. Dyhrenfurth, the lack of such assistance was part of the romance of climbing Everest in the first place. “There is altogether too prevalent an idea that Americans are soft and rich or, let’s say, fat and happy,” the New York Times reported him saying in 1963. “In the Himalayas, money can’t help you.”