Map of the Seven Summits (actually nine, depending on definition).
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1929, Bass moved with his family to Texas in 1932. After graduating from Highland Park High School, he enrolled at Yale University at 16 and graduated in 1950 with a degree in geology. After completing some graduate work at the University of Texas, Bass served two years with the U.S. Navy on board the aircraft carrier USS Essex during the Korean War. In 1953, he returned to Texas to join in the running of the family oil and gas business and ranching operations.
Bass became the first person to achieve the Seven Summits (the highest point on each continent) on April 30, 1985. At the time, he was also the oldest person to have climbed Mt. Everest. He later co-wrote the book Seven Summits describing his achievement. The ascent has been somewhat controversial; Bass's list puts Mount Kosciuszko as the tallest in Australia, but climber Patrick Morrow has put forward that that the tallest mountain in Oceania (which includes Australia) is instead the more difficult Puncak Jaya.
Jon Krakuer's book Into Thin Air opines that Bass's ascent of Mount Everest pulled the mountain into a "postmodern era" wherein commercial guided expeditions became big business and encouraged climbers with limited experience to pay large sums of money to these enterprises in order to ascend Everest.