A regular person might consider being the
first American to summit Everest as more than enough
accomplishment for one life. Jim Whittaker isn’t what
you’d call a regular person and for him standing at the
top of the world in 1963 was only a sign of things to
Jim and his twin
brother Lou were born in Seattle in 1929. The two boys would discover a shared
passion for adventure, the outdoors and climbing. They learned the basics of
climbing while practicing on Monitor Rock a 30-foot high artificial rock and
cement wall in West Seattle. They made their first real climb on “The Tooth” a
5,605-foot tall spire of rock in Washington State’s Cascade Range. It was
1943; the twins were 14 at the time.
Jim and his brother would continue to climb as the years
passed. They were active in The Mountaineer’s Club and by the age of 21
the brothers were guides on Mt. Rainier. Lou would go on to found a
professional guide service, Rainer Mountaineering Inc. Both brothers were
invited on the National Geographic Society sponsored Everest climb in
1963, however only Jim was able to be there for the attempt.
Jim would be the
first American to stand atop Everest, reaching the peak on May 1st, 1963.
Click on the picture to
see Jim's Everest Summit picture
As part of the
first American expedition to summit Everest, Whittaker and his teammates were
invited to the White House where they were presented with the National
Geographic Society’s highest honor, the Hubbard Medal. John F. Kennedy
presented the award in the White House Rose Garden in July 1963.
up a friendship with the Kennedy family and in particular then
Attorney-General Bobby Kennedy. Following JFK’s assassination Whittaker led
Kennedy on a trek up the Canadian mountain named for the fallen president.
K2, the second
tallest mountain in the world and arguably a harder mountain to climb than
Everest, was Whittaker’s target in September 1978. He would lead the first
successful American team to summit that mountain.
After climbing Everest Whittaker went on to become CEO of
one of the country’s largest outdoor retailers,
Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI). Whittaker is also an accomplished
bluewater sailor. With his wife photographer Dianne Roberts, and his two sons
Joss and Leif, Whittaker has navigated some 20,000 miles on trips between the
US and Australia. He also competed in many boating races in the Northwest
including twice skippering his boats on a 2,400 miles race from Victoria,
British Columbia to Maui.
1999, Jim’s autobiography, “A
Life on the Edge: Memoirs of Everest and Beyond”,
was published by The Mountaineers Books in Seattle, Washington. It was awarded
the year 2000 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award for literary
excellence in the category of Memoir, and was released in soft cover in
Today Jim is an
extremely succesful motivational speaker, to book Jim