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EverestHistory.com: Jim Whittaker


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 come.

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.

Whittaker struck 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.

In September 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 September 2000.

Today Jim is an extremely succesful motivational speaker, to book Jim see here.




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