Jim Whittaker

The first American to summit Mount Everest

As the first American to reach the summit of Mt. Everest–50 years ago THIS MONTH, May 1, 1963–Jim Whittaker is synonymous with risk, leadership, and achievement.

For Jim, reaching the top of Everest is just the tip of the iceberg.

Learn more about Jim in the 4-14-13 issue of the Seattle Times.

The internationally known mountaineer, adventurer and environmentalist is also an accomplished and inspirational public speaker. Mr. Whittaker has given presentations to hundreds of corporations and organizations for over 30 years.

Beyond the summit, Mr. Whittaker is a visionary business and community leader: Past President and the first full-time employee, and later CEO of one of the country's largest outdoor retailers-Recreational Equipment, Inc. [REI]. Additionally, he is the author of the award-winning memoir, A Life on the Edge: Memoirs of Everest and Beyond.

He has served as confidant to Bobby Kennedy; been a pivotal player in growing REI from a makeshift back room operation into a multi-million dollar corporation, and became leader of the famous 1990 International Peace Climb. Even in his 70s, Jim continues to set goals and take risks. You'll often now find him sailing across oceans with his family aboard their sailboat, "The Impossible."

Jim's son Leif Whittaker follows directly in his dad's footsteps: he's twice stood atop the highest point on earth.

In his presentation A LIFE ON THE EDGE: Memoirs of Everest and Beyond, Jim addresses themes of risk taking as he shares his incredible life story with audiences.

An excerpt: "I heard a phrase not too long ago that pretty well captures my philosophy of life: 'If you aren't living on the edge, you're taking up too much space.' It has nothing to do with thrill-seeking. It's about making the most of every moment, about stretching your own boundaries, about being willing to learn constantly and putting yourself in situations where learning is possible-sometimes even critical to your survival. Being out on the edge, with everything at risk, is where you learn – and grow – the most."

Other accomplishments of Jim Whittaker include:

  • Against formidable political and logistical odds, organized and led the spectacularly successful 1990 Mt. Everest Peace Climb, which put 20 men and women from three superpowers-the US, China and the Soviet Union-on the summit of Everest; to help focus world attention on environmental issues, and removed two tons of garbage left on the mountain by previous expeditions
  • Led Senator Robert Kennedy on the first ascent of Mt. Kennedy, a peak in the Canadian Yukon named for his slain brother. Joined the Senator's family at Hyannis Port, Hickory Hill (RFK's home in Virginia) and other adventures; was at the RFK's bedside when he died, and served as a pallbearer at Arlington
  • Organized and led the first American ascent of K2, the world's second highest-and many say most dangerous-peak, after five American failures spanning 40 years
  • Involved in a climbing accident on Mt. McKinley that led to the biggest mountain rescue effort in U.S. history, including a treacherous helicopter liftoff from 17,300' by legendary pilot Link Luckett
  • Guide and climbing instructor on Mt. Rainier who led life-saving rescues of skiers, climbers and aircraft
  • With his wife, photographer Dianne Roberts, designed and built a stunning log home-dubbed by their friends, the "Taj Macabin"-overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Port Townsend, WA.

Travels From: Near Seattle, WA