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Jim Whittaker

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James Whittaker
Whittaker speaking at the Computer
History Museum
in 2005
Born (1929-02-10) February 10, 1929 (age 95)
EducationSeattle University
West Seattle High School
RelativesLou Whittaker (twin brother)

James W. Whittaker (born February 10, 1929), also known as Jim Whittaker, is an American climber and mountain guide.[1][2] Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, on May 1, 1963, he became the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest as a member of the American Mount Everest Expedition led by Norman Dyhrenfurth, alongside the Sherpa Nawang Gombu, a nephew of Tenzing Norgay. They ran out of oxygen, but managed to reach the summit.[3]


He is the twin brother of Lou Whittaker, a mountain guide who is often mistakenly credited with achieving the 1963 ascent of Everest. The twins started climbing in their teens in the 1940s while in the Boy Scouts.[2]

Whittaker graduated from West Seattle High School and Seattle University.

On July 25, 1955, Whittaker became the first full-time employee of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) and was the company's CEO in the 1960s[4] as well as an early board member with American Alpine Club president Nicholas Clinch.[5] When Whittaker climbed Mount Everest, it provided REI with so much free advertising that the following year, 1964, its gross income topped US$1 million for the first time.[6]

In 1965, with Dee Molenaar and others, he guided Robert F. Kennedy up the newly named Mount Kennedy. Kennedy and Whittaker became fast friends and spent multiple vacations together. In 1968, he became Kennedy’s state campaign chairman. When Kennedy was shot in Los Angeles, Whittaker immediately flew over to comfort RFK's wife when her brother in law had to shut off life-support.[7]

In 1990, he led the Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb that brought together climbers from the United States, USSR, and China to summit Mount Everest. In addition to putting twenty climbers on the summit, the expedition hauled off a large amount of trash left on the mountain by previous expeditions.

Currently,[when?] Whittaker is chairman of the Board of Magellan Navigation, a company that produces handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) units.

In 1999 Whittaker released his autobiography, A Life on the Edge: Memoirs of Everest and Beyond. His younger son, Leif Whittaker, published My Old Man and the Mountain: A Memoir in 2016, which relates the story of his own summit of Mount Everest, with his parents accompanying him on part of the journey, and with comparisons to his father's Mount Everest experiences.

Whittaker and his wife, Dianne Roberts, live in Port Townsend, Washington. Their children are Joss and Leif Whittaker.

Awards and honors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ EverestHistory.com: Jim Whittaker
  2. ^ a b "Brothers synonymous with mountain climbing in Northwest". Reading Eagle. Associated Press. March 13, 1983. p. 43.
  3. ^ Shnayerson, Michael (May 2003). "Jim Whittaker, Back on Earth". National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Archived from the original on June 18, 2003. Retrieved May 7, 2007.
  4. ^ Martinez, Amy. "Eddie Bauer looks to mountaineer Jim Whittaker for turnaround help". The Seattle Times. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  5. ^ "American Alpine Club Past President Nick Clinch Passes Away". American Alpine Club. June 15, 2016. Retrieved April 12, 2018.
  6. ^ Kjeldsen, Jim (1998). The Mountaineers: A History. Seattle, WA: Mountaineers Books. pp. 108–113.
  7. ^ Ron Judd, Robert F. Kennedy and Jim Whittaker’s lofty friendship recounted in SIFF film, The Seattle Times, June 6, 2018
  8. ^ "Big Jim Mountain". Bivouac.com. Retrieved August 4, 2020.
  9. ^ "Wilderness Peak Loop". Washington Trails Association. Retrieved May 10, 2023.

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