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Professional Speaker Reinhold Messner

Jim Whittaker

First American to Climb Mount Everest


      “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.”

There have been many 'firsts' in Jim Whittaker's life. He was the first North American to summit Mount Everest (1963). As the first manager and employee, and ultimately the CEO, of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), he led the company through years of record-setting growth. He organized and led the first successful expedition to summit K2 - the world's second highest mountain. In 1965 he guided Bobby Kennedy up the newly-named Mount Kennedy, helping him to become the first person to summit the peak. In 1990, he led the historic International Peace Climb, which put climbers from the U.S., Russia, and China on the summit of Everest in the name of world peace.

Using his lifetime of climbing and business experience as the President of REI, Inc., Jim Whittaker's presentation emphasizes his unique philosophy of life, including the following themes: 

  • Keeping Life Adventurous

  • Finding value in the pain of failure

  • Keeping life adventurous – a lifelong pursuit

  • Succeeding in business by “doing good”



Internationally famous mountaineer, adventurer and environmentalist, best known as the first American to climb Mt. Everest; May 1, 1963

Visionary business and community leader; Past President and CEO of one of the country’s largest outdoor retailers, Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI)

Accomplished and inspirational public speaker; has given presentations to hundreds of corporations and organizations for more than thirty years

Author of an award-winning memoir, A Life on the Edge: Memoirs of Everest and Beyond

Former guide and climbing instructor on Mt. Rainier; as member of the National Ski Patrol, Mountain Rescue, and the Mountaineers, led life-saving rescues of skiers, climbers and aircraft

Drafted into the US Army; taught mountaineering and skiing to Tenth Special Forces and Green Berets during Korean War

Involved in 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

Led Senator Robert Kennedy on first ascent of Mt. Kennedy, a peak in the Canadian Yukon named for his slain brother; became close friends with Bobby and the Kennedy family, joining them often at Hyannis Port, Hickory Hill (RFK’s home in Virginia) and On skiing, river rafting, sailing and other adventures; Washington State campaign chairman for Senator Kennedy in. 1968; was at the Senator’s bedside when he died and served as a pallbearer at Arlington

In 1978, organized and led the first American ascent of K2, world’s second highest—and many say most dangerous—peak, after five American failures spanning 40 years

Against formidable political and logistical odds, organized and led the spectacularly successful 1990 Mt. Everest Peace Climb, which put twenty men and women from three superpowers—the US, China and the Soviet Union—on the summit of Everest to  help focus world attention environmental issues, removed two tons of garbage left on the mountain by previous expeditions

Certified scuba diver and former member of the Northwest Underwater Research Group; has descended to a depth of 185’

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, Washington

Accomplished blue-water sailor; twice skippered his own boats on the 2,400-mile Victoria, Canada to Maui, Hawaii sailing race; raced and cruised extensively in the Pacific Northwest and inside passage for twenty years; over, the past four years, sailed his 54’ steel pilothouse ketch, Impossible, with his wife and, two sons, Joss (19) and Leif (17), from Port Townsend, Washington to Mexico, the Marquesas Islands, the Tuamotus, Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora), Cook Islands, American Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Australia and back to the United States—a journey of more than 20,000 miles










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"There is no doubt your outstanding slide lecture and book signing of 'A Life on the Edge: Memoirs from Everest and Beyond' made for our most successful event of all time... a truly inspiring and exceptional community event."

- Douglas A. Davis
Friends of the CLSA
California State University

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