Lou Whittaker is a giant among men at six-foot-five except when he is around his equally tall twin brother, Jim. Laurie and I had the privilege of having them as our guests at our Montana home recently.
Lou started a mountain guiding service on Mount Rainier and has led more than 250 successful ascents of the 14,000-foot summit. Along with his son Peter, he has also developed guide services for McKinley, Everest, Aconcagua and K2 as well as several more of the highest peaks and most difficult mountains in the world to climb.
Lou talked about some horrific mountain rescues from ice falls and crevasses and about how one time on Everest his eyesight was reduced to a dull grey. A doctor discovered that the liquid inside of his eyes had frozen and that it would be very painful when his eyes defrosted.
The doctor gave him a few extra pain pills and said he would be back to normal in a week or so.
Lou Whittaker lives in Sun Valley, Idaho, in the winter and in Ashford, Wash., at the base of Mount Rainier in the summer.
Lou told a story about his son and another guide who were leading groups of nine climbers. For a reason no one ever figured out, his son decided to take a different route. The second group, keeping to a traditional route, was buried in an ice fall that was so large it was impossible to even try to dig them out.
When President Kennedy was assassinated Lou was asked to lead his brother, Bobby Kennedy, on an expedition to the summit of Denali. He later led the Kennedy family on a float trip down the Colorado River.
Many years ago Lou owned a ski shop in Tacoma, Wash., and his brother Jim was president of REI in Seattle, helping it to become the huge source of outdoor equipment that it is today.
In that era, my phone rang in my office in Hermosa and Bob Mickelson had hired Lou to ski in a movie he wanted me to film and produce. It was a dog-and-pony-show film to sell condos and dirt on 160 acres on Snoqualmie Summit, less than 50 miles from downtown Seattle.
The film starring Lou Whittaker was a great success because they only showed it twice and sold every vacant lot and condo they had. It seems as though anything Lou or Jim touches is a success.
I am fortunate to have known both of them since they were in high school and I still have a hard time telling them apart unless their wives are with them at the time.
When Sir Edmond Hillary made the first ascent of Mount Everest there has always been controversy whether Sir Edmond or his Sherpa were the first one on top. When Jim and his Sherpa reached the summit they held hands and made sure that they made the final step together.
The twins both got full-ride basketball scholarships to Seattle University but the coach found out that they were going skiing and gave them an option: Quit skiing or give up their full-ride scholarships. As far as they were concerned there was no option between a smelly gymnasium and the air on a mountain top, which relieved the asthma from which they both suffered. And they have been climbing to the tops of mountains ever since.
The Pacific Northwest has produced most of the really good early mountaineers in this country just because of the proximity to so many incredible peaks and the ingrained love of the high country in that population.
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