James W. Whittaker, also known as Jim Whittaker (born February 10, 1929), is an American mountaineer.
As a member of the American Mount Everest Expedition 1963 led by Norman Dyhrenfurth, he was the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He summited on May 1, 1963, with the Sherpa Nawang Gombu (a nephew of Tenzing Norgay). They ran out of oxygen but managed to reach the summit. Once there, Whittaker planted a US flag at the top.
He is the twin brother of Lou Whittaker, a mountain guide who is often mistakenly credited with that achievement.
Whittaker graduated from West Seattle High School and Seattle University.
He was the first full-time employee of Recreational Equipment Inc. and was the company's CEO in the 1960s. Now, Whittaker is chairman of the Board of Magellan Navigation, a company that produces handheld global positioning system (GPS) units.
In 1965 he guided Robert Kennedy up the newly named Mount Kennedy.
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 more than a dozen climbers on the summit, the expedition hauled off a large amount of trash left on the mountain by previous expeditions.
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 Josh and Leif Whittaker.
Awards and honors
- For being the first American to scale Mount Everest, Whittaker was awarded the Hubbard Medal by United States President John F. Kennedy.