In his father’s footsteps
What: Leif Whittaker Events
Where: Whatcom County libraries
WHEN: Oct. 5, 10, 12 and Nov. 2 and 16
Wednesday, October 2, 2019
If Leif Whittaker’s father hadn’t been the first American to reach the top of the highest mountain in the world, it’s likely the younger Whittaker’s life would’ve taken a different trajectory.
But the fact is that, in 1963, James “Big Jim” Whittaker reached the summit of Mt. Everest as a member of the American Mount Everest Expedition. Having made history, he planted a United States flag in the snow, made the descent, and got on with the rest of his life—which included having two sons with his wife Dianne, Leif and Joss, with whom he shared his love of climbing and adventure.
Almost 50 years after Big Jim’s ascent, Leif was a Western Washington University grad living with his parents in Port Townsend and nursing a back injury. He was wondering what was next in his life when the outdoor clothing retailer Eddie Bauer offered him the chance to head to Mt. Everest. The plan was for his parents to make the trek to base camp with him, but he’d reach the top on his own.
You’ll have to read My Old Man and the Mountain to get a full sense of what that often-grueling 2012 climb entailed—and what Leif discovered about himself and his relationship with his father both during and after the endeavor—but now is the perfect time to do so. As part of Whatcom County Library System’s 75th anniversary, a countywide book group dubbed “Read & Share” is culminating with five free events taking place Oct. 5-Nov. 16 at the Blaine, Ferndale, Deming, Lynden, and Everson libraries.
In the book, Leif writes about the differences in equipment and knowledge between his 2012 climb and his father’s expedition in 1963, and also delves into the appreciation he gained for the physical and emotional impacts the climb had on Big Jim—a man whose footsteps he’s been following all of his life.
“There are so many Everest books out there that try to break down what the problems are or to talk about all the issues or the tragedies,” Leif says of the tome that was a finalist for the 2017 Washington State Book Award. “I really just wanted to drop people into a scene and have them feel what it’s like to be up there and get a sense of the mountain that way.”
Even if you haven’t read My Old Man and the Mountain, the programs on the roster are designed to get people excited about discovering the natural world—whether it’s in Nepal or in your own backyard.
In fact, a “Celebrate Our Local Mountains” event on Sat., Oct. 12 will see Leif sharing his experience as a climbing ranger hiking in the North Cascades. He’ll also discuss his work with young people and the positive effect the mountains and wilderness have on people’s lives.
“We’re surrounded by the most magical mountains in the world,” he says, “and I’d like to encourage folks to get out to their local mountains and experience them.”