Author, climber Leif Whittaker gives ‘My Old

Waucoma Bookstore, Columbia Center for the Arts and Double Mountain Brewery are hosting author Leif Whittaker for a book talk Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. at Columbia Center for the Arts, 215 Cascade Ave.


Leif Whittaker

Whittaker will give a multi-media presentation with more than 100 still images and videos, about summiting Everest and other peaks, and do a reading from his new memoir, “My Old Man and the Mountain,” an engaging and humorous story of what it was like to “grow up Whittaker” — the youngest son of Jim Whittaker and Dianne Roberts, in an extended family of accomplished climbers. “Big Jim” Whittaker was, in 1963, the first American to summit Mount Everest. Now 87, he and Roberts live in Port Townsend, Wash.

Tuesday’s event is free and open to the public. Waucoma Bookstore will host a book signing with Whittaker in the lobby after the event.

Leif, 32, said in a phone interview Thursday that he enjoys giving readings because while the stories are directly from the book, “I can tell them in a little different voice, as the speaking voice is so different from written.

“And I will also tell stories that did not make it into the book,” he said. Whittaker, a Bellingham, Wash., resident, has summited Everest twice, and nearly every major peak around the world. The book, he said, “is a much faster and cheaper way to climb.”

“It’s a universal story in many ways,” Whittaker said. “Each of us, whether we admit it or not, we want to make our parents proud, it’s kind of an instinct, and for me it just so happened that meant going to Mount Everest.

“That was kind of set in the backdrop of Everest, but even though it’s about Everest, it’s a story of growing up, a father-son story, universal in that way. A lot of the sentiments, struggles and conflicts, are ones I think people will understand.”

Whittaker said the book, his first, was “more of a challenge is what not to write.

“I wanted to make the book focused on Everest, and there are stories about growing up in the Whittaker family and they point to the main conflict of growing up in the shadow of an amazing father with an amazing legacy I was drawn to live up to, but I wanted to focus on using the mountain as the driving force,” he said.

A third of the way into the book, Whittaker gives a gripping account of the difficult hike to Everest base camp, his mother and father with him, and the his encouragement to his father, reminding him of climbing the techniques Jim had taught him.

It’s a coming of age tale on the steep slopes of Everest and a climbing adventure that lights the imagination and fills an emotional human endeavor with universal meaning.

In 1963, the world followed the first American Mount Everest Expedition, and watched as “Big Jim” Whittaker became the first American to stand on top of the world. He returned a hero.

In “My Old Man and the Mountain,” Whittaker shares glimpses of his upbringing and how the pressure to climb started early on. Readers learn of his first adventures with the family in the Olympic Mountains and on Mount Rainier, his close yet at times competitive relationship with his brother Joss, his battle with a serious back injury and his efforts to stand apart from his father’s legacy.

He depicts being a recent college grad, still living in his parents’ home and trying to find purpose in life — digging ditches, building houses, selling t-shirts to tourists — until a chance encounter leads to the opportunity to climb Everest, just like his father did.

About the Author

Whittaker was born in Port Townsend, Wash., at the foot of the Olympic Mountains. He reached his first major summit when he was 15 years old and has since climbed many of the world’s tall mountains. A writer and photographer, Whittaker’s work has appeared in Powder, The Ski Journal, and Backcountry. Leif lives in Bellingham, Wash., and is a seasonal USFS climbing ranger on Mount Baker.

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