On May 1, 1963, Jim Whittaker became the first American to set foot on the summit of Mt. Everest. The now-famous expedition was led by Swiss climber Norman Dyhrenfurth and included 19 Americans, 32 Sherpas and 909 porters hired to carry the team’s massive amounts of gear. Of the climbers, it was Whittaker and Sherpa Nawang Gombu who made the first push for the top and planted the American flag on the roof of the world.
In later years, Whittaker continued to explore the outdoors and led numerous, high-profile expeditions. Among his accomplishments are the first ascent of Mt. Kennedy in the Canadian Yukon with Senator Robert Kennedy in 1965 and the first American ascent of K2 in 1978. He is also an accomplished blue-water sailor who twice skippered his own boat 2,400 miles in the Victoria-to-Maui International Yacht Race and who also completed a four-year, 20,000-mile Pacific sailing journey with his wife Dianne Roberts and their two sons. In 1999, Whittaker released his book A Life on the Edge: Memoirs of Everest and Beyond about his adventures.
As if that weren’t enough, Whittaker was also the first full-time employee of Recreational Equipment, Inc.—more fondly known as REI—and led the company as its President and CEO before completing his 25-year career. At the age of 80, Whittaker continues to pursue his love of the outdoors and to encourage others to live life to the fullest through his speaking engagements.
Based on his incredible experience, when Jim Whittaker offers advice on living well, you’d be smart to listen. In the video above, Whittaker reflects on what makes life meaningful, his experience in the outdoors and the value of risk.
“If you’re not living a life on the edge, you’re taking up too much space,” he says. “Most of the people I know that are really good people have taken risks. You crash and burn, you get up and you’ve learned something.”