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Jim Whittaker - Mountaineer

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by David DeFord

Jim Whittaker knows achievement. In 1963 he successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest—the first American to reach the world’s highest point. On that 29,028-foot adventure he braved fifty mile per hour winds and 35 below zero temperatures to literally crawl to the summit. That’s a wind-chill factor of -85 degrees.

Whittaker has climbed to the top of 24,500-foot Mt. Rainer 81 times. He led an expedition to the second-highest peak, the K2, but his team failed to reach the summit. But they regrouped, trained harder, and he became the first American to conquer K2. And his wife became the first woman to reach its summit.

In 1990, before the Berlin Wall had fallen, he organized a team consisting of five climbers each from the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. This team, called the “Peace Climb” reached the top of Everest, removed two tons of garbage from the mountain, and sent a hopeful message to the world.

Whittaker was the first employee of Recreation Equipment, Inc. (REI) and served as its CEO for several years before his retirement at age fifty.

Jim Whittaker knows success.

In his 78 years, he has learned many lessons. Here are his favorites:

  • Always call “mistakes” “lessons”
  • It’s not how high you climb, it’s how high you bounce back up after you fall
  • The biggest obstacle to reaching the top is a lack of belief in oneself
  • You learn the most when you’re out on the edge

Each of us has his own mountains to climb. We have incredible achievements to pursue. We place ourselves in the best positions to succeed when we learn from those who know success. Let’s ponder the four lessons Jim Whittaker has learned on the paths to his life summits. Let’s learn from our mistakes, bounce back when we fall, believe in ourselves, and take some risks.


Accept the challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory. General George Patton

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt

If you advance confidently in the direction of your dreams, and endeavor to live the life which you have imagined, you will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. Henry David Thoreau

I can promise you that the challenges you'll meet on the road to success are far less difficult to deal with than the struggles and the disappointments that come from being average. Jim Rohn

Achievement seems to be connected with action. Successful men and women keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don't quit. Conrad Hilton

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