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Legendary Mt. Rainier Guide Lou Whittaker Dies at 95

A Mount Rainier icon has lapsed into the alpenglow.

Lou Whittaker on Mount RainierLou Whittaker, seated with axe, on Mt. Rainier, in 1996; (photo/Erik Charlton via Flickr)
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The Associated Press on March 27 reported Lou Whittaker’s passing. According to Rainier Mountaineering Inc., the Pacific Northwest guide company he founded in 1969, it occurred peacefully at home on March 24. Whittaker was 95.

Whittaker began climbing in the 1940s with his twin brother, Jim, who earned fame as the first American to summit Mt. Everest in 1963. Lou Whittaker himself claimed an American superlative on the world’s highest peak, leading the first American ascent of the Everest North Col in 1984.

Born and raised in Seattle, Whittaker gained most of his renown as a Mt. Rainier climbing guide. He led an estimated 250 trips to Washington’s highest peak, inspiring countless climbers and professionals along the way — most famously, Ed Viesturs.

This article was originally published on ExplorersWeb.

Lou Whittaker Saved Dozens of Lives

His career as a mountain rescuer may merit even more prestige. RMI told the AP that Whittaker saved dozens of lives during numerous rescue efforts over his career. This included operations during his work supporting military mountain units. Jim and Lou Whittaker helped train the Army’s famed 10th Mountain Division during attachment to the Mountain and Cold Weather command at Camp Hale, Colo., in the 1950s.

When the two returned from service, Jim began managing REI’s first location. Lou leaned into his guiding career on Rainier, Denali, and beyond.

“Mountains were the source of his health, the wellspring of his confidence, and the stage for his triumphs, and he was one of the first to make mountaineering and its benefits accessible to the broader public,” the company said in a statement posted to its website on March 27. “His leadership made mountain guiding a true profession, with many of the world’s premier mountaineers benefiting from Lou’s tutelage.”

Lou is survived by his son, Peter, who acts as the primary decision-maker for Whittaker Mountaineering, as well as his brother, Jim, who still works as a writer and speaker.

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