Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

Lou Whittaker, mountaineering legend, dies at 95

caption: Lou Whittaker and his son, Peter, at Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier, 1982.
Enlarge Icon
Lou Whittaker and his son, Peter, at Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier, 1982.
Kurt Smith

Lou Whittaker, a mountain climber, guide and identical twin to Jim Whittaker, the first American to climb Mount Everest, died this week. He was 95.

Whittaker summited Mount Rainier first when he was 16, and then more than 250 times throughout his lifetime. His close friend Penny LeGate told KUOW that the Whittaker twins went into the mountains because they had asthma, and had been told to get out into the fresh air.

Lou Whittaker founded RMI Mountaineering Inc. (now RMI Expeditions), based in Ashford, near Mount Rainier. His son Peter now runs the organization.

“He hired guides, the best and the brightest from all over the world,” LeGate said.

He was a goofball who loved laughing, she said. He was 6’6 and strong, and hugging him was like “hugging an oak tree.”

LeGate heard about Whitaker’s passing from his wife Ingrid on Monday.

“As soon as I saw her calling, I knew,” she said. He was surrounded by his kids and grandkids and their significant others.

“He will be remembered for conquering some of the highest peaks in the world,” LeGate said. “And not just the accomplishment of the climb itself. But how he led people. He was a born leader.”

She said climbing Everest is different from when the Whittaker brothers did it – when Sherpas carried in food, and yaks carried in supplies and tents. Climbers spent months walking in.

“Those days are long gone now,” LeGate said.

Written for the web by Isolde Raftery.

Why you can trust KUOW