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Title image: Book Reviews

Travel Reading Series

A Life on the Edge, Memoirs of Everest and Beyond by Jim Whittaker

By Sara Tiffany

Jim Whittaker’s autobiography, originally published in 2000, has been re-released in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first American Everest Expedition.

Base Camp 1963 Photo courtesy of Brent Bishop

Base Camp 1963 (Photo courtesy of Brent Bishop)

On May 1, 1963, Jim became the first American to stand on the top of the world when he reached the summit of Everest with Sherpa Nawang Gombu. The expedition put an additional four Americans on the summit; Lute Jerstand and Barry Bishop climbed via the same South Col Route as Jim Whittaker and the other two, Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld made a first ascent via the bold West Ridge.

The book grants only one captivating chapter to the famed Everest ascent that made Jim an instant celebrity and changed his life forever. The remainder of the book focuses on Jim’s other adventures and accomplishments. Among which include leading the first ascent of Mount Kennedy for Bobby Kennedy, organizing expeditions on K2 and managing the International Peace Expedition on Everest which brought together Russians, Chinese and American team members during a time of diplomatic turmoil.

Starting from humble beginnings in Seattle, he grew up mountaineering and skiing on local peaks, including Mount Rainier, with his twin brother. Jim and his brother spent as much time as they could in the mountains and pursued jobs which allowed them to do so. While in the military, the brothers were set to go to Korea when instead they were sent to Colorado to teach mountaineering tactics to Special Forces at Camp Hale. Jim says that the deep snow, high peaks and outdoor lifestyle was “a lot more like fun than work.”

After being discharged from the military, Jim was hired to be the first full-time employee at the “The Co-op” which would later become REI. He worked there, eventually as CEO, for 25 years. After leaving REI, he made some bad business decisions and nearly lost it all, but he never let that get him down.

Overall, A Life on the Edge, is a thoughtful and inspiring book about pursuing your passions. He concludes the book with a chapter titled “Life Well Lived”, and I must agree with him; he certainly has lived a full, exciting and inspiring life. His secret to living well? He says, “To my thinking, discomfort—the discomfort of stretching yourself beyond what you already know or know how to do, of struggling with adversity—is what creates the pearls in a well-lived life, just as it takes an irritant like a bit of sand inside a South Sea oyster shell to produce a real pearl.”

Buy your copy today and be inspired.