The First Family of American Mountaineering
In 1948, the Whittaker twins, Jim and Lou, began mountain rescue work in the Cascades of Washington state. By 1950 they were guides on Mt. Rainier. Two years later, they became instructors for the army’s renowned 10th Mountain Division, which produced many of America’s greatest climbers.
Even in those early days, the Whittaker family was deeply involved in outdoor retail. In 1954, both twins worked in ski and sporting goods stores. A year later Jim, along with Lloyd Anderson, opened Recreational Equipment Cooperative, now known as REI, which Jim gradually built into America's largest outdoor specialty retailer. Along the way, he also became the first American to summit Mt. Everest and an advisor and spokesperson for Vibram Rubber Company, whose lug soles continue to revolutionize climbing footwear. In 1990, Jim led the successful Mt. Everest International Peace Climb, comprised of mountaineers from China, Russia and the U.S.
Lou's son Peter, a 30-year career guide, continues this formidable legacy. Peter began Whittaker Mountaineering, and now serves at the helm of RMI, having climbed Rainier over 200 times. As a young man, he spent 10 years as a heli-ski guide in the powder mecca of Snowbird. In 1984, at the age of 24, he was instrumental in carrying loads to high camp on the North Face of Everest. Peter has completed the Seven Summits, having stood on top of the highest point on each continent, designed cutting-edge products for Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, JanSport and First Ascent and now Bight Gear.
Meanwhile, Lou concentrated his efforts on Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI), which has evolved into the most long-lived, wide-ranging mountain guide service in North America, serving clients on Denali, Aconcagua, Vinson, Everest, Kilimanjaro and beyond, along with thousands who come to climb Rainier every year (more than 100,000 since 1968). Between his duties as head guide and owner of RMI, Lou led the first ascent of the North Face of Everest in 1984 and the first American ascent of Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak, in 1989. He has served as a product designer and consultant for JanSport, New Balance and K2.
Whittaker Mountaineering was born out of the need for RMI to make sure their clients had the appropriate gear to get to the top of Mt. Rainier safely. After decades of trying, reviewing, arguing-over, and recommending gear, we can’t help but know what we’re doing by this point. We know what works, we know what doesn’t, and we use that expertise to stock our store.
Eventually, we formalized these recommendations into an annual survey of RMI guides. In it, we ask them to list their top gear picks by category for everything from socks to ice axes. The items with the most votes are designated as GUIDE PICK™. Read more about GUIDE PICK™ here.