Saturday January 21st at 5:00 PM we are thrilled to present Leif Whittaker for a presentation and slide show on his memoir, My Old Man and the Mountain. Of course the Mountain is Everest, highest peak in the world. But what sets this book apart is Leif’s gifted writing. He has a happy go lucky style that makes the reader feel as if you are listening to a good friend recount his adventures. And what magnificent adventures this very young man has lived! While still a school kid, his parents took him and his brother Josh on a four year, home schooled, sailing adventure. They sold their possessions, moved onboard their sailboat, and left everything behind as they embraced any wonders the world cared to put in their way.
Leif started climbing in his teens, spurred on by his brother. I admire his athleticism and commitment to training. He has a love of books, so to build up strength he would load his knapsack with heavy tomes then power uphill on trails near his Port Townsend home. A back injury required surgery and left him with nerve damage in one leg, but that did not slow him down. Commitment and drive are strong in his personality.
For a climber of a certain caliber, the pull of Everest is seductive. This most magnificent of mountains is a dangerous love, the corpses of many are held on Everest. When Leif was offered the opportunity to climb the highest peak in the world, he accepted the challenge. There are many books from climbers who have tackled Everest and about climbers who did not heed Ed Veisturs’ advice; “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” What sets this story apart is Leif’s lively writing style and refreshing candor. There is so much more to the story than the physical toil of climbing. Leif shares the challenges of climbing Everest, but he also tells his story with wit and such an open, engaging style that it is not just the facts, although they are there, it is also fun to read.
While still in high school, Leif went with his family on a trip to base camp, the beginning of any climb up Everest. He reacts to the mountain with a sense of awe, wonder, and an incredibly sensible emotion, fear. “… I’ve never seen anything like the Khumbu Icefall. It’s a shifting and crumbling maze of glacier, a frozen waterfall about fifteen times taller than the tallest waterfall at Niagara Falls. It’s breaking and falling and reorganizing every hour of every day. It’s just like Sir Edmund Hillary famously described it: “tottering chaos.”” Not so many years hence, he would be traversing that broken landscape in an attempt to reach the summit. His description of the summit is dazzling, it made me want to see that view myself! Reading it was a gift.
Decades ago Everest was the penultimate peak for serious, accomplished, mountaineers; men who risked their lives going where few men had gone before. Today there are guided tours going up the mountain, leaving behind the evidence of their passage in discarded items. How many are too many? How much is the danger increased by the inevitable delays of so many people climbing? These are questions today’s climbers face that were not imagined in decades past.
That brings us to the other half of My Old Man and the Mountain. Leif Whittaker’s father, Jim, was the first American to reach the summit of Everest. He is climbing royalty. A charismatic, virile, steamroller of a man, he casts a long shadow. Leif grew up in the shade of that shadow and is open about his conflicts with the legacy of being a Whittaker. He yearns to be known for himself, not a reflection of his father. I do not believe this is going to be a problem for him. Read his book and you will see what I mean. Leif Whittaker has a huge talent; this is a writer to watch. Still young, he is coming to terms with the father he admires and loves, while also finding his way out from under the expectations of being the son of a man with such an impressive list of amazing accomplishments. Like I said, not going to be a long term problem, Leif has a talent all his own and he has already stood atop the tallest mountain on the planet. For my opinion, he has nothing more to prove.
Jim Whittaker gave his son the journal of his 1963 climb to take with him. Leif shares accounts of his father’s climb along with the accounts of his own. It is fascinating, this juxtaposition of the two climbs, father and son. When he reaches the top, his father, along with other climbers who have gone before, seem to be right there with him. Read the account, it is moving.
Call 541-593-2525 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by Sunriver Books & Music to sign up to attend this free presentation. There will be drawings for prizes and light refreshments.