SEATTLE — He’s climbed Mount Rainier more than 250 times. He’s survived avalanches. He’s had both knees replaced. Now he’s 84 years old. And he still downhill and cross-country skis.
If you don’t know who Lou Whittaker is, let me introduce him. He’s is a world-renowned mountaineer who grew up in Seattle and began climbing in the Olympics and Cascades as a teen with his twin brother, Jim. The two have summitted the world’s most formidable peaks and have lived to tell the stories. Lou went on to start the Rainier Mountaineering Inc., which continues to guide thousands of lowlanders to the mountain’s summit every year.
If it sounds like Lou is larger than life, he is. I recently had the pleasure of spending a couple days with Lou and his wife, Ingrid, and I actually had to stand on a chair in order to capture an eye-level portrait of him.
My EarthFix colleague Amelia Templeton and I were interviewing Lou about his early days of guiding on Mount Rainier for a story you’ll have to keep an eye out for next month.
During the interview, I found myself thinking Lou’s remarkable life could fill an entire documentary. Well, I wasn’t the first to have that thought. A new documentary was completed earlier this year called, “A Life in the Mountains: The Legacy of Lou Whittaker.” There’s a public screening on Monday, Sept. 16 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16 at the Seattle Central Library. Following the screening, director Laszlo Pal, screenwriter Dan McConnell and Lou himself will be host a question-and-answer session. The documentary is also showing Sept. 20 at the Port Townsend Film Festival.
If you can’t make the screening, the documentary is available to view online. I’ve already watched it. But I’m still planning to attend the screening next week in hopes of hearing more of Lou’s fantastic stories and inspiring words of wisdom.
At the end of our recent interview, I asked Lou to tell us which mountain was his favorite. He nodded toward Mount Rainier, the mountain that’s always been in his backyard.
“If you don’t like the mountains, you’re not living here,” he said.
Well said, Lou. Well said.
— Katie Campbell