MOUNTAINEERING -- Sen. Robert Kennedy never bragged about being the first man to reach the summit of Canada's Mount Kennedy with Jim Whitakker 50 years ago this week. He said he was humbled by the experience.
Two weeks after the climb, in an April 9, 1965, article in Life Magazine, RFK wrote:
I now have great admiration for those who climb mountains, particularly those who were my companions on Mt. Kennedy for three days and nights. Two of the men I climbed with -- Jim Whittaker and Barry Prather -- had been in the famous American expedition that conquered Everest, but all seven men in the party possessed certain qualities one finds in the best of mountain men: a keen intelligence, an obvious willingness to undergo pain and discomfort for an objective, and a very high degree of courage. Theirs is not blind, inexplicable, meaningless courage. It is courage with ability, brains, tenacity of purpose.
Winston Churchill called this kind of courage "the first of human qualities...because it is the quality which guarantees all others."
I might add that none of my companions, either in action or in word, dwelt on the dangers ofmountain climbing. In fact, in our conversations they insisted that politics was far more dangerous than climbing.
It's fitting that two of Jim Whittaker's sons are working on a documentary to revisit the spirit of the Mount Kennedy climb and connect it with the environmental ethic the first American on Everest continues to preach. The video will culminate with the sons and other climbers scaling Mount Kennedy in May 2015.
Leif Whittaker, 30, of Bellingham and Bobby Whittaker, 48, who splits his time between Seattle and an off-the-grid cabin in Ferry County, pitched the documentary idea to Eric Becker, a 35-year-old filmmaker. Among other works, Becker has produced a short film about Jim Whittaker, “A Life Well-Lived” (see below).
“I think Eric will do a great job of mixing old footage with our climb to explore where we are 50 years later," said Bobby Whittaker, who's named after RFK.
“Jim’s story is one of macho extreme alpinism, but Eric found the emotional and environmental elements and brought them out in A Life Well-Lived.”
Leif, Jim Whittaker's youngest son, has climbed Mount Everest twice as well as other peaks around the world. He is a summer climbing ranger on Mount Baker.
Bobby Whittaker has worked in the music industry for 25 years. "I have a lot of work to do getting in shape for Mount Kennedy," he said. "My brother runs circles around me in the mountains."
Point in history: Incidentally, people who might downgrade the importance of the Mount Kennedy first ascent because the mountain is only 13,944-feet in elevation are simply not tuned in to the 1960s and the emotions of the nation. Climbers in the March 24, 1965, first-ascent party of Mount Kennedy included:
- Jim Whittaker (1929-)
- Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)
- George R. Senner (1922–2003)
- Dee Molenaar (1918-)
- Bill Prater (1926-2010)
- Barry Prather (1940-1987)
- William Albert Allard (1937-)