A Life on the Edge

My father's greatest living heroes were John Glenn and Jim Whittaker - a physical giant with a huge heart, a decent soul, and inspirational courage. We can all be grateful that Whittaker has finally put his extraordinary life on paper. Whittaker's story is a riveting saga of high adventure by one of history's greatest climbers.

—Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Click here to see inside the book! (Then order a personalized copy from our store.)

Click here to see inside the book! (Then order a personalized copy from our store.)

In May of 1963 Seattle mountaineer Jim Whittaker stepped into world history by becoming the first American to summit Mount Everest. Fifty years later, he is still regarded as a seminal figure in North American mountaineering, as well as an astute businessman who helped create the outdoor recreation industry.

A Life on the Edge: Memoirs of Everest and Beyond is Jim's courageous, no-punches-pulled autobiography and a look at a peripatetic, sometimes difficult life. Beyond the glory of the Everest summit and his other extraordinary climbing feats, including the first American summit of K2, he openly describes his personal, "everyman" experience of social upheaval in the 1960s and 70s, an early divorce, family strife, a passionate new love later in life, near-bankruptcy, and business triumphs and losses. Jim tells it all with verve and honesty and, true to his nature, turns every setback into the stage for new adventure.

This special edition commemorates the 50th anniversary of the first American ascent of Mt. Everest. It includes a new foreword by Ed Viesturs, more than 100 photos, and a new final chapter that brings readers up-to-date, including details of Jim's trek to Everest Base Camp in 2012 at the age of 83, and his son Leif’s recent successful summits of Everest.

Read the publisher's press release for A Life on the Edge: Anniversary Edition (PDF).

My Old Man and The Mountain

A fresh perspective on a famous father and a legacy forged on the icy slopes of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. Leif Whittaker finds a path of his own among a family—father, mother, uncle, cousins—of famous adventurers. 


My Old Man and the Mountain is Leif Whittaker’s engaging and humorous story of what it was like to “grow up Whittaker”—the youngest son of Jim Whittaker and Dianne Roberts, in an extended family of accomplished climbers. He shares glimpses of his upbringing and how the pressure to climb started early on. Readers learn of his first adventures with family in the Olympic Mountains and on Mount Rainier; his close yet at times competitive relationship with his brother Joss; his battle with a serious back injury; and his efforts to stand apart from his father’s legacy. With wry honesty he depicts being a recent college grad, still living in his parents’ home and trying to find a purpose in life—digging ditches, building houses, selling t-shirts to tourists—until a chance encounter leads to the opportunity to climb Everest, just like his father did.

Leif heads to Nepal with all the excitement, irony, boredom, and trepidation that are part of high-altitude climbing. Well-known guides Dave Hahn and Melissa Arnot figure prominently in his story, as does “Big Jim.” But Leif’s story is not his father’s story. It’s a unique coming of age tale on the steep slopes of Everest and a climbing adventure that lights the imagination and fills an emotional human endeavor with universal meaning.