A Letter from Jim Whittaker and Dianne Roberts

We truly believe that time outside helps people grow into the best version of themselves and we’re proud to give what we can every year to The Mountaineers, who's been supporting people through places for over 100 years.
Jim Whittaker Jim Whittaker
First American to summit Mt. Everest, 77-year member
December 06, 2021

It’s hard for us to believe it’s been nearly 60 years since Jim planted the first American flag on the summit of Mount Everest, proudly representing The Mountaineers and our community of PNW adventurers. These days, you’ll most often find us spending time in our Port Townsend home, gazing out at the Olympic range and reminiscing fondly on the beauty we’ve had the privilege to experience here and around the world. As we’ve gotten older, we don’t get the chance to wander among the trees as we once did, though we regularly think about the people and experiences that helped open the door for us to enjoy the beauty and wisdom of this wild world.

Jim: My story begins in earnest with a Mountaineers course, followed by 77 years of membership that greatly influenced each chapter thereafter. Today, my wife Dianne and I are spending time reflecting on our legacy and the kind of world we want to leave behind for our kids, as well as your kids and grandkids, too. We feel fortunate to have been lifelong students of the world’s greatest teacher, Mother Nature. Supporting organizations like The Mountaineers who help people get outside and benefit from her lessons is an important way we pay it forward for those who will follow in our boot-steps.

It’s fun to remember back to 1945 and my first experiences with The Mountaineers as a wide-eyed student enrolled in Basic Climbing. I’m forever grateful to those brave volunteer instructors who were willing to welcome a stumbling teenager into their course and teach me about gravity. It was thanks to The Mountaineers that I met people who would become some of the greatest influences of my life - Lloyd Anderson, Wolf Bauer, Dee Molenaar, Ome Daiber, and more.

The values of teamwork and community were deeply instilled in me while I was learning to climb with these fellow Mountaineers. Many of you were there during my development as a young Mountaineer, too. I carried you with me to the top of Everest, and you carried me through my adventure as the first full-time employee and, ultimately, President and CEO of REI. I strive to pass on these same values whenever I introduce someone new to the outdoors, hoping they will one day ripple outwards into their communities, too. I truly believe that time outside helps people grow into the best version of themselves, and I’m proud to be a part of an organization like The Mountaineers, who’s been supporting people through places for over 100 years.

Dianne: Over the years, I’ve come to realize that while I love climbing, it’s only a piece of my outdoor identity. I also love time on the water. Give me an oar or a sail and watch my spirits sing. Some of my favorite memories are from our family’s 4-year sailing adventure around the world and back, out on the open water with the smell of salt in the air. I also love hiking, camping, and snow sports. Thinking about all of the time Jim and I spent with our sons in the wild, whatever that looked like, always makes me smile.

I deeply appreciate how The Mountaineers values diverse approaches to adventure, too. You don’t have to haul a 40lb pack across a remote glacier to be outdoorsy. Hiking, sea kayaking, mushroom foraging, trail running - the community does a great job of welcoming people who want to connect with nature in different ways. As our most vulnerable populations bear the burden of imposing threats like climate change, it’s important that organizations like The Mountaineers do everything within their power to provide accessible education so that as many people as possible feel confident in their ability to recreate safely and responsibly. Helping people experience and fall in love with our natural resources so they’re motivated to help protect them is our best path forward to facing the challenges ahead.

Jim & Dianne: Ten years ago, we were excited to learn The Mountaineers was transitioning from a membership club to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit because we knew this shift would amplify the mission of the organization to new audiences - especially those who may not otherwise have opportunities to experience the great outdoors. We’ve been so impressed by the increased focus on equity and inclusion through donor-funded initiatives like need-based scholarships, youth outreach programs, and innovative trainings for volunteer instructors.

Charitable donors are helping our Mountaineers community reach new and more diverse audiences, and that’s a really good thing because all people deserve access to the benefits of outdoor recreation and the lessons Mother Nature provides. And our wild places deserve to be protected for the next generation of community-minded adventurers.

We believe The Mountaineers has so much to be proud of, including putting the first American on the summit of Everest and launching one of the world’s most admired outdoor retailers. But our legacy is much greater than the sum of any notable achievements. It’s a tapestry of the personal stories of our members, whose lives have been shaped by a first glissade on untouched snow or a moment of awe in an old growth forest. Our collective legacy is a thriving, interwoven community of adventurers who team up together to share the outdoors and pay it forward for people and place.

While we wish that we had millions of dollars we could donate, we feel proud giving what we can every single year to support donor-funded initiatives that help make the legacy of The Mountaineers possible. As you contemplate your year-end giving, we hope you’ll join us in making an unrestricted gift to The Mountaineers. The organization has set an ambitious goal of raising $150,000 by the close of the calendar year to support legacy-driving priorities like outdoor access and conservation and advocacy. Your gift today will support new beginnings for aspiring adventurers, and protect our favorite outdoor places for those who will follow in your boot-steps.

With gratitude,

Jim and Dianne

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Lead image of Dianne and Jim at Slate Peak Lookout in the North Cascades.