But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;

they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run,

and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40: 31

 

American Indian tribes called the mountain Takhoma for "The Great Peak."  To all who have dwelled under her shadow for countless generations, or for those of us fortunate enough to have tread upon her summit snows in more modern times, it is easy to understand why.  We know why. 

 

The finest pioneering climbers and expeditionary leaders born to the greatest land on earth, the United States of America, were seasoned at one time or another on the slopes of Mount Rainier.  Forever etched at the top of the list is the first American to set foot on the summit of Mount Everest, James Whitaker, alongside Sherpa Nawang Gombu on that fateful May Day in 1963.  Jim and his twin brother, Lou, represent two of our Nation's most important and enduring living National Treasures.

 

The first time I met Jim Whitaker was in autumn of that same year, 1963, when he stopped by Maywood Hills Elementary School one evening for an impromptu talk.  I was six years old.  This school was located directly across the road from Bothell First Baptist Church, which my folks had founded.  My dad, a great orator in his own right, bounded into the chapel of the new building and declared that Jim Whitaker was doing a speaking engagement at my school.  My mother and father and I soon hit the trail and walked hand-in-hand the five minutes to the auditorium.  We had already heard about this heroic man and his journey up Mount Everest.  Who hadn't by then?   

Some of my earliest memories are of us looking back at him walking in through the doorway, all by himself, with no fanfare whatsoever.  Eventually he reached our row of foldout auditorium chairs and shook my father's hand.  Dad stood up to greet him like any man's man should and they talked in the isle for the longest while.  Then Mr. Whitaker shook my mother's hand, speaking with her as well as if they were somehow long-lost friends now reunited.  He called my mom "ma'am."  This has always been Jim's way.  Now it is my way.

Squirming restlessly between my parents was one kid, sporting a fresh new homemade Mohawk haircut, who did not intend to be left out of the conversation.  Same as today.  Mohawks were a very popular hairstyle for children back in those days, by the way.  Goofy hairdo or not, this history-making mountaineer took the time to pause in front of me and engulf my tiny hand in his huge mitt.  Big Jim Whitaker simply and warmly said, directly in my face, "Hi'ya."

 

This little elf squeaked a mighty tough "hi" right back at him buddy!

 

 

Jim and Willie and Tom and the others had only recently returned home from the world's tallest peak.  This was the Golden Age of America.  Jim was part of the "A" list with President John F. Kennedy while I was still playing with stuffed animals for goodness sake, so I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Mr. Whitaker.  Jim Wickwire also found his start on the slopes of Mount Rainier, leading up to his mind-numbingly spectacular and historic ascent of K2 as a young man.  "Wick" must have taken advantage of some frequent flyer miles with his complimentary night out near the second highest point on earth.  Only he can say why.  Yes, the "other" Jim is awesomely impressive too! 

The late Willie Unsoeld, Barry Bishop, and Marty Hoey also knew plenty about Mount Rainier.  Then there are the names of still living persons such as Tom, Larry, Phil, George, John, Fred and many others, who will also forever echo throughout mountaineering lore.  Following later in their giant footprints came Scott Fisher, Eric Simonson, and a freak-of-nature climber who used to be a Veterinarian Doctor.  Anyone who truly loves pets as much as I do, like Ed Viesturs, must be a bird of a feather.  

 

Phil Ershler once carefully explained to me how it is always wise to keep your eyes focused directly in front of you, only a few feet ahead of your boot tips, rather than constantly looking up at the summit of any given mountain.  This was sound advice; a bit of sage I would carry along through some historic times atop the volcanoes of Washington State, which awaited even little old me.  Never could he have imagined what meeting him would mean to this amateur mountaineer.

"Glancing up all the time will only wear you out more," he said. 

Ershler knows a thing or two about Mount Rainier, as he does about Mount Everest, having reached the summit of the former an astonishing 400+ times.  "Climbing a big mountain is like eating an elephant, Glenn," this storied mountaineer told this star-struck cub as we sat and talked together one afternoon in the lobby of Red Lion Inn in Bellevue, Washington.  Although I had royally messed up our restaurant reservations that day in May of 1986 and was embarrassed beyond belief -- he remained cordial over our no-lunch lunch.  I owe him a good meal for sure.  And maybe some sponsorship, Phil? 

"You have to take it one bite at a time," he went on to say. 

"But Glenn," he suddenly announced as if from a major epiphany, "were I to guide you up Rainier, you would only end up hating my guts."  When a faint smile crossed his lips I wondered if he was serious, or if he was just having fun at my expense.  Probably some of both.  Fair enough, for were the first American to climb the North Face of Mount Everest a soldier rather than a mountain guide, Phil Ershler would surely have a chest full of medals.  I had no medals.  Not even a pin.

 

George Dunn now holds the Gold Medal in regard to Mount Rainier, with over 500 ascents of the peak and counting -- plus 40 winter ascents.  Most impressive.  He reached the summit of Everest, via the Northeast Ridge, in 1991.  Well of course.  Like, it was about time Geo.  

  

Stopping for a brief chat with Dunn one day above 13,000-feet on Mount Rainier while he descended from the summit with his team, as I aspired to lead my own ascent of Washington's tallest mountain somewhere in the mid-1990's, his mop of blond hair was all combed immaculately off to one side.  Not even a bead of sweat seemed to seep from his forehead as we spoke, nor was a single hair really out of place above his glowingly tanned face. 

I just hate meeting guys like this.

"The wind is blowing at over 80 miles an hour up there," he said, pointing up and over his shoulder.  "I highly recommend that you turn around," he screamed back at me in the wind.  Looking up at a massive storm cloud surging over the summit not far above, we took his advice and begrudgingly headed back down the mountain.  Compared to this movie star-looking dude, my two friends and I looked like a trio of skinny, pale, soaking wet muskrats.

 

*     *     *     *     *

So check this out...

 

Quite a number of years later I was a state-licensed Professional Driving Instructor and happened to teach George Dunn's youngest son to drive, at the rather prestigious Eastside Catholic School.  It was all I could do to stay focused while discussing his son's pretty good driving skills with him.  Now this is just plain weird.  Or rather, maybe prophetic.  I hope his kid has been safe on the road in the interim.  

*     *     *     *     *

 

In 1982 a chap by the name of Larry Nielson very nearly nailed the North Face of Mount Everest solo, without bottled oxygen.  Nielson paid dearly for this.  As he sat in his tent high upon Chomolungma, two descending climbers passed him by and left him for dead.  None other than Phil Ershler sacrificed his own summit bid on Everest this time to make an epic ascent with a super-Sherpa, hoping to reach his friend and help get him down from there.  Good Karma would soon come back to Phil for this kind and selfless act.

Lou Whitaker carried Larry on his back at the conclusion of that sad and fateful 1982 Expedition, as our Country had just so tragically lost Miss Marty Hoey.  This is what heroes are all about in my book.

 

By the way, in the spring of 1983, Nielson persevered with blood in his boots and a couple of broken ribs to become the first American to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen!  His story should long ago have been made into a movie.  And yet most people who have ever met Larry would describe him as an intense, but sweet, fun and modest man.

 

Larry Nielson related the story of how Ershler had saved his life as we sat sunning ourselves one Sunday afternoon atop Mount St. Helens.  We had just hiked the peak with a fairly large group of people I had assembled for an adventure.  The moment was not lost on me as he and I sat alone on the Crater Rim conversing quietly, looking out upon Mount Rainier, just chillin' man.

 

Before sunrise earlier that day, Larry had produced an empty plastic mayonnaise container in which I served him up a big glob of pan-fried roast beef hash.  He didn't seem to have any complaints.  And I still have that container.         

 

The Flintstones: 

Larry Nielson with Glenn Williams.

 

 

Several months after mailing in a thoughtful and comprehensive eleven-page application in 1991, requesting a special-use permit to climb Mount Rainier solo, a letter arrived in the mail one day with the return address of Mount Rainier National Park.  Foil embossed in red and blue, this was a nice touch against the white envelope.  I thought they had forgotten about me.  It was obvious by the weight and thinness of the envelope that this was a single-page reply.  It was a straight up 'yes' or a 'no'.  

Had my request been too thoughtful?  

 

The contents of the envelope was either an answer to prayer for me, or a complete and total rejection by the big dogs that walk in the tall grass.  This pup wanted to wander the fields with them, if only for a moment in my life.

    

Dear Mr. Williams,

 

Thank you for your concise approach to your plans to climb Mount Rainier solo.  We approve of your application with the condition that you sign in at Paradise Ranger Station before leaving.  You may pick up your permit there.  We also ask that you use our "Blue-Bag" system.  

 

Please notify us once you are back down.

 

Good luck and please be careful!

 

I allowed myself a little dance there at the mailbox before walking back to the house.  To everyone at Mount Rainier National Park, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to at least try.  

 

As far as my parents were concerned for the usual birthday thing on the 21st, I said I would be away that day ... just not where to.

 

The purple mountain rose up before me as I left Paradise in the early morning hours of July 20th, happily and easily making my way up over countless sun cups to Camp Muir in only a few hours.  It all seemed so simple: I would go climb Mount Rainier the next day and stand atop Columbia Crest in the sunlight of my 34th birthday.  This would be a repeat of my first solo ascent of any of these Cascade volcanoes, atop Mount Adams, back on my 30th birthday.  It would be perhaps the most glorious, mind-blowing event of my life to reach the summit of Mount Rainier that morning!

So what else would you rather do on a birthday if you could?  Probably lots of things.

Or maybe nothing.

 

Mount Adams ain't no Mount Rainier though and the party wasn't to be had this time, as bad weather arrived onshore overnight.  Not all things work out just so, especially when it comes to climbing these major peaks of the Pacific Northwest.  The sheer ferocity of a lenticular cloud wailing up over the summit of Mount Rainier turned me around near the top of a steep and unforgiving part of the route called Disappointment Cleaver.  "Beaver Cleaver."  Looking up, it was clear that this storm would not subside anytime soon.  

All around and beneath me was lots of air, where a single slip or fall from anywhere along the way would have sent me flying thousands of feet.  Were I to continue amidst this storm, it would only be to end up high upon the volcano all by my lonesome.  Lots of bad things could happen then.  Even if I did make the summit it would be at a tremendous risk.  And what about the descent?  Already, with my perpetually skinny legs beginning to shake from fear alone, there was a substantial possibility that I might not make it back down "The Beave" in one piece as it was.  

Rest assured that after taking that first step down, the others don't seem quite so bad.  Just don't look past your boots, since each and every stride holds the potential to be a real doozy for you.  

 

Mount Rainier had given me an extremely cold welcome.  I had been soundly defeated fair and square.  I had failed and was admittedly fairly shaken up by the experience.  This would be my first and last such attempt up there.  Successful solo ascents of five of the six volcanoes from Washington's Mount Baker to Oregon's Mount Hood would have to suffice into my old age.  As I drove away, looking at that cloud-capped monster through the rearview mirror of my old Pontiac Grand Prix, I gave her a brief hand gesture.  Forget you read that.   

The final score was Mount Rainier 1, Glenn 0.

 

Near the top of Beaver again 72 hours later as the storm continued, the wind seemed to find its way into every item of loose clothing on me.  It was all I could do to stay on my feet.  The night before at Camp Muir had been a miserable one with people snoring and burping and farting all through the hours.  I probably added to the ambiance by jabbering away in my sleep, as is apparently so often the case. 

What a mess.  

A tent is much better any time, higher up.   

Trying to sort myself out near the top of the solidly frozen Disappointment Cleaver as dawn began to illuminate the eastern horizon, suddenly this seemed like a crazy proposition.  So I reluctantly turned around and started to make those super-scary steps down, descended the ridge and glaciers below again, signed out at "Paradise" and drove home feeling sad and defeated.  There would be no more solo attempts on Mount Rainier for me, ever ever ever.  I meant it this time.  I had had enough, or so I told my closest friends and a few select family members and anyone else who would still listen to me by then.

Enough of this montaņa.  No mas.  Muy mal!

Mount Rainier 2, Glenn 0.

 

After driving over 100 miles to the entrance of Mount Rainier National Park another two days later, loaded for bar, I sat there looking up at that same cloud cap hammering the summit dome.  Did I want to pay another $5 to enter the Park again if I couldn't get to Columbia Crest?  No.  Three bucks maybe, but not five.  

Mount Rainier 3, Glenn 0.

 

Soon weather conditions were clearly on the mend across the entire Pacific Northwest.  The summit was easily visible while I was out to get the mail again one day, standing tall above a puffy layer of pink clouds at sunset.  The low-pressure center had finally passed.  And I did happen to have one long-sought-after special-use permit back yonder at the house...

Lurking beneath a hot shower around the pumpkin hour of midnight, scared half out of my wits already, it seemed reasonable that it wouldn't hurt to at least go up and take one more look around.  I could always turn back at any point along the way.  Nothing was driving me, but me, right?

 

After gaining almost 6,000 feet in elevation to Ingraham Flats in exactly four hours and three minutes later that morning, I installed my tent amidst a small throng of other climbers.  Making my way over to the base of a towering rock formation, looking for uncontaminated snow to melt for water, poking around with my ice axe the glacier fell in only one foot ahead of me to reveal a gigantic moat.  One more step and I would have fallen to my death inside of there.

They don't call this the King of the Cascades for nothing.

 

Day had turned to night and then to day again at the passing of the midnight hour.  Emerging in hot waves from one half-baked dream or another, drenched in perspiration, my travel alarm clock played its annoying little chime.  More than ever, I did not want to get out of bed.  Thinking about all the times I had feigned illness with my mother on a school day or especially a Sunday morning, moaning and groaning away, only to miraculously recover and be out riding my bike with friends by about noon, this was no kid's stuff.

 

When I heard the faint clanking of ice axes over on Disappointment Cleaver and spotted lights dotting the ridge, I pounded down some mush and lots of water.  Too much water.  Too much mush.  Suddenly I had to go in a little blue bag within the close confines of my tent, for modesty sake with the other climbers.  Yes, how sweet.  But bagging and tagging is just part of climbing Rainier in the modern era.  

 

Since there was really nothing left for me to do than don my carefully prepared Jansport summit pack and strike out up the hill, I got out on the glacier and climbed like hell with all my might, as if for my very life!  It's always good to keep in mind that just as one can drown in only ten inches of water in a bathtub, a fall of only 10 feet or 100 feet can be just as lethal as one of 1,000 feet.  It's all the same past a certain point.  I am no Whitaker or Wickwire, no Ershler or Nielson or Dunn, no Visteurs here ... couldn't even carry their crampons.

Catching up with a group of heavy-breathing climbers nevertheless, who were obviously ascending from Camp Muir, they pulled aside the trail to let me buzz past while one of them vomited.  Feeling my oats that morning, there is nothing quite like the sight or smell of a glacier way early in the morning, the crevasses or the sound and cadence of your crampons against snow or ice as you blast up a glacier one or two-thousand feet at a time without stopping.  It's all about balance; forget about the strength or endurance part.  Then there is the thrill of death at your doorstep, should you make a single misstep anywhere along the way.  Total commitment. 

Altogether, back in those days, there was something almost addicting about solo climbing to me.  

 

 

Hammering my way to the top of 1,200-foot high Disappointment Cleaver in only twenty-five minutes, without looking down even once, I was stunned to see how the route above had changed.  Rather than taking a more or less direct course up "DC" and then on up Ingraham Glacier to the East Crater Rim, a down-sloping two-foot wide trail wound perilously to the right for a mile or more along the side of Emmons Glacier, then eventually to the mountaintop.  So this chicken pecked away, carefully placing my ice axe in the holes at left made by other climbers ahead of me.  No mistakes were allowed here, lest I fall into a dizzying maze of crevasses below.

  

It's good to keep in mind that the farther out on a limb you go, the further you have to go to get back.

 

Reaching the rocks of East Crater a few hours later, after jumping another series of huge crevasses along the way, a well-worn notch along the Crater wall led to the basin floor.  The snow inside the crater was surprisingly firm for the first ten to fifteen feet, then I began to plunge in up to my knees with each step.  It's called "post-holing" and it is pure misery wherever you are.  Yet since obvious tracks led the rest of the way to the mountain's very tippy-top, success would be mine that day.  At that point I was working and sweating too hard to cry. 

Outside the crater the wind had been freezing cold.  And yet not far inside it was boiling hot.  In an otherwise blisteringly cold environment, anyone who has ever been there can tell you how the sun's reflection off the snow can be as tough and relentless as darkness and hypothermia.  The deeper into this ancient volcanic crater I went the higher the temperature rose, until it hit a scorching 103 degrees according to a tiny thermometer dangling from a string on my Jansport daypack. 

 

Waddling at the base of a final slope leading to Columbia Crest, by then my goose-down suit felt more like a giant diaper than a smart-looking mountaineering outfit.  This is all to say, I know my place in these mountains.

 

Steam poured from fissures in the soft pumice and rose high into the air, adding a dramatic and surreal touch to these conclusive moments of this Washingtonian's long-held dreams and ambitions.  All in the course of making ten steps up the opposite side of the crater, I went from the frying pan to the freezer again: hot cold hot cold hot cold hot cold hot cold.  How could anything get any better than this?

A hundred more steps and you've got itYou've done it then, I told myself.  

Off to one side was Mount Baker, hovering on the northern horizon -- the glorious and brutal summit plateau of which I had already spent a total of five weeks -- with Mount Pilchuck positioned squarely between the two volcanoes.  This is where I got my humble start.  To the other side was Mount Adams in all its glory; better left for another story and another day.  Then there was fabled old Mount St. Helens; the second major peak I had recently added to my life's bucket list of big adventure (22 days).  

 

For now a long dreamt-of circle was about to close atop Mount Rainier; step step, inhale, plant the ice axe, step step, exhale, plant the axe ... step step, inhale, step step, exhale, just as General Ershler had told me how to do four years before.    

 

With the final setting of my boots upon the highest point in Washington State, once one of the scrawniest kids in all of North America had now proven those doctors wrong.  There would be no life confined to a wheelchair for me, pals.  No way.  Screw you and your medical diagnosis.  

Exceptionally clear-headed while on my knees upon the snows of Columbia Crest, absorbing the silence and majesty of it all, a duo of yappy climbers messed up my chi as they ascended from a different route with the usual rope and clanking tackle.  Hey, sshhhh.  Quieting down as I gave them "a Clint Eastwood look" from the mountain's highest point, their leader handed me an awesome Nikon SLR.  After taking a picture of them with the East Crater nicely framed in the background, I handed back his camera along with my own El Cheap'o brand Disposable.  He snapped a picture of me, handed it back and down over the edge they went just like that.  Thank goodness.  

I didn't get up the entire time and nary a word was exchanged between us.  

None were necessary.  

Passing ships.

 

Alone again I soaked in the majesty of the view... and oh, what a mighty mighty view!

 

Eventually rising to my feet and circling fully around I paused to take one more look at sunbeams shining softly through a thin layer of clouds off to the southwest.  There was all of Washington State set out before me, and there was all of Oregon State.  Turning to look east, there was Idaho like some crazy landscape dream off in the distance.  Whew.

  

So I threw my arms up over my head and yelled and did the best Rocky dance I could with my diaper suit on!

 

There was no time to get emotional and all warm and fuzzy about this - another time maybe - since the descent is always the most dangerous part of any climb.  Everyone knows that.  But boy did I ever want to in the worst way as sunrays waved back and forth across the East Crater, glowing and glimmering, shimmering down in a wide spectrum against the distant horizon ... tears brimmed upon my eyelids, but never ever fell over.  Not a single drop.

 

Mount Rainier 3, Glenn 1.

 

 

 

Snow fell gently from a patch of coal gray sky by the time I began retracing the route over numerous, massive crevasses.  The Boor's Tooth area was particularly scary for me.  Inclement weather was closing in on the mountain again, so it was time to boogie, lest I die up there that day.

 

Atop the Cleaver an hour or so later, standing before a four-foot-wide "bottomless" crevasse I had leaped across earlier that morning without thinking about it much, sunlight streamed into this fathomless hole as a trickle of water ran down and off the end of an icicle within arm's reach to my right.  Every part of my being told me not to cross that crevasse.  Breaking off the icicle, with it I quenched my rampant thirst.  As I thought about how home lay somewhere on the opposite side, promising myself that I would never ever do this kind of thing again - sure - someone behind me yelled "hey, get going pal!"  So I jumped the damned crevasse. 

 

After making yet another super-frightening descent of Disappointment Cleaver - which entails the crossing of an especially airy little traverse at its base, along a teeny-tiny trail with a thousand-foot drop-off into a yawning icefall awaiting the unwary traveler to your left - all of the sudden I was back at my bivouac site, pretty much numb all over.  Removing my crampons one at a time as if on automatic and crawling into my shelter with my boots still on, I took a big look back up at the King of the Cascades and allowed myself that good cry ... then fell asleep with dried tears glued to my nearly scarlet face.

 

A deep chill had set in by the time I awoke.  It was now late afternoon and I was all wrung out.  In the interim of only a few hours the sun had pulled a disappearing act behind a bank of clouds; the temperature had plummeted.  Looking out the hatch of my tent, shivering all over again and rubbing my eyes in the stark glare, nothing around me seemed familiar.  So what's up with that?  

Eventually I got my head together, packed up and prepared for a leisurely sightseeing descent to Paradise.  This time it really would be like Paradise, rather than another cruel joke.  Making my way over to a place called "Moon Rocks," opting for a moment of reflection, this astronaut watched as Takhoma rose above the clouds and towered gloriously overhead in the screaming, streaming sunlight.  

Weeping again, boy did this ever feel good. 

 

I had now looked upon the face of something more spiritual than physical, more eternal than temporal, more than merely a mountain.

 

As if to underscore the serious nature of this type of activity, not many days later two roped climbers fell into that same crevasse atop the Cleaver.  One of them was seriously injured, while his friend was killed in the fall.  Moments later and within direct sight of that same crevasse an unauthorized solo climber tripped over the ends of his crampons and plunged off to his death.  The two main routes on Mount Rainier were officially closed to climbing for the year that day.

So there you go.

 

 

Ten years later, in September of 2000, not long after my bumpy return home from a 26-day solo stay on the summit of Glacier Peak - the second of only two primary volcanoes in all the North Cascade Range (Mount Baker is the other, of course) - I found myself sitting across a table from a publicity agent in a cafe in Ellensburg.  She had phoned the day before and asked if we could meet.  When it came to the strong prospect of appearing on the biggest television talk show of them all, what didn't this woman understand about "no?"  Having rarely ever heard of the "O show" and caring even less, I wasn't interested in going on a stupid talk show looking like some prison camp survivor.    

 

Still the agent persisted, explaining how important this could be for my future.  And she was buying lunch, after all.  

 

You know in retrospect, maybe I should have taken heed of her advice, because poverty totally sucks. 

 

Although we had originally decided to meet at a truck-stop restaurant next to Interstate-90 for breakfast, she called again later to ask if we could meet at a more fancy and intimate cafe in downtown Ellensburg for lunch instead?  Whatever.

The scent of the breakfast menu in this place still lingered in the air, holding that almost indefinable scent of the western world ... of Americana.  So I relaxed and settled in for some storytelling.  Just as I had finished describing how I had once met Lou Whitaker while descending Mount Rainier on one of my solo attempts all those years back, of how he was so kind to this amateur mountaineer - about meeting both of these inspiring brothers - a tall skinny guy stood up in the booth directly behind the agent.  Food fell out of my mouth as I said, "in fact, that's Jim or Lou right there!"  

You may not believe this any more than we did, but it was Lou Whitaker himself.   

I wondered if they had set this up.

Definitely not.

 

Lou and his amazingly spiritual wife, Ingrid, "happened" to be traveling through from Spokane to their home in Western Washington and "happened" to have chosen that particular cafe there in downtown Ellensburg at the last moment.  Having just uttered Lou Whitaker's name, this scene was all so surreal that I could barely breathe.  Now this was a moment.  

Eventually Lou and I broke off from the ladies and discussed the virtues of Jansport China-Everest tents and packs.  We shared notes about starvation in the mountains, his childhood, my childhood, and talked about a practically insane guy who had once tried to camp alone atop Mount Rainier for a week "in search of God."  They had to bonk him on the head to get him in a helicopter and off of there.  Hmmm. 

 

Apologizing to Lou as I continually pulled my pants back up over my hips, since I had lost an extreme amount of weight over the past six weeks, he seemed to appreciate this more than most people would.  Looking me directly in the eyes as his brother once had, finally Mr. Whitaker put his hand on my shoulder and said, "no, don't.  It's okay."   

For the life of me though, as this gentleman told me sweet stories of how he and his siblings, raised in the Great Depression era as they were, had had to pull their britches up a time or two also, I could not get over the similarity between him and his big brother in good looks and demeanor.  Like Jim, Lou is as friendly and humble a man as you could ever imagine.

 

Yes, they are "living treasures." 

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

The second time I crossed paths with the elder of the Whitaker twins was in 1990, at a counter in a crowded photo lab in downtown Seattle.  I thought he was Lou.  When some major-tall guy shuffled in beside me, everyone else seemed to move aside.  Craning my neck up and to the left, way up, there he was!  Imagine that.  Now what a coincidence.  Throughout your lifetime, certain images become indelibly engrained in your mind.  Who hasn't seen Lincoln on a five-dollar bill a million times?  Then, there you are face to face.  This is what it is like to be in the presence of one of the Whitaker twins. 

 

As it turned out, Jim had read about my expedition on the summit of Mount Baker in the Mountaineers "Journal" as well as on the front page of the Seattle Times.  Finally getting my chance to ask him what on earth he was doing in Bothell all those decades ago, he said he had friends in town and that he had done quite a few speaking engagements in the aftermath of Everest.  Of course.  He seemed intrigued that meeting him at such a young and tender age had had such a lasting impression upon me.  Yes, well, yes.

Back to the future I went over the next few moments ... only this time, rather than a firm and yet gentle shake of a child's hand, characteristically, Jim leaned forward as if to say something; some secret just between us.  "Your an animal!" he shouted as he gave me a great big whack on the back!  This is also Jim's way.  Caught off guard, my teeth were almost sent to clattering out of my chops.

 

As I headed for the door of Ivey Seawright with a precious autograph in hand, he shouted back across the room, "Williams, I am really impressed by you.  Quite impressed."  Everyone in the store hushed, even the people behind the counter, then looked at him and back over at me.  There you are all caught up in the spotlight of your own legend.  Just don't ever buy into it for even a moment, or you are done for.

 

Giving back to the future: Glenn Williams with Cub Scout Pack 66, discussing volcanoes and dinosaurs and stuff.

 

Going over "the gear" part of an expedition with some future mountaineers. 

 

 

Above two photos by Pack Leader: Ken Smith.