Descending from the top of the world, Jim Whittaker spied a single blade of grass, and was moved to tears. Having battled his way up and down Mount Everest, Whittaker walked out of that barren, frozen world into Nepal's spring fields, ecstatic to see some color -- and simply be alive. Whittaker relayed this memory at a reception hosted by Eddie Bauer Jan. 31, honoring the 40th anniversary of the first American team to summit Everest.
Whittaker presented a slide show to a large contingent of outdoor and national media, describing details of the 1963 Everest climb, noting that the journey involved 907 sherpas (one with six toes on one foot) and 27 tons of equipment. One gray image showed the long train of climbers and sherpas stretching forever down the mountain. Whittaker said it would take four hours for the procession to pass you by. (And the crowd let out a collective whistle).
After the slide show, Whittaker was asked about a ring on one of his fingers, and he explained that it was made from a rock he found on the summit. "It cost more than a diamond, as far as I'm concerned," he said. Later, Whittaker told SNEWS how he had once visited the Smithsonian and stood before a moon rock brought back by Neil Armstrong. An interesting juxtaposition, we thought. Two explorers -- each with a souvenir chunk from his own giant leap. The crowd raised their glasses as climber and filmmaker David Breashears toasted Whittaker for his "vision and courage."
In all, the event held some truly memorable moments, particularly Whittaker's reflections on nature, and the emotional impact of forests, which he described as quiet cathedrals. It was heartening that after a massive achievement -- summitting the tallest mountain in the world -- Whittaker could still see the beauty of nature in its simplest form. "You come down off the mountain and see that first blade of grass and you smell the dirt and you have tears in your eyes," he said. "It's the most beautiful thing."
SNEWS View: Folks, that's what it's all about. 'Nuff said.