Saturday, December 18, 2010

Higher Purpose, by Tom Whittaker

Tom Whittaker becomes the first disabled person to climb Everest in his Higher Purpose. Ever since he lost his foot in a car wreck, Whittaker has spent his life forcing people (especially the disabled!) to reconsider their perception of the disabled. Both before and after his accident, Whittaker followed his passion of outdoor adventure. After he lost his foot, he came to realize that sharing this drive with other disabled people and getting them to do things they never imagined possible was both an inspiration to them and the key to his own fulfillment.

I found it very interesting to watch Whittaker morph from a climbing nomad with high ambitions to a empathetic and inspirational individual who finds a positive outlet for his drive. After several years of helping other disabled people see through their adventurous dreams, he is invited on a South Col Everest climb in 1989. He makes the stipulation that he be invited as a climber, and not a marketing device on this trip. He, Andy Lapkiss, and some Sherpas make a harrowing escape from the mountain on this trip, and ultimately, he does not make it to the top this time.

Whittaker returns to Everest in 1995 with Greg Child after they catch up at an outdoor convention and hatch a scheme to market their climb. Once again, no dice for Whittaker, but Child does provide him the inspiration he needs to return. Whittaker makes another effort in 1998 from the South Col, but this time, he is supported by his friends from his early days of helping the disabled believe in themselves. Six of his friends, with 3 legs between them, make the trek to Base Camp to send him off on his trip up the mountain. You'll have to read the rest.

I had to read this book after I found out from Douglas and Rose's Regions of the Heart that this was the guy that Greg Child accompanied to Everest in 1995. I'm a big fan of Greg Child, and I thought it would be fun to get a feel for him from another perspective. I also thought it would be fun to read a much longer version of the story Child writes in Postcards from the Ledge about their trip to Everest. Child also appears in this book during Whittaker's 1978 ascent of El Capitan's "The Nose." I was surprised not to read anything about Alison Hargreaves, since she, too, was climbing under the supervision of Russel Brice on the north side of Everest that same season.

Overall, I found this both an exciting and a thought-provoking read. Whittaker does a great job of presenting his life philosophy both in print and as a living example, and his gallows humor makes this book fun. Hope you enjoy!

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