The last town one passes through on the way to Mount Rainier National Park from Seattle is Ashford, Washington. That drive is a scenic one — the landscape gradually shifts from flat to foothills, and as the towns get smaller the trees grow taller. For many climbers attempting to summit Rainier, Ashford is a final base camp. Its amenities include many of the main street staples: a post office, grocery store, a selection of bunkhouses and lodges to choose from and a dive bar. There’s also a gear shop called Whittaker Mountaineering. Whittaker as in Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Everest; as in Lou Whittaker, leader of the first American ascent of that same mountain’s famed North Col and founder of Rainier Mountaineering Inc, Rainier’s premier guide service. And Whittaker as in Peter Whittaker, Jim’s nephew and Lou’s son, and the current owner of the store.
Peter Whittaker has amassed his own remarkable climbing résumé, which includes two expeditions to Denali, 14 to Kilimanjaro, three to Antarctica’s Mt. Vinson, eight to Aconcagua, more than 250 climbs on Rainier, and the list goes on. Whittaker has been a professional climber for more than a few big-name brands, lead the development of Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent line and just recently started his own climbing company called Bight Gear.
He’s also made it his mission to make Ashford a destination, and a short-term home for climbers passing through on their way to, or from, the mountain. He’s worked with the rest of his altitude-addicted family to build the infrastructure that exists there, including the gear shop, Whittaker Mountaineering. The store is big despite Ashford’s remote location and small population, and serves both first-time and veteran mountaineers with the latest equipment available.
The quality of Whittaker Mountaineering is a direct result of Whittaker’s experience as a guide and professional climber. Not only does Whittaker — and his team of 60+ guides at RMI — know what type of gear is good and what isn’t, but he also knows that even the first timers need quality stuff to help get them to the top of the mountain. When it comes to gear, Whittaker is a true aficionado. We recently got ahold of him to find out what his top five favorite items are, and why.
Peter Whittaker’s Favorite Gear
Asolo Fugitive GTX Boots
It’s the best trekking boot for Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp and rugged terrain. It has excellent ankle support, a great traction sole and a no-nonsense lacing system.
La Sportiva Nepal Cube GTX Boots
The perfect Rainier single boot. It’s warm, lightweight, fully crampon-compatible and a great fit for even my insanely high-arched feet.
Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe
Again, the perfect ice axe for Rainier’s non-technical, standard routes. Super light aluminum shaft, durable head and the perfect length on the pick for ice axe arrest in all snow conditions.
Black Diamond Mission 75 Pack
For a three to four day climb of Rainier, this is the pack. Not too many bells and whistles, good suspension and an intuitive feature set.
Bight Caldera Jacket
This is a top-of-the-mountain puffy that does not make you look like the Michelin Man. It uses 850 fill down, I-Beam construction and a slimmer profile. Toasty warm; think half a sleeping bag.
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