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Entries from Guide News

With a heavy heart the RMI family announces the passing of our founder, Lou Whittaker

Lou Whittaker, the founder of RMI Expeditions, passed away peacefully on March 24th at his home in Ashford, Washington, surrounded by family and loved ones. Lou was born on February 10th, 1929, in Seattle, Washington. 

He and his identical twin brother Jim began mountaineering at age 12, their first foray into the sport they would help shape. At 16, he summited Mount Rainier for the first time, the mountain that would become synonymous with his life, and earned him the nickname “Rainier Lou.” The record of his time in the mountains is bursting with achievements, from the first American-led expedition on the North Side of Everest to the first successful American expedition summit of Kanchenjunga and many others. On numerous rescues, he saved dozens of lives in the mountains; if people were in trouble, nothing could stop him. 

Anyone can be a mountaineer, but not everyone can be a guide. Lou was a teacher at heart, and in 1969, he founded Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI Expeditions). Mountains were the source of his health, the wellspring of his confidence, and the stage for his triumphs, and he was one of the first to make mountaineering and its benefits accessible to the broader public. Since its inception, RMI has emphasized teaching and leading over 100,000 aspiring climbers. His leadership made mountain guiding a true profession, with many of the world's premier mountaineers benefiting from Lou’s tutelage.

When he wasn’t pushing the boundaries of mountaineering or helping to define the standard of guiding excellence, Lou was a masterful carpenter, craftsman, and builder. Lou and his wife Ingrid built unique homes of natural black basalt and massive log beams. His projects were often made more challenging by his insistence on self-reliance but were all the more beautiful for it. His enthusiasm for hard work was infectious; he was a master at pulling together a team, and the stories from those projects are still shared among those lucky enough to be included.  

Lou once said, “There’s a certain amount of risk involved in life. When it comes down to dying, I want to know what it is like to have really lived.” And he certainly did. He was a pioneer, constantly pushing the frontier of the mountaineering world. He was a philosopher, always ready with a poem, limerick, or quote. He was an innovator who never encountered a problem he couldn’t solve. He was a philanthropist, who started and chaired multiple nonprofits. He was a patriarch who loved the family that orbited him. He had the vision for American Mountain Guiding, and helped to make the industry and sport what it is today.

Above all, he was a monumental man who commanded the room when he walked in and helped influence thousands of lives. He warmed both hands on the fire of life. With his size 13 shoes, he left one hell of a set of footsteps, footsteps we should all try to follow, no matter how challenging the climb.

Lou is survived by his wife Ingrid, his twin brother Jim (Dianne), his sons Peter (Kerry) and Win, his grandchildren Kristian, Gabriella, and Kalen (Ryan), his great-grandchildren Scotty and Sage, and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his daughter Kim. There will be a Celebration of Life at Rainier BaseCamp at the foot of his beloved Mount Rainier this summer. We’ll have more details soon, and ask you to come raise a glass to this iconic mountain man.

“I warm’d both hands before the fire of Life….” 

                                                                                    –Walter Savage Landor

Lou Whittaker at Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier


The Whittaker family has created a Tribute to Lou Whittaker page on Facebook for you to share stories, memories, and photos.

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Several friends and I climbed Mt. Rainier in 2010 with Whittaker.  One day before the climb, I was in line at the base camp to get some food.  I turned around and right behind me in line was a mountain of a man.  I immediately knew who Lou was, partly because I had just finished his biography.  Even though I’m sure he would have liked to gotten around to the important business of lunch, he was very gracious with me and my friends - taking time out of his day for pictures and some pre-climb advice for us.  It was a thrill for us to meet a living legend.  I’ll never forget the experience, and I have a group pic of Lou, my friends, and myself hanging in my office.  Many condolences to all those who loved Lou.

Posted by: Dean on 4/2/2024 at 7:21 am

I was fortunate to be on four JanSport Annual Dealer Climbs on Mt. Rainier, and met Lou on my very first climb. It was so amazing to meet a true American hero, a man about whom I had read in several mountaineering books. He and his RMI crew of guides left a permanent mark on my life. I still have a framed postcard in my home office, that I bought at the Whittaker Bunkhouse, with a Lou Whittaker quote on it: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” Words to live by, indeed! Thank you, Lou.

Posted by: Frank Henninger on 3/31/2024 at 3:37 pm

RMI Guides Hone Their Craft in Colorado

From Dan May

At the beginning of April a crop of RMI guides including myself, Leif Bergstrom, Henry Coppolillo, Lacie Smith, Tatum Whatford, and George Hedreen, headed off to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to work on honing our alpine guide skills with the help of the AMGA. We split our time between Boulder and Estes Park, Colorado while completing the Alpine Guide Course. Often in these courses, you are amongst colleagues spread across other guiding companies, however in this instance, we had the opportunity to work and learn together. Being able to sharpen our guiding skills in alpine terrain amongst our peers that we work with in the North Cascades, Denali, and South America was a great opportunity.

Practicing terrain belays

These courses offer us the chance to add additional tools to our ever-growing toolkit as guides while being reviewed, critiqued, and taught by the AMGA instructors. While romping around the Flat Irons, Eldorado Canyon, and Tyndall Gorge of Rocky Mountain National Park, we took turns climbing rock, ice, snow, and mixed routes while guiding each other through the terrain. These chances and skills as a guide are invaluable. It is easy to convince your friends to go climbing with you, but to convince your friends to let you guide them through peculiar terrain to practice your techniques and skill sets is another story.

Leading a pitch of mixed climbing.

At the end of the nine days, all RMI guides successfully completed the course and had a great time doing so. Now we are all turning our sights to Ashford and Mt. Rainier in preparation for another great summer of climbing.

George, Lacie, and Dan practicing short roping.

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Thank you for sharing how you, as guides, maintain & improve your skills. I hope to climb with RMI this year. I wish you all a safe and healthy climbing season!!

Posted by: James O’Neil on 4/23/2023 at 9:49 am

RMI Guides Travel to Nepal To Climb Manaslu Without Supplemental Oxygen.

RMI Guides JT Schmitt, Dustin Wittmier and Dominic Cifelli are in Nepal on an expedition with the main objective to climb Manaslu without supplemental oxygen. They departed the United States on September 1st and are able to check in from basecamp:


We arrived at Manaslu basecamp on September 11th after four days of trekking through remote valleys in Nepal. Most days were spent shrouded in a cloudy veil, but we were treated to the occasional view of rugged glaciers clinging to high mountains. Staying in tea houses, we were immersed in Nepalese and Sherpa cultures through conversation and enjoying traditional foods together.

Six days after arriving in basecamp we are well established at 16000’ and have made our first rotation on the mountain. We spent three days moving to as high as Camp 2 at 21,000’, setting up our tent and caching gear. On that rotation we spent two nights at Camp 1, letting our bodies acclimatize to sleeping at 18900’.

Currently we are on our third rest day, waiting out torrential rains; and the report from higher on the mountain is that there is significant snow accumulation. It is beneficial that Wi-Fi is available in basecamp so we can continue to monitor weather forecasts, waiting for a window to make a second rotation.

We are hopeful we will be able to push through some marginal weather tomorrow to take advantage of a small, upcoming window. Our second rotation will hopefully allow us to reach Camp 4 at 24,300’, to cache some gear and set us up for a summit push.

RMI Guides JT Schmitt, Dustin Wittmier & Dominic Cifelli  

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Stay strong team!  Love you Dom.  Uncle artie

Posted by: Art cifelli on 9/21/2022 at 4:30 pm

Hey Dustin!!!
This is So Awesome!! You Are Strong!! You can do this!! After all you pulled my old farmer a$$ to the top of Cotopoxi!!!
All the best for Strength and Stamina Dustin!!!
Farmer Dave

Posted by: Dave Kestel on 9/19/2022 at 7:17 am

Clarence Norment returns to Rainier with his daughter Charlotte 40 years after his first climb for her first attempt

Words by Clarence Norment:

I’ve been climbing Rainier for a long time – 40 years to be exact! I first climbed with Wilderness Ventures, through RMI, in 1982 when I was 16. Since then, I’ve climbed 4 additional times – in ’96 with my late wife Mary Elisa on a cross-country trip right after we got married, in ’97 on a 5-day Muir skills seminar, in 2012 with Casey Grom, and in 2017 with a group of seven friends on a team led by Jess Matthews! This time around, I brought my daughter, Charlotte, who has wanted to climb ever since she was little, but had to wait until she was old enough! She’s heading into her senior year in high school, which is exactly when I first climbed. So this is a really cool full circle experience for us. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have some awesome experiences with RMI, led by some amazing guides: John Day and Craig Van Hoy back in the 80s, George Dunn and Phursumba in ’96, Jeff Witherspoon in ’97, Casey in 2012, and Jess Matthews in 2017.

16 year old Clarence on the way to Camp MuirClarence and Mary Elisa in 1996Clarence and RMI Guide Casey Grom

Charlotte and I had an AWESOME climb with Nikki. The summit wasn’t in the cards this time around, but we did get to the top of the DC and had an incredible experience – and got back down safe and sound, which is always key! It was the first time I haven’t summitted, and my joke at the post-climb celebration was that it took me forty years and 6 tries to finally get a “Certificate of Accomplishment”! In all seriousness, I really am proud of this climb. Charlotte absolutely crushed it and was super strong – she would’ve continued on if I had – and I think the fire has been lit in her to make this a part of her life now, too. We’ll absolutely be back again, and my other two kids, Elena (20) and Clay (15) were very envious of Charlotte and are wanting to climb now too – so mission accomplished!

The team in 2017

Clarence and Charlotte at Ingraham Flats on the descentCharlotte is all smiles about her first Rainier sunrise

It has been such an amazing 40-year history, and having my daughter climb with me this time brought things full circle. She reminded me of myself when I climbed at her age – no fear whatsoever!

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Celebrating and Remembering the 1982 China-Everest Expedition

Expedition leader Lou Whittaker and several members of the 1982 China-Everest Expedition gathered on May 18, 2022, to commemorate the climb’s 40-year anniversary and pay homage to Marty Hoey, our dear friend and fellow RMI guide, who lost her life on the trip. May 18, was Marty’s birthday. Marty’s 90-some years young mom, Mar, was in attendance along with Everest team members Eric Simonson, Dan Boyd, Joe Horiskey, and Jim Wickwire. Marty, 31 at the time of her death, was a tenured RMI guide attempting to become the first American woman to summit Everest. Marty started guiding on Mt Rainier in the early 70’s, and led expeditions to Denali, Aconcagua, and the Fairweather Range in Alaska. A Memorial honoring Marty and 1963 Everest climber Lute Jerstad is located on the Gig Harbor waterfront at the Bogue Viewing Platform, http://www.cityofgigharbor.net/177/Bogue-Viewing-Platform. Others in attendance included Peter and Kerry Whittaker, Lou’s wife Ingrid, Joe’s wife Marjorie, John Kalbrener, Kip Kalbrener, Leslie Kalbrener, LeRoy Kingland, Randy & Kathy Sackett, Tori Withington, Mary Martha, Craig Reininger, and Christopher Lynch. Christopher’s dad Jerry co-founded RMI with Lou Whittaker in 1969.

May 18, 1980, is notorious, of course, for the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Pete and Joe recalled their learning of the event while tent-bound in a blizzard at 14,000’ on Denali. Unfortunately, it was to be our ‘high point’ on that particular Denali climb.

Of personal significance is that May 18, 1974, RMI guides John Kalbrener, Laury (Ape) Bye, and Joe Horiskey reached the summit of Denali for the first time! 18 days to the summit and 2 days down. Cliff Hudson flew us off the mountain, we jumped into our waiting 1965 Mustang (prepared to drive back down the Al Can Highway), and immediately ran out of gas! Ray Genet saved our bacon, offering a syphon hose and inviting us to take all we wanted!

Our get-together in Gig Harbor yesterday was a memorable and fitting tribute to a special day, May 18.  

RMI Guide and Owner Joe Horiskey

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In Memory of RMI Guide Luke Wilhelm

It is with heavy hearts that we share with you that our fellow RMI Guide, colleague, and friend Luke Wilhelm died on Sunday, March 6th. Luke was climbing with a friend and fellow RMI Guide in the North Cascades when he fell. His climbing partner was able to safely descend. A search and rescue flight was able to locate and recover Luke the following day.   

Luke began his guiding career with RMI in 2018 and quickly impressed all those he met with his passion, skill, love of life, and contagious enthusiasm. He will be missed.  Our hearts and thoughts are with Luke’s family and with all of you. 

Luke – Your smile lights up every room you enter. You have impacted all of us at RMI. May your smile, compassion, and zest for life continue on in each of us.

RMI Guide Luke Wilhelm

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Luke was one of our guides in August 2018 on Rainier, he was awesome, just such an amazing energy and positive outlook.  I got really bad cramps in my calves at Ingram flats and knowing the toughest part was still ahead a decided to turn around with another climber that was having troubles with the altitude, Luke guided us back down and then a few hours , when the sun was out took us up to Muir peak to see some great views.  I was very impressed with Luke and our lead guide Brian, I just climbed Mount Shasta this week, via Avalanche gulch and thought of the lessons I learned on Rainier with Brian and Luke , Rest steps, breathing techniques, packing up gear, all those things that help make you more efficient as a climber.  I am so very saddened to hear of his passing, he will be deeply missed, and though I only knew in for a few days, he is that special kind of person that leaves and ever lasting impression on people. God Bless Luke and his family,  Moose.

Posted by: Matt Mellenthin on 6/3/2023 at 5:17 pm

Luke was one of my guides in 7/18, we got 1000 ft from the summit before having to turn back. He was so positive!!  He and I hiked down the entire way from Camp Muir, just the two of us with the group behind…. He and I chatted about life and Philosophy. He could have been my child and we kept in touch for a couple of years. I just flew to WA from CO for a business trip and found his email while deleting things. Then thought of him and others on my drive to Yakima. I emailed him and it bounced back, no recent activity on social media…. And my heart sunk & I googled and just got the news. I’m so saddened, but know he lived life to the fullest and was doing what he loved!!!! Keep on keepin’ on Luke….. hope to run into you again someday!!!!

Posted by: Julie Frisbey on 4/18/2023 at 6:40 pm

Bringing safety to the complexity of Eldorado Canyon: Pepper Dee on his AMGA Rock Guide Course

When I moved to Boulder, Colorado in the fall of 2017, Eldorado Canyon was a place that I treated with a high degree of respect. Known for its delicate route-finding, variable rock quality, and stiff, old-school grading, Eldo is a humbling place to climb. Rock guiding in Eldo has always struck me as particularly impressive--the variability of the terrain in the canyon necessitates a familiarity with a wide range of guiding techniques in order to stay safe with a group of newer climbers. This is one of the main reasons why I chose this venue for my Rock Guide Course. My second mock lead on the course tackled an aesthetic, rambling three pitch climb on the Wind Tower. I had done the climb before, but had never been responsible for three other mock-climbers. I found myself doing nearly everything differently with my mock-climbers in tow--positioning my climbers out of the way of loose rock, breaking pitches up into shorter, up-and-down sections, and rigging lowers down exposed, short steps that I had always simply down-climbed. All told, a climb that had taken a mere hour and a half climbing independently took me three quite involved hours to guide. To me, that is the part of guiding that I will always love the most--the challenge of using every trick in your toolbox to make a section of terrain as safe as you can for your climbers. My Rock Guide Course endowed me with plenty of tricks, from terrain belays to rigging rappels to rope management systems. The real excitement of the course, though, was getting experience applying these tricks in one of the most complex rock climbing areas in the country.
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Mission Saipal: RMI Guide Hannah Smith & Team Conclude Trip

We call it mountain climbing not mountain summiting. Sometimes you travel long distances and spend many days preparing and you dont get to climb. We didnt get to climb anything on this trip. It turned into a high altitude cultural trek. But that is all ok. I know I have, and I'm sure the rest of the team, has learned some things. We will all remember this experience forever. We took many nationalities, languages, personalities, and experience levels onto this expedition. We got to experience rituals, sacrifices, festivals, home cooked meals and more. We saw and experienced the far west Nepal region in a way nobody gets to. I will remember all the people I have met along the way and shared delicious meals with. This will not be my last time in Nepal. I already look forward to coming back and drinking my weight in milk tea. Till next time Nepal. I look forward to climbing one of your beautiful mountains in the near future. Namaste, RMI Guide Hannah Smith
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Congratulations on your venture learning experience. I am in awe of you all!


Posted by: Michelle the Mom on 11/13/2018 at 9:59 pm

Mission Saipal: RMI Guide Hannah Smith & Team Continue Descent and Family Visit

We ate cookies for breakfast in a smokey room with tea. Shortly after we said goodbye to Laxmi and started our walk back to where we left our duffles. The only communication in these parts in by a messenger, word of mouth. When we left our duffles, the plan was that some duffles would keep going to Chainpur and our trekking duffles would be left waiting for us. We also thought the rest of our team would be there waiting. But the plan has clearly changed with no message for there were no duffles where we left them and all the porters and team members gone. We aren't sure exactly where they are or when we will see the rest of our team and duffles. But for now we are staying at another homestay. We will all sleep up in the attic and enjoy a home cooked meal of Dahl baht and chapati bread with black tea. From day one this journey has been fluid and unpredictable, so we will see what tomorrow brings. Goodnight, RMI Guide Hannah Smith
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Mission Saipal: RMI Guide Hannah Smith & Team Enjoy Time with Families

Dogs barking, goats baaing, cows mooing , and roosters crowing was our alarm clock today. We were greeted with tea and made our way up to Sangitas house for breakfast. The village was alive with children running around and chores being done. It appeared today was roof repair day. The old grayish brown hay was thrown down off the roof and new golden hay was tossed up. We enjoyed breakfast with the family, then soaked in the sun before enjoying some lunch too. It was the best Dahl we have had thus far and was delicious on top of the chapati bread. After filling our bellies we hiked back to Laxmis house. Clouds rolled in and we finished our hike in a bit of rain. The forest colors and smells popped with the freshness the rain brought. Experiencing the food and culture of these small villages has been amazing. It is an area everyone should come and see. Tomorrow we make our way back to where we had the medical camp on our way in. A handful of hours of walking should get us there. Hopefully the clouds will have dispersed and the weather is back to being sunny. Adios, RMI Guide Hannah Smith
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