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Kings of the Hill: Q & A with Ed Viesturs, The Whittakers, Seth Waterfall, Dave Hahn, & Melissa Arnot

Three generations of American mountaineering royalty discuss their sport, their fears, and their new mission: design great gear.

When Jim Whittaker, 80, became the first American to reach the summit of Mt. Everest–on May 1, 1963–he wore a goose-down parka and pants made by Eddie Bauer. When Melissa Arnot, 25, attempts the first oxygenless ascent by an American woman–this month–she’ll carry a Bauer pack, sleeping bag, tent, and head-to-toe kit of wool, fleece, and down clothing. But the link between these two climbers isn’t just Eddie Bauer’s efforts to emerge from shopping-mall purgatory to reclaim its status as a premier outfitter of mountain athletes. Whittaker and Arnot have joined a who’s who of American mountaineering–Jim’s brother Lou, Lou’s son Peter, Ed Viesturs, Dave Hahn, and Seth Waterfall–to design and test Bauer’s new products. BACKPACKER sat down with the team in February as they put the gear through its final paces in preparation for an Everest climb. (By now, all but Jim and Lou should be high on the mountain.) The conversation ranged widely, from comical tales of gear mishaps to serious talk about safety and regulations on high-altitude peaks. It also touched on the enduring legacy created by Lou, whose 1969 decision to start a guiding business on Mt. Rainier gave rise to Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., an operation that taught Peter (who runs it now), Viesturs, Hahn, and tens of thousands of others how to climb the world’s highest peaks.

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