PORT TOWNSEND — Have you ever thought what it would be like to walk in your father’s footsteps?
Leif and Bobby Whittaker, and Chris Kennedy have done just that, returning to climb Mount Kennedy in the Yukon, 50 years after their fathers, Jim Whittaker and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, made the first ascent of the newly named peak April 9, 1965.
The documentary film, “Return to Mount Kennedy,” chronicles their climb and relationships with their dads and each other. Its world premiere will be today at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival to coincide with the anniversary of RFK’s death, June 6, 1968.
“We’re premiering a film that I’ve been working on for several years,” said Leif Whittaker, a mountaineer and writer once based in Port Townsend and now living in Bellingham.
Whittaker said it will be shown at the Seattle International Film Festival on June 2 at the Kirkland Performance Center. And, he said, he hopes it will be shown at the Port Townsend Film Festival (PTFF) this September.
PTFF Executive Director Janette Force said the film has been submitted to the screening committee.
”We have 500 filmmakers this year,” Force said.
“ ‘Return to Mount Kennedy’ is a wonderful film. It’s looking pretty good. Final selections will be made in the next few weeks.”
Force said this is a documentary rich with meaning.
“What impacted me most about the film was the back story of Jim Whittaker, the man, the choices he made, and how they impacted his life,” she said. “His decision to become a climber and the deep connections one makes are important to the film, especially his personal relationship with Bobby Kennedy.
“This film illustrates that choosing the people on an expedition isn’t random. Who we connect with is so mysterious and one never knows how things will unfold in the future.”
She reminisced about her connection to the elder Whittaker.
“I bought my first pair of skis from REI in 1962 and I think Jim sold them to me,” she said. Jim Whittaker was the first full-time employee at REI and went on to become the company’s CEO in the late 1960s.
In 1965, a climbing team of eight men made the first ascent of Mount Kennedy, a 13,944 foot peak in the Yukon. At the time, it was the highest unclimbed peak in North America. The first man to reach the top was a novice climber, Robert Kennedy.
Fifty years later, the sons of the original climbing team, Bobby, a band manager; Chris, an unsuccessful candidate for governor of Illinois; and a Leif, young mountaineer, embarked on an expedition to the mountain to celebrate the special bond that connects them.
Seattle-based filmmaker Eric Becker includes interviews with Jim Whittaker and never-before-released footage and photos of Robert Kennedy. The film features original music by Eddie Vedder. The documentary runs 80 minutes and brings together politics, human rights, environmentalism and adventure.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]