Alumnus of Merit Award

The Alumnus of Merit Award is the highest honor the Alumni Association bestows on an alumnus of Whitman College. This award is given to alumni who have achieved distinction in their chosen field, or rendered outstanding service to their community, or rendered outstanding service to, and demonstrated loyal interest in, Whitman College. Members of the Board of Trustees, the Board of Overseers, and the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association are eligible three years after their last term has been served.

Recipient for 2014 is Phil Ershler ’74

2014 Alumnus of Merit Award, Phil Ershler '74Phil Ershler ’74 was still a student at Whitman when he first started leading climbs up Mt. Rainier. Once he graduated, he began leading professionally and has never looked back. His list of achievements in the sport is among the most respected in the sport: he has summited Mt. Rainier more than 400 times, and Mt. McKinley more than 20; he was the first American to climb the North face of Mt. Everest, chronicled in the documentary, Winds of Everest; the sixth American to climb The Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each continent; his wife, Sue, joined him to become the first married couple to achieve the same feat, then wrote about the experience in a book titled Together on Top of the World: The Remarkable Story of the First Couple to Climb the Fabled Seven Summits.

Contrary to what might be expected from one so accomplished in his field, Phil would much rather discuss his career as a mountaineering guide. “Since starting in 1971 as a summer season job on Rainier, it’s the guiding activities that have really defined who I am and what I do,“ he says. Phil is director and co-founder of International Mountain Guides, a Seattle-based company that organizes and leads mountain-climbing trips all over the world. Phil’s trips to Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa and volcanoes in South America are among IMG’s most popular.

Phil is also a sought-after speaker for corporations and organizations on how he gets his clients to the top, addressing the similarities that exist between success in the mountains and in the business world. He has addressed groups at Microsoft, GTE, US West, Boy Scouts of America and many college campuses, including Whitman.

Documentary subject, author, world-renown climber, motivational speaker: Phil Ershler is all of these. The fact that he would most like to be known for his work as a guide, his true life’s passion, speaks to his character, and just one more reason the Alumni Association has honored him as the 2014 Alumnus of Merit.