Book store director, published author, mountain climber: Frank Henninger



Kelly Skahan

As a university student, one can only expect that several professors and administrators are published authors; after all, it comes with the territory. At Villanova, however, faculty members are not the only University employees making their mark on the literary community.

Frank L. Henninger, director of the University Shop, published his book, “Compass Points: Finding a Mid-Life Bearing on Mount Rainier,” in 2005. He has always been interested in exploring, and in his book, he describes his physical and spiritual journeys while climbing Mount Rainier twice in 1999 and 2000.

“I was an armchair adventurer,” says Henninger, who explains that his personal library consists mostly of stories about explorers and their expeditions. “And then I had this realistic adventure available to me.”

Henninger is referring to his first trip to Mount Rainier, a volcanic mountain in Ashford, Wash. After JanSport offered him a chance to climb the mountain at a university shop conference, he transformed what was once a fascination with mountains into a hobby of climbing them.

Climbing Mount Rainier, Henninger explains, takes months of dedication and preparation.

“Training to climb a mountain is actually walking up and down whatever hills you can find with weights in your backpack,” he says. “It’s best when done at altitude so you can prepare for the mountain itself, but in the Philadelphia area, there’s really nowhere to go, so you do what you can.”

Henninger trained for several months before his trip to the mountain, where he joined a group of climbers led by the legendary Whittaker family. Lou Whittaker and his son Peter, the owners of Rainier Mountaineering, are both accomplished climbers, along with the rest of their family. Jim Whittaker, Lou’s brother, was the first American man to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

“Mountain climbers are really unsung heroes,” Henninger says. “What they can do is incredible. There are Olympic athletes who have [failed] on Mount Rainier. Sure, they can run at sea level on flat ground, but mountain climbers are at altitude with thin air and weights on their backs. It’s incredible.”

Henninger’s book discusses his experiences on the mountain and the effect they’ve had on his point of view and approach to life.

“I always read books about people going on adventures, and here I had one right there in front of me,” he says. “Not a lot of people can climb Mount Everest or K2, but Rainier is possible. I knew that was something I could do.”

Since his first trip, Henninger has made three additional expeditions up the mountain, again joining Rainier Mountaineering to make each climb. Though he has yet to reach the summit, he hasn’t ruled out a fifth trip.

“2009 will be the 10th anniversary of my first attempt,” Henninger says. “It would be nice to make that my fifth trip in 10 years. I’m not going to commit to it any time soon, though.”

Henninger is currently working on a second book about his trips to the mountain in 2002 and 2005. “Compass Points” is available on and in the University Shop.