Three Words with ...
In 2015, Kevin Jorgeson made history when he and his partner Tommy Caldwell completed the first free-climb ascent of the Dawn Wall, a 3,000-foot tall rock face on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. The endeavor took six years of preparation and 19 days on the wall from start to finish.
Here’s how this professional rock climber prioritizes his values to advance his sport and create access to rock climbing for youth.
I’m trying to be ruthless about not manufacturing my passion. I’m asked all the time, “What’s next?” I can manufacture an answer, but how genuine would it be and on what timeline am I going to find a climbing project that I’m really passionate about? Going on 25 years, I’ve learned that you just can’t force it. You’re not always motivated and you’re not always going to be fit. You’re not always going to be passionate. I’ve learned to just ride those waves and embrace them.
I’ve learned that I can only do two out of three things very well at any given time. I can be awesome with my family, awesome with my climbing or awesome in my business and my non-profit stuff. I’ve tried to be good at all three and it’s horrible for my health.
We’re in a society that’s addicted to what’s next and topping the last thing that you’ve accomplished. Falling into that trap is optional. It doesn’t feel optional, but in my own life, I put my foot down and just decide not to participate in that rat wheel and let the inspiration be authentic.
What’s beautiful about climbing is that it mirrors whatever you need in your life. If your heart is full of fear, it’ll help you face that fear. If you’re seeking confidence, it’ll help you find it.
Whatever you’re bringing to the wall, it’s going to give you the opportunity to seek and to find it, which I love.
1Climb started with a question ten years ago, “What would it take to introduce a million kids to climbing?” Sport has the power to change lives. I felt and still feel that the opportunities for experiencing climbing are far too narrow. If you climb, you’re in the 1%, not necessarily economically, but probably, because it’s expensive. I wanted to be more proactive about breaking down cost and proximity barriers. That’s why the Boys and Girls Club was an intuitive choice as a partner because they serve four and a half million kids a year, with thousands of clubs across the country.
With 1Climb, I design every wall and I go to every grand opening. Whenever I’m in a city where we built a wall, I go climb with the kids. The Santa Rosa walls are a block from my house, so I go climb with the kids all the time. We have 14 other projects funded and in various stages of being built.
De-risking a climb is a process. You’ve got to break things down. On each climb, the risk looks different, the physicality looks different, the logistics look different. For my current project, I have to check weather, I have to check tides, and then I have to check swell. All three of those things have to line up perfectly for the climb to be possible. Then, in the moment, I have to decide whether I’m going to do it. It has to be a good day. It has to feel good and I have to want to be there and to coordinate having 25 crash pads. I love that process.
It’s just a game, big wall free climbing. There are some strict rules and then there are some rules that you just make up. There’s no easy terrain on the Dawn Wall. My partner and I planned to alternate leading each pitch, or section, of our route. When the pitches got hard and we were falling, we just traded attempts. We didn’t care who led or who followed.
There was a crazy icefall on the Dawn Wall, day five. That was very scary because some of the pieces of ice were really, really big. The Dawn Wall was Big Wall University and I was getting my ass kicked every semester. We agreed not to bend and return to the ground, “Oh, let’s go rest for a week and then we’ll come back up and keep going.” We said, “No, you leave the ground and you either make it to the top or you don’t.” There’s no picking up where you left off.
Everything seems intimidating until you dive into it. I don’t care what the endeavor is.
The most important thing is just to get started.