Jake Norton has spent the majority of his life climbing the world’s most challenging mountains.
Since his first summit of Mt Rainier at the age of 12, Jake has climbed Everest seven times & summited three, summited Kilimanjaro four times, completed over 20 expeditions to Nepal & Tibet, summited McKinley & Aconcagua, led five expeditions to the Peruvian Andes, and summited Mt Rainier a total of 93 times.
Jake became the first person to visit & document all the pre-World War II camps on Everest, retraced the famous 1917 crossing of South Georgia Island by Sir Ernest Shackleton, led the first official American ascent of 25,502 foot Gurla Mandhata in Tibet, and was a part of the expedition that discovered the remains of George Mallory in 1999.
Jake is also a guide, accomplished photographer, motivational speaker, owner of MountainWorld Productions, and, along with his wife Wende Valentine, co-founder of Challenge21.
Challenge21 is a series of expeditions where Jake will attempt to be the first person to climb the Triple Seven Summits – the three highest peaks on each continent – to help combat water and sanitation problems around the world.
The Challenge21 goal: To raise at least $2.1 million over 3-4 years for Water For People and to get at least 2.1 million people actively engaged in water and sanitation solutions.
100% of the donations raised go to Water For People, with all expeditions funded by outside sources.
An Interview with Jake Norton
We recently caught up with Jake in Golden, CO to learn more about Jake, his latest Everest West Ridge expedition & to find out what lies next with Challenge21.
What’s the most spectacular thing you’ve experienced on a mountain?
Wow, tough question! I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have some amazing experiences in a lot of special mountain places…it makes it tough to choose any single one! But, right off the bat, two things come to mind. First is our 1999 discovery of George Mallory’s remains on Everest. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my entire life.
I’ve now been to Everest 7 times, and have managed to sneak to the top on a few occasions, but all those other moments pale greatly in comparison to the 5 or so hours my teammates and I got to spend with Mallory on May 1, 1999.
The second one that comes to mind is the start of Challenge21 and our Rwenzori expedition in August, 2011. For me, it was, honestly, the first expedition I was truly, deeply proud of. And, the reason was simple: it was the first expedition for me that was not about climbing, was not about just tagging peak x, y, or z, but was about something much more. It was about, in the words of Willi Unsoeld, going “higher than Everest”…or, in this case, higher than Mount Stanley’s Margherita Peak.
If you hadn’t been a climber, what career do you think you would you have chosen?
I really can’t think of anything that, for me, would be more fulfilling in all ways than the life and career I’ve been fortunate enough to carve out in climbing and the various tangents I’m involved in. But, if I had to choose something, I think it would be a historian. I’ve always been drawn to the activities, thoughts, actions, and mores of the past, and how those can/can’t, should or shouldn’t be applied to the present and future.
What’s your favorite climb?
I’ve got so many, it’s hard to choose. But, I’ll break it down a bit:
- Rock: Center Route on Cynical Pinnacle, South Platte, CO: Just stunning rock in a glorious setting with very few people. The Platte is amazing!
- Ice: Whore House Hoses, Eureka, CO: A great, varied, moderate ice climb in a mind-blowing area. Awesome!
- Big Mountain: A tie between the NE Ridge of Everest and the West Ridge. Both are incredible, and have deep, inspiring histories emanating from them.
Who’s your hero?
Again, lots. Some that pop to mind, for various reasons, are Mahatma Gandhi, Ken Wilber, Paul Kagame, Marc Webb, Paolo Coehlo, Howard Somervell, Roe Duke Watson, Henry David Thoreau. But, if I need to choose just one, it would be Tom Hornbein. Here’s a guy who has achieved more in his life than most could in several lives, and retains an infectious, palpable modesty that simply blows me away. And, he’s just a sweet, kind, and generous man.
So, what do you do on vacation?
What is a vacation? Haven’t really had one of those in a long time! No, really, for me, I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do for a living what I would choose to do on vacation: adventure, climb, hike, trek, shoot photos and video, and share stories. So, that’s what I do on vacation! The only real difference between my “work” and my “vacation” is that I get to be with my wife and children on the latter, and others on the former.
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Photography by Greg Hull.
Photography may not be used without explicit permission.
Article by Kim Hull
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