Kevin Jorgeson: from rock climbing to migrant crisis humanitarian aid
Interview with American climber Kevin Jorgeson, famous for his first free ascent of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite (together with Tommy Caldwell in January 2015), who is about to embark on a two week trip to the Greek island of Lesbos together with his fiancée Jacqui Becker. The two have volunteered to help migrants fleeing from war and poverty.
"You know that feeling of intimidation and excitement when you're about to embark on an adventure? I'm feeling this big time right now, but for once, the objective isn't a personal climbing goal. It's to help others. In a week, Jacqui and I are going to help the men, women and children arriving on the shores of Lesvos, Greece in search for a brighter future. I can't change the root cause of this humanitarian crisis, but I can make a small difference in the lives of those its affecting the most." Published two days ago by Kevin Jorgeson - one of America’s top climbers - this post was radically different and obviously couldn’t be ignored.
Kevin, first off: congratulations for your joint decision to go to Greece to help the migrants Can you tell us more about how this decision came about?
Last August, my good friend Brad Parker fell while free soloing in Tuolumne. This loss rattled me to the core. It rattled our whole community to the core. That grief made me seriously question my commitment to the Dawn Wall to the point that I almost didn't return to El Capitan last season. As our collective grief began to settle, our community formed a non-profit in Brad's legacy called the B-Rad Foundation. This Foundation is built around the way that Brad lived his life. One of the things he always used to say, both verbally and through his actions was: Do shit that matters.
The came the ascent of Dawn Wall
Yes, and since then I've found myself getting involved with organizations that help people in need. As a climber, much of my attention is focused on my own personal projects. It felt important to me to find a balance between what I want to achieve as an athlete and what I want to achieve as a fellow human. So, I've been doing fundraisers for organizations like UNICEF (in partnership with the Gear Co Op in Los Angeles) and Outward Bound here in San Francisco. I'm proud of that work, but late last year Jacqui and I started seeing these horrific images coming from the refugee crisis. Most of these images were coming from the beaches of Lesvos, Greece. We couldn't help but realize that we were witnessing the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation.
A dear friend of ours, Sheldon, left his family over Thanksgiving and Christmas in order to go volunteer in Lesvos. We also happen to be getting married on his property later this year. Sheldon led by example and really inspired us to do more than give money. When he returned and shared his story, we started planning this trip. The way I think about it is similar to how I thought about my battle with pitch 15 a year ago. I didn't want to be the guy that "almost" climbed the Dawn Wall. I couldn't live with that memory. And I don't want to look back on this situation and know that I could have done something, but didn't. We are healthy, capable, and have the time to travel. We have no excuses. More importantly, it just feels like the right thing to do. It matters.
How do you feel now? And what are you worried about?
Right now, I feel very similar to how I did when driving to Yosemite to start the push on the Dawn Wall: excited, intimidated, nervous, focused. I'm looking forward to getting there, getting involved, and making a small difference. I'm worried about what we are going to see, not being helpful, the language barriers, and conflict. If nothing else, we are bringing 1,000 space heat blankets from Adventure Medical Kits. At first AMK and I were talking about various climbing trips to work on together, but then I realized that this would have more impact for everyone. So, I'm super grateful for their support.
The crisis, for those fleeing from way and extreme poverty, is immense
For me, its easy to feel powerless in the face of such a massive conflict and crisis. I know that alone, I'm not going to influence the source of this crisis in any way. This trip is not about picking sides or making a political statement. These men, women and children are fleeing their homes in search of a brighter future. Really, its just about showing up and helping people that need it.
To find out more about Kevin and Jacqui's project, and to make a donation, check out www.gofundme.com/hoopsandrocks