Rock Climber: Scaling Great Heights

Feb 18, 2014


Kevin Jorgeson is a highly-skilled rock climber at the very pinnacle of his field. At the young age of 28, he has already conquered some of the most daunting boulder problems in the world, from California all the way to South Africa. A few of his proud conquests are The Beautiful and the Damned highball, and Ambrosia (a high difficulty 45’ climb) in Bishop, CA. He’s also currently the face of the outdoors division of athletic apparel behemoth, Adidas.

Next up, Kevin is prepping to take on the Great White of rock climbing; the Dawn Wall on El Capitan, Yosemite. For this incredible undertaking, he’s training with another climbing legend, Tommy Caldwell. In Kevin’s world, man and nature co-exist in equilibrium with an ever-present sense of danger, instinct, and intense focus. We spoke with him to find out what motivates and propels to greater heights.

 Your drive and ambition is very impressive.  Has there ever been a time that you asked yourself, “what am I doing this for?”  

If I find myself asking “what am I doing this for,” it’s a sign that I need to stop. I’m not the kind of person that has the accelerator down 100% of the time. I am a firm believer in doing what inspires you. Motivation is a hard feeling to describe. Because I’ve been climbing for 15 years, I’ve learned not to force motivation.

 Can you pinpoint what it is in your childhood that made you chose to be a professional climber?

I’m pretty sure I was born to climb. I’ve heard many early childhood stories of me climbing ladders, trees, fences and cupboards. It was less of a decision to become a professional climber as something that just naturally happened. I do remember committing to climbing full time in 2008 when I left college. Despite loving my studies in kinesiology at the time, I don’t regret my decision at all. In fact, if I could go back in time, I would commit to climbing full time even sooner.

 You stopped climbing for a year in 2005 – Why?  What brought you back?

During 2005, I was in a natural lull of motivation for climbing cutting edge stuff. Instead, I was doing a lot of teaching and coaching. Without really noticing, a year had gone by where I hadn’t been working on any projects or going on any trips. Looking back, I think this mellow period was good for me because things haven’t really slowed down since 2006.

You’ve mentioned that climbing the Dawn Wall is possible.  When and if you accomplish this impressive climb, what is next?  Is this your crowning achievement, or do you see this as the start of something else, perhaps even something completely different?

It’s really hard to say what would come next after the Dawn Wall. The project I had before the Dawn Wall was the first ascent of a very dangerous boulder problem in Bishop, CA called Ambrosia. Even after I completed Ambrosia, I couldn’t have predicted that I would start the Dawn Wall with Tommy. It just happened. Right now, I am focused on seeing the Dawn Wall through to completion. What comes after? I too am excited to find out!

What is your relationship with fellow rock climber Tommy Caldwell – is it a mentorship/older brother/friendship – do you guys motivate each other?

My relationship with Tommy has evolved over the past 4 years. Before we started climbing together on the Dawn Wall, Tommy was a climber I looked at in the magazines and videos. We knew each other, but hadn’t climbed together very much. He is a living legend in the climbing world. So, when we started the Dawn Wall, I felt like the apprentice and he was the mentor. As time passed, we became partners - committed to achieving this dream of climbing the Dawn Wall.

With such a massive project, it’s vital to have a partner. Our strengths and weaknesses complement each other. When one of us is tired, we pick the other one up. We work together to figure out every single move on the climb, sharing sequences, ideas, and motivation. When Tommy does a move I haven’t done, I get inspired and often succeed as well. It works both ways. We feed off of each other’s energy and success, but also share in the suffering. It’s easier to endure intense physical and mental stress when you know you’re not alone.

 For Man of the World, exploring the Great outdoors is a huge inspiration for us – what is it about being outdoors that inspires you the most?

My inspiration comes from the marriage of natural wonders and a physical engagement with those wonders. It’s the difference between looking at a picture of a sunset and actually watching a sunset occur. You can’t hear, smell, taste or feel a photograph. You have to be there.

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