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Jake Norton Looks Higher Than Everest, Launches ‘Challenge21’
Posted on April 27, 2011

Story and content by Jake Norton

The late, great Willi Unsoeld has long been a hero of mine. He was one of the best, most adventurous climbers of his generation, climbing the famed and feared West Ridge in 1963 with Tom Hornbein.

What made Willi a hero to me was not simply his climbing prowess, but also his deep desire to change the world, to leave it a better place than when he came. Willi famously said, after Everest in ’63: “So you’ve climbed the highest mountain in the world. What’s left? It’s all downhill from there. You’ve got to set your sights on something higher than Everest.

That koan-like quote has been with me for years as I’ve climbed around the world, resonating even deeper each time I stood on top of the world—higher than Everest. What could be higher than Everest? Physically, of course, nothing. But metaphorically, philosophically? A lot, perhaps.

In 2006, I organized and led an ascent of Gurla Mandhata, a stunning, 25,500-foot peak in remote, western Tibet. It was an amazing, very successful expedition but left me feeling somehow empty at the end. As our Jeep bumped across the rugged plains of Tibet, I knew I wanted to figure out how to combine my passion for climbing with my desire to go higher, to make a positive and lasting impact on the world, and the people who make it so special. As dust obscured the hulk of Gurla Mandhata behind us, I promised myself I’d follow through.

This desire was the genesis of, and catalyst for Challenge21.

Over the course of the next 3.5 years, I will try to climb the Triple Seven Summits, or the three highest peaks on all seven continents. But Challenge21 won’t be about reaching summits. Rather, it will be about leveraging the inherent drama and visibility of climbing mountains to focus attention and money on the most pressing development issue in the world today: the lack of safe water and adequate sanitation for people worldwide.

While I would love to go out and dig wells and build toilets and change lives directly, I’m not kidding myself into thinking I’m a development expert. Even with the best intentions, I’d most likely screw it up. So, I’ve partnered with Water For People, the leading NGO in the water and sanitation sectors. Over the course of Challenge21, our goal is to raise $2.1 million for Water For People and focus the attention of 2.1 million people on the water and sanitation crises.

Our first big climb will be to Mount Stanley in the famed Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda in August, 2011. From there, my hope is to embark on an expedition every 4-6 months until I’ve climbed all 21 peaks in the Triple Seven Summits.

A huge challenge? Yes. An essential cause? Certainly.

Higher than Everest? I think so.

Author: - Wednesday, April 27th, 2011
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