Mountain guide Jake Norton brings a photo of his family to the summit of each mountain he climbs. This photo was taken atop Margherita Peak on Mount Stanley in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. Photo courtesy of Jake Norton.
Emily Nuchols wrote this guest post about Wild Love: Jake + Wende. She is the founder and owner of Under Solen Media, a Portland, Oregon-based communications firm with a cause, representing some of the top outdoor industry brands, non-profits and high-profile adventurers. When she’s unplugged, Nuchols spends her time advocating for free-flowing rivers in the West and seeking out places where she can get in a good morning yoga session or trail run with her dog Woody.
Jake Norton and his wife Wende Valentine hope to instill in their children a passion for adventure and to find what they love in life and not be deterred. For Norton, a mountain guide, that means leaving home several times a year to quench an insatiable desire to climb the world’s tallest mountains. And for Valentine, who works with Water For People, that means fighting to secure clean water and sanitation to communities around the globe—often traveling to remote villages in India and Africa to do so.
Wild Love: Jake + Wende captures the intimate time surrounding one of Norton’s expeditions—a tough expedition to Mt. Stanley in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda and Rwanda. While on the trip, Norton and his team trudged through difficult mud and high-altitude conditions, pushing some to their limits.
The climb was part of a campaign Norton and Valentine launched last year, called Challenge 21—a groundbreaking series of expeditions, in which Norton aims to be the first person to climb the Triple Seven Summits—the three highest peaks on each continent. The goal: build awareness to help combat the world’s most pressing and fundamental development needs—water and sanitation, and raise $2.1 million for Water For People, one peak at a time.
So how in the world do you stay connected to your partner and raise two young children while tackling the world’s toughest peaks? That’s part of the story Wild Love explores.
“In my experience, the climbing community has some topics, which they generally don’t want to discuss,” Norton said. “Like, how does climbing fit in with love, life and family?”
Jake Norton and his son Ryrie shortly after his return from an expedition to the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. Photo courtesy of Andy Maser.
Filmmakers, Andy Maser and Jenny Nichols, embedded their team in Norton and Valentine’s home—capturing Valentine and her children eagerly awaiting Norton’s homecoming. The story, for this family and many others in the adventure community is timeless.
At the time of the Wild Love premiere at Mountainfilm in Telluride, Norton and his team had just turned back from a dangerous attempt at the West Ridge on Mount Everest while Valentine was in Telluride to represent the film.
“This experience has been a gift. It’s been incredibly challenging having Jake pushing the limits on Everest and being a single mom for the last two months,” Valentine said. “But he never leaves my heart and the work we’re doing to make this world a better place for our children and future generations has created a stronger bond than I even imagined possible.”
It’s a fine line in the outdoor community between risk and reward, especially when a partner and children are involved, and it’s often a conversation that is just accepted as a challenge of the lifestyle. The filmmakers and Valentine and Norton hope that by telling their own stories, it will spark a conversation in the community and encourage others to share their challenges and successes in a life lived on the edge.
“How do climbers evaluate risk and continue climbing when the responsibility changes and a spouse and children are added to the mix? Is continuing to climb simply selfish, or is there another explanation, a philosophy about life and passion and living which explains the need to keep climbing?” Norton said. “It’s the answers to these questions, and the telling of these stories, which, for me, made participation in Wild Love so compelling.”
Wild Love: Jake + Wende is the first in a series that will be released online at National Geographic Adventure over Summer 2012.