Jake Norton and Wende Valentine on Making an Adventure Marriage Work

Nothing quite splits readers of Outside like a story about an adventurer or athlete who has died and left behind a spouse and children. The comments on such stories range from Good for them and They died doing what they loved and inspired countless others to Shame on them and They were selfish to take such risks and leave a grieving family behind. What gets lost a lot of times in the back and forth is the thoughts, experiences, and wishes of the family, both before and after the tragedy.

Recently, Andy Maser and crew made an adventure short that explores how Wende Valentine and Jake Norton deal with risk and danger while he is off climbing mountains around the world. The pair, who have been married for more than eight years, have two young children. The short does a great job exploring how the couple handles time apart and risk, so I won't ruin anything about it by trying to distill their relationship. You can watch the video for that.

Still, I wanted to know a bit more. Valentine works at a non-profit, Water For People, and has traveled the world doing work to improve sanitation and access to clean drinking water. Norton has a stacked resume of climbing achievements from Rainier to Everest. Now, the couple has teamed up, further bonding their relationship to their work. Norton is climbing the three tallest mountains on all seven continents to raise awareness and money for Water for People in a project called Challenge21

How did two such driven people meet and how has their relationship evolved to deal with risk as they build a family? I emailed Valentine and Norton separately and asked them the same questions to get their independent answers.

LakeTiticacaLake Titicaca, 2000. Photo: Jake Norton and Wende Valentine

How did you meet the first time?
Wende: Jake and I met at a party in Colorado Springs back in 1998. He was the landlord of someone with whom I was happily in a relationship and had been for two years at the time. But I’ll never forget thinking as I left the party that night, I’m going to be friends with that guy forever. He was tall, dark, and handsome, right? In reality, I didn’t actually have a huge physical attraction to him from the get-go—that came two years later. For me, it was his deep sense of calm, maturity, humility, intelligence, and his comfort with adventure and emotion for the world that really struck me.

Jake: Wende and I met first at a party in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I was a slum ... er, landlord, there with some friends from Colorado College. Wende happened to be dating one of our tenants. I stopped by the party, and was immediately drawn to this stunning woman across the room. Eventually we talked and I was amazed that she was beautiful on the outside, and even more so on the inside. We shared similar perspectives and outlooks on life, the world, and how we wanted to interact with it. In short, I was totally inspired and smitten ... but she was in a relationship, so we simply remained friends.

Two years later, in 2000, I had just come back from leading a climb of Cho Oyu and was heading down to Peru to lead another trip. I knew Wende was teaching English in Buenos Aires, so dropped her an email to see if she wanted to meet up. To my surprise, she agreed, and our first date was spent hiking the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu. It was amazing, and was the beginning of what has now been 12 years of love, laughter, and adventure.

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