My Perfect Adventure
Mountain climber Jake Norton has stood atop some of the world’s highest points. The 37-year-old has climbed five of the Seven Summits, spending more than 365 days on Mount Everest alone and summiting the mountain three times. On other Everest expeditions, he helped discover the 75-year-old remains of British climber George Leigh Mallory, assisted in the rescue of two dying Chinese glaciologists, and became the first person to find and visit all of the mountain’s pre-World War II high camps. His travels have taken him from Costa Rica to southern Africa and Malaysia, and in 2004 he retraced the famous 1917 expedition of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton across South Georgia island.
What is perhaps most striking about Norton, however, is not how high he has climbed, but how grounded and humble he remains. The professional climber, photographer and speaker from Colorado says he can’t resist the mountains, not because he wants to break records, but because their grandeur helps give him perspective. In some ways, climbing is secondary; the sport brings him back to the distant places he loves so much, and through initiatives such as his Challenge21 project, it allows him to help the people who live there.
Here, Norton tells us why Nepal gives him goose bumps, why his most important travel accessory is a photograph, and why sometimes the most admirable climbers are those with the will to turn back.
Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
My perfect day ... That’s a toughie! But, here’s a shot: This day would be in my favorite place in the world: Kathmandu, Nepal. I’d be with my family—Wende, Lila (age five), and Ryrie (age three)—and we’d begin before dawn by walking through the labyrinth of narrow lanes toward Asan Tole (Bazaar). Just before sunrise, we’d get a steaming cup of chiya (Nepali tea, like Indian chai) from a street vendor, sit on a rickety stool, and watch Hindu devotees perform their morning ablutions: sprinkling vermilion on various deities, ringing bells, burning incense, and beginning their day with vision and purpose.
From Asan, we’d grab a cab and head to Pashupatinath Temple, the birthplace of Shiva and epicenter of Nepali Hinduism. Not necessarily welcoming, but also not pushing away, Pashupatinath is a place of magic and spirit, a visceral intertwining of life and death. Here we’d watch cremations along with the cows and monkeys, we’d listen to Brahmin priests reading Sanskrit prayers, watch devotees worship the divine—but intensely troubled—Bagmati River, and likely speak with wild sadhus, Hindu ascetics who, at Pashu, are primarily devoted to Shiva, the god of destruction.
From Pashu, we’d head 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) east to the ancient city of Bhaktapur for a hearty, late breakfast in Nyatapola or Dattatreya squares. Then, we’d wander more through the alleyways, enjoying the immediate friendship of previously unknown Nepalis.
Our afternoon would take us farther east, over the Kathamandu Valley rim and into the Kavrepalanchok District. One of the most stunning in Nepal, Kavre is generally a farming region, split by major rivers like the Indravati and Sun Kosi. Life here is slower than at home, albeit much tougher, and we’d show our kids that, while very poor, the people of this region are in many ways far richer than us.
In the evening, we’d make our way back to the Hotel Vajra, below the famed Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple). We’d eat a good dinner of dal bhat, and then pack our bags for a morning departure to trek in the high Himalaya.