How does one 35-year-old woman go from climbing no mountains, ever, to climbing eight, with a cumulative elevation gain in the neighborhood of 15 miles, in one year? Or rather, how does she go from climbing her first mountain, some 19,341 feet high Mount Kilimanjaro in January, and then, 10 months later, decide to climb the seven tallest mountains in East Africa, with some 60,000 feet of collective gain, in seven weeks in November and December? The answer begins with Jessica.
We won't give you all the details here because we're planning to tell this story in a bigger way next year, but we will give you the gist. It starts, as most stories do, with new love. No, not the human to human kind—that comes later. More the human to nature kind.
After thirteen years spent working in the New York magazine world, Jess had a job that sent her to review the world's top luxury hotels, restaurants, and spas. On a normal work day, she'd, say, take a town car across Manhattan to eat lunch with chef Daniel Boulud or hire a helicopter in New Zealand to take her looking for the best spot to free-dive for fresh lobster. If there was a story angle, she was there. But something was missing. Something she discovered near the wilds of Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia.
A few new Relais & Chateaux properties (read: ridiculously nice hotels) had opened in the heart of Chile's wilderness, and famed conservationists Kristine Tompkins and her late husband Doug Tompkins were in the process of donating a park the size of Yosemite to the country's government. But people didn’t quite know how to “do” Patagonia, and Jess had the opportunity to go on assignment to figure it out. Before she booked her two weeks of travel though, she called her dad to convince him to come along. He had grown up on a farm, spent his college years climbing mountains, and now the majority of his free time was devoted to setting aside land in the American Midwest for conservation purposes. She knew he would love this trip.
After 17 days of hiking and being pelted by Patagonia's notorious 80 m.p.h. winds, Jess and her dad were sore but utterly happy. While trekking down a 1,600-foot rock face near Lake Sofia, Jess turned to her dad and exclaimed, “How have I not been doing climbing my entire life?”
“Well, you’ve been busy, I guess, and we didn’t have mountains like this at home in Minnesota.” The response could have easily been something about her being too busy climbing buildings in Manhattan to notice how the absence of wildness and physical exertion in nature was making her feel.
“But seriously dad, I feel so happy. I want more of this.” And that’s when her larger-than-life tendency, honed by years of being a reporter trained to always seek out the bigger and the better, kicked in: “What is the highest non-technical mountain I could climb?”
“Probably Kilimanjaro. It’s over 19,000 feet. Plus, everyone I know who has climbed it says it changed their life.”
Two weeks previous Jess had tried to haul herself up a small promontory across from Kris and Doug Tompkins’s place in Patagonia Park. Lovingly dubbed “Mount Tompkins” by her and her father, this 600-foot beast took two attempts to “summit.” But Kilimanjaro? Sure. Why not?
Fast forward one year: After some tumultuous times, Jess needed a big challenge and a big change and decided the best way to proceed was to act on her dad's suggestion.
This led to her ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, a successful summit attempt completed in the early hours of January 22nd, 2017, an effort you can read all about here. There is so much to this story, but the long and short of it were two related revelations: First, Jess was good at convincing others to follow in her footsteps. After her piece on the climb ran, bookings through Epic Private Journeys, Jess' outfitter, increased to an extent occasioned by no other coverage they had ever received. Second, she wasn't just an effective journalist, she was a journalist who could manage a climb. Her Kilimanjaro guide, Ake Lindstrom, realized he had just met the perfect addition for his friends' project, Seven Summits Africa.
It wasn't long before Ake raised the concept of the trip with Jess. Not entirely knowing what she was signing up for, or if it would even happen, she said sure. And so our involvement in Seven Summits Africa began.
Our next blog installment: In which Patrick becomes part of the story and together, they learn: Climbing a lot is hard work!