Challenge21 climber Jake Norton sets out for three tallest peaks on each continent

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Jake Norton, from Golden, CO, is attempting to climb the Triple Seven Summits -- the three highest peaks on each continent -- to raise money to support the Denver-based non-profit Water for People
Jake Norton, a mountain climber from Golden, CO, is in Uganda this week to climb Mount Stanley's Margherita Peak, a 16,763' peak in the Ruwnezori Range, as the next step in what he's calling Challenge21. Climbing the Seven Summits -- the tallest peaks on each continent -- has long been a hallmark achievement for climbers around the world; Norton's tripling up the ante and going for the Triple Seven Summits, aiming to be the first climber to bag the three tallest peaks on each continent, 21 peaks in all, in an effort to raise $2.1 million for the Denver-based non-profit Water For People and draw attention to the global water crisis.

We caught up with Norton by email from Africa, where he'll also be climbing Kenya's 17,057' Mount Kenya this month (he's already crossed Africa's tallest peak -- Tanzania's 19,340' Mount Kilimanjaro -- off his list, having previously made the summit three times) to learn more about Challenge21, the work of Water for People, and the allure of the world's tallest mountains.

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Westword: In the personal statement on your website, you write, "On a mountain, we cannot begin with our focus on the summit, for it is a long, long way off. We've got to start at the bottom, at the most basic level, and work our way up, bit by bit. And, if we do that, combined with a good strategy, solid teamwork -- and perhaps a little luck -- we'll make it to the summit." You're actually talking about resolving the global water crisis there, but before we unpack that metaphor let's talk about the literal beginning of this journey: Why did you choose to launch Challenge21 in Uganda with the Mt. Stanley climb, and can you speak about some of the advance planning that went into this first part of the journey?

Jake Norton: Mt. Stanley, and the Rwenzori Mountains as a whole, are an amazing, almost mythical, range, and one I've long dreamed of visiting and climbing in. Additionally, Water For People has a very strong presence in both Rwanda and Uganda. The current Rulindo Challenge -- part of the Everyone Campaign -- is a huge initiative in Rulindo District, Rwanda, where Water For People, in partnership with the Rwandan federal and local governments, aims to get safe water to all 260,000 Rulindo residents by the end of 2014. Given all that, it made a great deal of sense to begin the climbs of Challenge21 here in Rwanda and Uganda.

In terms of planning, there was a lot to do. It's never straightforward planning an expedition, as there are tons of things to think about, to plan for. And it's especially challenging when planning for a place that I have not been to before, and not many people in general have been to. So, to put this all together, it required a lot of research into outfitters, route options, conditions, etc., to build the expedition infrastructure and secure reliable, ethical outfitting on the ground. In addition to that, we had the added challenge of figuring out how to promote this to a large audience for Challenge21. That meant not only promotion pre-expedition, but also figuring out how to collect assets (still and video) during the entire trip, and also dispatch from the expedition while we move. Along with climbing gear, I'll be carrying along a laptop, cameras, satellite phone, cables, etc., so that I my co-photographer, Tim Ryan can tell the story essentially in real-time from the slopes of the Rwenzori.

Finally, we've got a lot of folks coming with us on this journey: Water For People CEO Ned Breslin and our good friends Barb Neary & Dan Fillipi, Collin Barry and Charlie Lovering. I was able to secure outerwear for all of them from our partner, Eddie Bauer & First Ascent, so they'll be clad head to toe in gear I've helped design and test over the years. With a big group like this, there's always a lot to think about!


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