YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — Minutes after scrambling the last few feet to the summit of El Capitan on Wednesday and into the embrace of loved ones waiting for him at the top, Santa Rosa climber Kevin Jorgeson reflected on the friend who was there only in spirit.
Missing from the group of a dozen Sonoma County climbers who came to witness Jorgeson make history on the world’s hardest free climb was Brad Parker, a Sebastopol resident who died in a climbing accident in August.
Parker, who died at age 36, was a mentor to Jorgeson. The two climbed together at Vertex climbing gym in Santa Rosa and hung out in the same tight-knit circle of local climbers.
Parker’s death hit Jorgeson especially hard, and he contemplated not returning this season to the Dawn Wall climbing route he had spent years practicing with partner Tommy Caldwell. In the end, it was Parker that spurred him on to the summit.
“There would be times I would be cruxing (on a difficult section) on the wall and I would be like ‘Help me out Brad! I need some help right now.’ And I’d pull through,” said Jorgeson, 30.
The lime green shirt Jorgeson wore for 19 days on the wall is emblazoned across the chest with a leafy design that Parker drew. The back says “B-Rad,” a reference to the B-Rad Foundation started by Parker’s friends that donates money to outdoor education projects in Sonoma County.
“This shirt, which I have been wearing for three weeks now, literally carried me up the wall,” Jorgeson said.
From the summit of El Capitan where he hugged his friends, Jorgeson looked toward the Mathes Crest, a narrow fin of granite poking above the Yosemite high country 20 miles to the east. Parker died from a fall on the crest hours after proposing to his girlfriend, Jainee Dial, atop another nearby peak.
“For me, that was the first time I really grieved really hard for someone,” Jorgeson said. “I never experienced loss like that before. It really brought our entire community together in ways I have never experienced. It was just like this glue that happened. It was magical.”
An hour before Jorgeson completed the climb Wednesday afternoon with Caldwell, Jorgeson’s girlfriend, Jacqui Becker, called Dial from the summit. For a grieving local climbing community, Jorgeson’s accomplishment was a reason to celebrate.
“We love you, mama,” Becker said. “You’re right here with us.”
Becker said that Jorgeson’s passion for climbing waned in the aftermath of Parker’s death. He nearly gave up his attempt to free climb the 3,000-foot Dawn Wall, a project on which he has spent six years.
“Brad was a brother to Kevin, and he was moved so deeply (by his death),” Becker said. “He was really struggling to love this climb. He lost his passion before this season.”
Becker said that Jorgeson took Dial climbing in Yosemite and helped her through the loss of her fiance. The experience was therapeutic for Jorgeson, and through it, he found inner peace and a renewed drive for the sport, Becker said.
Earlier this month, Jorgeson struggled for nearly a week to climb past the hardest portion of the Dawn Wall. When he finally completed the section, or “sent” it in climbing lingo, he called Becker from his hanging camp perched on the side of the wall.