Padecky: Santa Rosa climber Kevin Jorgeson keeps reaching for new challenges

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The hummingbird sat quietly in the Santa Rosa cafe having his coffee, completely in disguise. That’s because he’s 5-foot-9, 145 pounds, with a beard. You usually don’t see hummingbirds with beards. But the more Kevin Jorgeson spoke, the more he revealed, you expected him to start flapping his wings, er, arms.

Kevin and Jacqui’s baby is due Nov. 30. A week before he flitted into the cafe for a conversation, they moved into their Santa Rosa house. Two days before that, Kevin drove down and back to Los Angeles for the dedication of his personally designed climbing wall at the Boys and Girls Club there on Cincinnati Street.

Kevin is the final stages of finalizing the blueprints on a 23,000-square-foot, $6 million building near downtown Santa Rosa that will feature climbing walls, a fitness center, a cafe, a lounge, a yoga studio but NOT a partridge in a pear tree.

Kevin and Jacqui have flown to Athens to distribute 1,000 space blankets to fleeing Turkish refugees, then worked on constructing shelters there. He just completed a fundraiser for Sonoma County Conservation Action. He’s done so many fundraisers, given over 100 speeches, but I’ll stop now because I want you to get to the next paragraph.

It’s the movie “The Dawn Wall.” The one that will have its local premiere at the Summerfield Cinemas at 7 p.m. Sept. 19. About this 3,200-foot climb up a sheer granite wall three and half years ago, the one that put Kevin and Tommy Caldwell in every newspaper, on every television network, in every magazine that had a circulation more than two.

The movie — released earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas — as well as everything he has done since, comes into even sharper focus when framed by one simple head-scratching fact.

“I’m an introvert, shy by nature,” said the 33-year-old. “Interesting, huh?”

Sure, like flying to the moon in a baby stroller is interesting. Kevin Jorgeson is a candidate for a doctoral thesis on the limitless possibilities of human behavior. Or, to put it another way ...

“I found out a long time ago,” he said, “that I work best under pressure.”

Finding the right balance while handling a baby, a mortgage, a movie, a podium, a multi-million-dollar structure and three to five climbing workouts a week (some in Yosemite) makes Jorgeson the human hummingbird. Or, if you prefer, an air traffic controller in training.

It’s the pressure he welcomes, a directed, conscious attempt to take himself out of his comfort zone, to push past fears that restrict. “Stifle” is another word for that. Kevin Jorgeson is pushing Kevin Jorgeson, up a 3,200-foot rock face, pushing past misery that would cripple so many others. The Dawn Wall was a means to an end with this kicker — he end is nowhere in sight.

“My fingers were bleeding through the tape,” Jorgeson said of that day in 2015, the eighth day of trying to navigate Pitch 15, the ultimate test of courage and physical prowess on the climb. “I knew this was it. This would be my final attempt.”

Jorgeson had fallen 11 times. His fingers a red mash. His skin owned so many knife blades of pain. He wanted a challenge. Well, he got it.

“I didn’t want to be The Guy Who Almost Climbed The Dawn Wall,” he said. “I’m stubborn. I have a fear of living with failure.”

Fear, he judges, seduces one into submission. Too cold. Too hot. Too high. Too unpredictable. Too painful. Jorgeson, certainly, could have thrown up a stop sign. He didn’t. He made Pitch 15. What happened after that — an introvert speaking to crowds, an introvert on camera, in front of a notebook — that was the easy part after Pitch 15. In a very real sense, Jorgeson is an architect practicing without a license. He is drawing up his life line by line. Take the blueprint renderings of “Session,” his to-be-built climbing edifice.

“We want a lot of windows, a lot of space, so it feels light and airy,” he said. “What about the sun? In the afternoon, will it blind a climber on this wall? Or a climber on this wall? What about the light bulbs? They don’t need to be shining in someone’s face.”

To be sure, seeing Caldwell and Jorgeson on a sheer rock wall 2,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley will give more than one person a moment of pause. Jorgeson would like the audience to see it another way.

“At my climbing gym,” Jorgeson said, “it’s about everyone personally defining their achievement. That’s why it’s called Session. In this session you did this, accomplished this. The competition is within. It’s not like other sports. In basketball you make the basket, you succeed. If you miss, you fail. Climbing, it’s not so arbitrary.”

The cheers may not come from a crowd. They may come internally. At the Dawn Wall, it came from both directions. That still amazes Jorgeson. The introvert was awash in attention.

“I knew it would come from the climbing community,” Jorgeson said. “I had no idea about everything else.”

The introvert became a celebrity. The Dawn Wall movie will give that profile more oxygen. Jorgeson won’t shrink from that. He can see nothing but good to come from it. He’ll touch people he never knew existed or were interested. It’s already happened. It was after the Dawn Wall climb. Caldwell and Jorgeson were at Yosemite Lodge.

A woman in a wheelchair approached the climbers. She told them she has multiple sclerosis. Her doctor said she would be experiencing a diminishing life.

“And then I saw what you did,” she said. “You inspired me. I’m not going to sit back” (and resign herself to her fate).

The woman began to cry. Caldwell began to cry. Jorgeson began to cry. It was then Jorgeson realized he and Tommy were never going to be just a crowd of two.

“It’s the best memory I have of that time,” said Jorgeson, who knows now that when he climbs, he is lifting himself up in ways he never imagined. It has nothing with the view of what’s below. It’s the view of what’s ahead. And the introvert, well, he’s totally comfortable with that.

To comment on Bob Padecky’s columns, write him at

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