Jake Norton with his family on top of Margherita Peak on Mount Stanley in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda.
Read Caption
Jake Norton with his family on top of Margherita Peak on Mount Stanley in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda.
Jake Norton with his family on top of Margherita Peak on Mount Stanley in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda.

Wild Love Film #1: Jake Norton and Wende Valentine on Love, Hardship, and Challenge21

I first met Wende Valentine at Mountainfilm in Telluride in 2011. I had just a spark of an idea about capturing stories that explore the threads of love, loss, and passion for adventure in the outdoor community. Wende was living a story of love, hardship, bravery, and hope that aligned with an undeniable love of life, and she was eager to tell this story. We planned a visit to the home she shares with mountain guide Jake Norton and their two young children in Golden, Colorado. It took all of ten minutes to plan logistics with filmmakers Andy Maser and Jenny Nichols.

Wende and Jake welcomed us into their home and we spent several days as a part of the family—cooking dinner together, playing with the kids, reading their love letters, and exploring the challenges of balancing a passion for adventure with a family life. Perhaps the sweetest moment of our time in Golden was witnessing Jake’s return from a tough expedition in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda and Rwanda. The courage and love that it took for Jake and Wende to let us into these most intimate memories and experiences is something to celebrate. It is this kind of courage and love that makes the adventure community what it is. And that’s what Wild Love is all about—a celebration of this community, the passion, and the wild experiences that drive us all.

“I had no idea how profound the experience would be as we delved into the layers of our relationship and our everyday challenges and joys. Having the opportunity to reflect on why we do what we do, how we do it and what it ultimately means in the end was a gift,” Wende said about making the film.

Jake and Wende hope to teach their children to find what they love in life, and for Jake, that means leaving home several times a year to quench an insatiable desire to climb the world’s tallest mountains. For Wende, who works for the nonprofit Water For People, that means fighting to secure clean water and sanitation for communities around the globe—often traveling to remote villages in India and Africa to do so.

“Being a part of Wild Love has made me reflect even more on how lucky I am to have the partner and best friend I do in Wende. She’s truly my inspiration in life, able to hold down the family fort for 70 days while I’m ambling up some mountain,” Jake said. “She does it with grace and amazes me daily, and through Wild Love I think we both were forced to investigate some of these questions which are so easy to ignore and understand more fully why we continue to live this life and do the things we do.”

Shortly before we descended on their home, Jake and Wende launched Challenge21—a groundbreaking series of expeditions in which Jake aims to be the first person to climb the Triple Seven Summits, or the three highest peaks on each continent. The goal: build awareness to help combat the world’s most pressing and fundamental development needs—water and sanitation—and to raise $2.1 million for Water For People, one peak at a time.

So how in the world do you stay connected to your partner and raise a two- and four-year-old while tackling the world’s toughest peaks? That’s part of the story we hoped to tell with Wild Love.

“What I want more than anything in life is to teach my children to find what they love in life and not be deterred. That’s why I keep climbing. Because it’s what I love … and it’s the message that I want to impart to them: to follow what you love in life and what gives you joy,” Norton said. “And, through it all, my kids continue to learn through experience the importance of living a life—even though it’s not always easy or fun—of passion and dedication to making a difference in our world.”

Last month, we returned to Mountainfilm to premiere Wild Love: Jake + Wende. At the time, Jake and his team had just turned back from a dangerous attempt at the West Ridge on Mount Everest and Wende sat next to me in a packed theater in Telluride. After we watched our film on the big screen for the first time and while sharing a celebratory drink, she said to me:

“The myriad of challenges I faced in the last 70 days certainly put me to the test on several fronts: caring for our two young children, continually working to bring lasting change in our world, compartmentalizing any worry or fear about Jake’s attempt on the West Ridge, trying to maintain my own physical and emotional well-being, and not giving up on the kids, Jake, or myself. All of this was overwhelming and daunting for sure, and I did it far from perfectly. But the constant reminder of what life is like for women, children, and families all over the developing world—walking miles multiple times per day to fetch and carry water, handling sickness without accessible options, children not having the opportunity to go to school, worrying about a roof overhead and where the next meal will come from—helped me to feel such immense gratitude and even more convicted in the choices that we are making in our careers and lives. In the last year I have felt more connected to Jake than ever and more at peace with the wildness of our lives that we continue to pursue and nurture.”

As a thank you to Jake and Wende for telling their story, we’ve all pitched in to support Challenge21. If you’re inspired, please join here.

I’m not a filmmaker, but I am lucky enough to be a part of a community that is bursting with passionate storytellers. Andy and Jenny helped me transform this idea into a film, a series of films in fact. The creativity and passion that they injected into this project and their work every day is something that would inspire anyone. Thank you for taking the time to watch Wild Love: Jake and Wende. We’ll be releasing the next three films over the summer.

Have a story about what drives you to push your mind, body and life to the limit? We’d love to hear all about it. Please leave a comment!