Several top rock climbers—Jimmy Chin, Kevin Jorgeson, Kai Lightner, Nina Williams, and others—got to shake hands with U.S. President Barack Obama after a press conference Saturday in front of Yosemite Falls. (Read an exclusive story about Obama's thoughts on threats to nature and the power of national parks.)
"I was really moved by what he had to say because he's one of us. He obviously appreciates these wild places and believes in the value of protecting them," says Chin, who began his climbing and shooting career in Yosemite, living in his van. "What other standing president comes to Yosemite and takes his family rock climbing and on a major hike?"
The first family is touring Yosemite and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks to celebrate elder daughter Malia’s high school graduation and to highlight Obama’s commitment to preserving the United States' wild places.
"We are deeply honored that the president and the first family chose to visit Yosemite National Park," says Mike Gauthier, chief of staff at Yosemite National Park. "On a Father's Day weekend, it's wonderful to see them hike, rock climb, and enjoy the park—just as other families do each and every day throughout the National Park System. As a climber, it's been really fun to see the White House, via its social media channels, embrace rock climbing—a nod to the importance of outdoor recreation in everyone's lives."
Jorgeson says, “Obama talked about his priority of not just preserving our parks, but making them more accessible." Jorgeson and his climbing partner Tommy Caldwell received a tweet of congratulations from Obama when they completed the historic first free ascent of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in January 2015, a feat which made them two of our Adventurers of the Year. “He wants to get more and more kids outdoors, and not just in Yosemite, but into all parks, so he launched an initiative that fourth graders can get into parks for free.”
The president also reflected on his first visit to a national park—Yellowstone—when he was 11 years old. “He talked about seeing a bear, moose, and deer, and how that experience had an impact on him," recalls Jorgeson.
The climbers were able to shake Obama’s hand, but they didn’t get to join the family's rock climbing excursion near Camp 4.
“We totally weren’t invited,” Jorgeson says.
Several climbers were invited, however, to take over the White House Instagram feed yesterday. Photos from the likes of Conrad Anker and Sasha DiGiulian brightened the feed with the grand vistas to which only a rock climber is privy.
"It was kind of amazing that they let a bunch of climbers take over the White House feed," says Chin, who rushed to Yosemite from a shoot in Central Mexico to document the historic moment.
Jorgeson had been in Yosemite to scout out a new route on El Cap and extended his trip when he heard the Obama family was coming to his home away from home. With temperatures in the park expected to be in the 90s next week, Jorgeson’s new route will have to wait for cooler temperatures in the fall.