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The Duelist

Kevin Jorgeson has gotten in more trouble off the rock than on, which, if you consider his penchant for high bouldering, is saying something.Jorgeson,...

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Kevin Jorgeson has gotten in more trouble off the rock than on, which, if you consider his penchant for high bouldering, is saying something.
Jorgeson, who turns 24 on October 23, has excelled as a boulderer, from his stomping grounds of Bishop, California, to Hueco Tanks, Texas, and in Yosemite as a teen.

Says Wills Young, Bishop guidebook author, “Kevin has taken things to a new high in Bishop. His The Beautiful and Damned [V13, 35 feet] is surely one of the proudest boulder problems anywhere—a physical and mental test for the very best in the world.” It has seen but one repeat, by Ethan Pringle.

Other achievements include repeating Evilution (V12, 50 feet), The Swarm (V14) and Mandala Sit Start (V14), and FAs of Flight of the Bumblebee (V7, 35 feet) and Footprints (V9, 50 feet), all in Bishop. In Hueco, Jorgeson established The Duel (V10, 25 feet), and he repeated Ode to the Modern Man (V14) at Mount Evans, Colorado. As a youth Kevin won two national titles in junior competitions.

Even before the hairy highballs, however, Jorgeson had used up a few lives. At six months old, he underwent surgery for sagittal cranial synostosis, in which an infant’s fontanelle (soft spot) closes over early, preventing the cranium from growing laterally. Doctors removed a 2-inch strip of bone down the center.

“I never want to go bald,” Jorgeson says, laughing, “because I have a very odd-shaped head, with flat spots and bumps and valleys and ridges, you name it.”

At age 9, he had surgery to reposition a blood vessel blocking the main vessel draining his kidney. At that point, two-thirds of the kidney was (and remains) dead. At 10, he took a dog bite to the face for 60 stitches.

Jorgeson jokes, “I couldn’t catch a break when I was younger. I was always in the hospital for some reason or another. When I started climbing, I was less hazardous.”

His “first and last” climbing injuries have been a twice-broken right wrist: at age 8 or 9 when he fell out of a tree, and six years ago falling from wet rock atop Nothin’ But Sunshine (V13) in Rocky Mountain National Park.

In part due to sponsorship, Jorgeson is now taking a semester out of college to climb. He will maintain his base in Santa Barbara, California, where he lives with his girlfriend, Sarah Gale, a graduate student.

Do you have any sibs?

One younger brother. He’s very athletic. He doesn’t climb, but he would excel. He does track and field, but he’s injured now. He’s fast. He’s really strong. We arm-wrestled recently and I won by a hair but I tweaked my tricep, which I didn’t tell him.

Are your parents athletes?

Dad’s a very outdoors person. We always went hunting, up before the sun, out hiking around. He guides whitewater rafting, did that for a long time when he was younger, and we still go rafting as a family.

What did you study?

Kinesthesiology, at Santa Rosa Junior College. I was all set to transfer to Pomona State but I’m going to try to give [climbing and school] due attention. I want to see what happens when I put all my effort into one and then all my effort into the other. I am honestly just as psyched on school as I am in climbing. But when you split your time—you get a B in climbing and a B in school.

Why highballs?

If I didn’t do comps, I don’t think I would have developed the head necessary to do dangerous climbs. I learned in comps that you only get one shot. It’s really important that your feet don’t slip. You gotta read the sequence right. That translated to any kind of climbing, but especially to highballing.


I climbed in Bishop so long that it was a natural progression. One year I wanted to do This Side of Paradise [V10, 35 feet] and Haroun [V12, 25 feet]. … That was the first time I had ever gone to Bishop to do something tall. And it would be the last time I didn’t. It was just a little more demanding, on the line, committing. Bouldering is about small crimpers and little pebble wrestling—you don’t think about the lines … but Bishop has lines, and after that I asked, “Where are the other ones?”

What did you find?

Around the turn of ‘07, I found two new lines. I had tried one over Thanksgiving but dismissed it. At the time, it seemed more than a step above what I had done before. More like a leap. It spooked me a little bit, but reinforced my motivation. It ended up being The Beautiful and Damned.

Flight of the Bumblebee was taller, and had a worse landing, but easier climbing, and it was another gem. You can literally see it from a mile away.

What might be your most dangerous problem?

Probably The Duel in Hueco. I fell off the crux probably half a dozen times on toprope, so the chance of a fall was reasonable, and you’d pinball.

I didn’t even have spotters because it wouldn’t really have done anything. I think I’d have been putting them in more danger than putting me in more safety. Most of my other problems I’ve had three to four spotters.

You have called highballing a duel.

You’re matching your skills against a given challenge. It feels like a standoff. You’re chalking up, and thinking, “Should I stop now? Are the pads right?” But then you go and it all stops and you just climb. You’ve spent the time preparing for it, and thought about it, and you want to be there. You’re choosing it and you’re psyched. They’re unclimbed, beautiful lines. It’s more exciting than daunting.

So what are you afraid of?

Breaking holds and drowning. I really wouldn’t want to die drowning.