Climbing for a Cause: Ascending Mount Baker for Victims of Human Trafficking
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In 2008, a community of friends decided to try something new: to use their love for the outdoors to fight the injustices of slavery.


The result? Climb for Captives - a team that raises funds to support human trafficking victims around the world. We caught up with Climb for Captives founder and GORE™ MOUNTAIN TECH™ Jeremy Vallerand to talk about the team’s goals, successes, and most recent climb on Mount Baker. This is what he shared.

Let’s start at the beginning. Where did you get the idea for Climb for Captives?

“It started off with an experience that I couldn’t get out of my head. In 2008, I discovered the reality of human trafficking, which could also be referred to as modern day slavery. I had a chance to visit several safe homes in Asia for young girls who had been rescued from brothels. The experience had a dramatic effect on me. I knew I had to do something, I just didn't know what. Later that year, I was preparing to climb Mount Rainier (the most glaciated peak in the lower 48) with a group of close friends. Two weeks before our trip, I had the idea to turn the climb into a fundraiser to help provide care for the rescued kids I had met. The other climbers loved it. We decided to try to raise $14,410 ($1 for every vertical foot of the mountain) in 14 days. Well, the climb was a huge success. Not only did we reach the summit of Mount Rainier, we also raised over $20,000 and helped raise awareness about human trafficking throughout our community. In fact, so many of our friends heard about it that they started asking us how they could be a part of it. Next thing we knew, we were planning another climb! And then something else unexpected happened ─ people began asking us to speak about human trafficking and the reality of modern day slavery. The problem was that we didn’t know much about it. I had seen a glimpse of the horror of exploitation and witnessed first hand the hope of restoration, but I didn’t know much about the larger issue. I didn’t know that the average age of entry into “prostitution” in the United States is 12-14 years old, and that there are more slaves in the world today than any other time in history. But the more I learned, the more I wanted to be a part of the fight. I started serving on the board of the organization whose homes I had visited in Asia and was eventually asked to lead the charge. In 2012, we launched Rescue:Freedom International® with our international headquarters here in the U.S. Rescue:Freedom is now supporting the rescue and restoration of women and children in seven countries and counting.”

Where is Climb for Captives today?

“It’s pretty incredible, actually. Since our first climb in 2008, we have raised over $450,000. We are proud that 100% of these funds raised have gone directly to support the rescue and provision of holistic care for women and children in human trafficking. This holistic care includes things like safe housing, medical care, counseling, education, and vocational training – essentially, whatever it takes for them to experience lasting freedom!”

For this year's climb, the team was up on Mount Baker. What was the climb like?

“Mount Baker is one of my favorite mountains! In fact, it’s where I learned how to climb. It’s only 10,781 feet tall which means the altitude doesn’t play as big of a factor as it does on Mount Rainier or other 14,000+ foot peaks. However, you still get all the grandeur of massive glaciers, gaping crevasses, world record snowfall, and world-class mountaintop views. Over half of the climbers in our group were first-timers – and several of them had never been backpacking before, let alone mountaineering! That meant we had to do a decent amount of training and preparation. We had 18 climbers and one base camp manager for this year’s climb, and I’m happy to report that 17 climbers reached the summit on some of the most perfect summit conditions I have seen on the mountain. This year’s team has raised over $204,000 and counting!”

Where do you see Climb for Captives going in the future?

“Every year people contact us and ask how they can ‘sign up’ to be a part of Climb for Captives. But because the climbs happen in the context of a pre-existing community of climbers and their friends, not through a guide service or organization-sponsored trip, there hasn’t been a way for people outside that community to jump on board. At least, until now. This summer, Rescue:Freedom International is launching a platform that will enable anyone to create their own Climb for Captives campaign (or any campaign for that matter – bike, run, race, etc.) that would follow the Climb for Captives model. Instead of trying to find a way for everyone to participate in our local Climb for Captives campaign, we want to give people the tools to create their own. It could be a climb up the tallest mountain in your state, the tallest hill in your town, or even the tallest tower in your city. The model is simple: gather some friends, set a goal, rally your community, and be a part of bringing hope and freedom to those in slavery.”

What would you tell someone who wanted to try adventure philanthropy for themselves?

“An artist friend of mine who uses music and the arts for trauma therapy put it this way: ‘Do what you love to fight what you hate.’ That philosophy is the core value of Climb for Captives. What I love about adventure philanthropy is that it leverages something we are already passionate about doing. Climb for Captives started with a climb that we were already planning, and then we added the cause to it. That’s part of the reason it has grown ─ because we really love doing it. Every year someone will donate to support Climb for Captives and say something to the effect of ‘I am so inspired by what you are doing! Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of this cause.’ This shows me that we are all drawn to adventure. When you invite your community into the story, they may donate or they may help spread the word. Or they may just go buy a pair of crampons and decide to join you on the next climb.”

To learn more about Climb for Captives, visit climbforcaptives.com. For more information about Rescue:Freedom International or to learn about how to start your own Climb for Captives campaign, visit rescuefreedom.org or email [email protected]

  Images courtesy of Jeremy Vallerand


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