Photo by Matt Hines, @in_hinesight via Instagram.
World renowned adventurer Jeff B. Evans works his way up the side of Mera Peak to reach the 21K+ summit in the Himalayas.
In a video on his website showcasing his work as a world-renowned corporate speaker, Jeff Evans encourages audience members to “look for opportunities to be of service.” It’s a philosophy he not only promotes, but personifies on a daily basis in his global work as an adventurer, expedition leader, humanitarian, high-altitude medic, physician assistant and philanthropist.
Having conquered many of the world’s most challenging mountain peaks, Evans parlayed his skills as a climber and his expertise in austere medicine into a 25-year career spent serving others. He has provided aid to the sick and injured in war zones, earthquake sites, and numerous other remote and treacherous locations. His adventures have been documented by CNN, ABC, The Joe Rogan Show and many others, including the recent Travel Channel television series Everest Air.
In 2001, Jeff guided the first and only blind climber (his friend Erik) to the summit of Mt. Everest, the world’s highest peak at over 29,000 feet elevation. The pair went on to create a nonprofit organization offering outdoor expeditions that provide transformative experiences for wounded veterans.
Jeff is the author of Mountain Vision: Lessons Beyond the Summit, an autobiographical book which has been described by readers as riveting, captivating, and awe-inspiring. A second book is currently in the works.
Click here to read Part One
Photo by Matt Hines, @in_hinesight via Instagram.
Expedition leader Jeff B. Evans guides his friend and team member, Heather A. Thomson (right), to reach a 21K+ summit at the top of Mera Peak in the Himalayas.
A big part of your philosophy is the concept of servant leadership. What does that mean to you and how do you embody that in your work?
Servant leadership is not a new term. People would say that Jesus, or Buddha, or Gandhi were servant leaders – they led from a place that was based on considering other people first and elevating the people around them. A number of years ago, I committed my life to leading my blind buddy Erik on mountains and rocks and adventures all over the world. Being with him and guiding him was always a wonderful exercise that required me to not think about me.
Climbing is a very selfish pursuit, but when I was climbing with Erik consistently, I wasn’t thinking about me – my pain, my feet, my fear, my fatigue. I was thinking about him and how to keep him safe. It was a wonderful learning experience for me that showcased what can really happen when you focus on someone else first; and the wonderful byproduct is that you are ultimately elevated as well. The medical work I’ve done also underscores that – the joy and satisfaction that comes from flying around the world and putting yourself out there for other people.
That’s where servant leadership got its nails into me. I started realizing how much of a backbone it was for everything I’ve done passionately for 25 years, and if I told the story right – with regards to my speaking career – I would hopefully inspire these companies, employees, and team members of organizations to change how they operate and think more in the plural space as opposed to the singular space; think more about how we can move forward as opposed to how I can move forward. Wonderfully enough, if you really do live that way and operate that way, you’re brought along. It’s a platform that allows everybody to excel when you think that way – especially the leadership teams.
You mentioned your buddy Erik and that’s truly an amazing story. How did that relationship come about and what have you accomplished together? I’m sure there must have been some naysayers early on about what you were planning to do and the risks involved.
We met 25 years ago in 1994 and we started climbing a lot. We became best buds and took a lot of chances. We came up short a lot, but felt compelled to continue to try to do hard things, and we weren’t afraid to occasionally not succeed. Yes, there were a lot of people who questioned what I was doing, but I took chances with him and loved every second of it, even the bad parts, and we’ve been best friends ever since.
We’ve done most of the 14ers in Colorado [mountain peaks with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet], a lot of the Cascades in the northwest, climbed Denali – the highest point in North America –Aconcagua in South America, many mountains in Nepal, as well as Everest and El Capitan. We’ve done a lot of adventure races and one of them was on TV on Expedition Impossible.
We’ve had a great time over the years doing things that weren’t necessarily rooted in, ‘Hey, look at what that blind guy did,’ but more just a couple of buddies going out and doing things that we would do. It’s just that he happens to be blind.
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Jeff with his friend Erik Weihenmayer, climb to the summit of Mount Everest (top photos), and on the adventure race in Morocco on the reality TV series Expedition Impossible.
Based on those experiences, you and Erik went on to co-found a nonprofit organization called No Barriers Warriors, which is a therapeutic program for injured veterans. Tell me more about that.
That’s been a labor of love. It started with Erik and me – and peripherally a couple of other buddies who were involved in the Everest expedition in 2001 – wanting to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of that. But we wanted to make it not about us. Neither one of us had ever served [in the military], but we had family members who had and we wanted to say thank you. We know that the mountains are a place of challenge, but also healing, and they create purpose and teamwork and camaraderie. We thought it would be a good idea to gather up some injured vets and take them on a big mountain in Nepal.
It was an amazing trip. It was very raw. There wasn’t much to it: let’s go climb a mountain. What we realized in the process was that if we were to create a curriculum, create content, and form this thing up, it could be really impactful; to distill out the messages that come from being on the mountains on a real team and having these challenges, having this objective, having your ass whooped, and then coming back and trying to process that.
We’ve had some starts and stops, but we’re nine years into it and now it’s this amazing stand-alone entity. We’ve impacted hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of vets. We have programs that go all over the world with different length trips, but they’re all based in the outdoors and have a solid content model which we deliver over the course of the trip, both pre- and post-trip. Most vets that come on our trips come back and are in some fashion transformed. There are some that we can’t reach, but it’s been a humbling and impactful experience for a lot of people and I’m grateful to still be a part of it and watch it grow.
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Photos © No Barriers Warriors.
No Barriers Warriors Soldiers to Summits (S2S) expedition participants with Jeff (back row right), on top of Cotopaxi volcano (left) and Ajax Peak (right).
What other projects are you working on right now? What’s a typical day like for you?
That’s a good question. I’m with my family a lot – my wife of 16 years and my son, who is about to turn 14. We live in an amazing place in Evergreen, Colorado. I was kidding with a friend the other day that I feel like I’m semi-retired because I’m just playing so much, especially in the summertime – tons of climbing, mountain biking, dirt biking, and just playing a lot. We live in the mountains and all year long there are so many fun things to do.
I still do a lot of speaking events – I’m really quite busy with that – and I’m writing my second book right now. I’m also on the board of an organization called the Himalayan Stove Project and this fall I’m going to Nepal to deliver these very specific stoves that we developed which improve the air quality in the tea houses and burn fuel more efficiently. Implementing these little $100 stoves is a health and environmental improvement.
You’ve accomplished so many amazing things in your life. Do you still have any big challenges ahead, whether a mountain peak you hope to conquer or a professional or personal goal you would like to achieve?
I just turned 50, so I see the writing on the wall with regards to my body, but I’m still feeling great and feeling really strong. I know I’ve still got a couple more years in me of really high-level stuff. I’ve got another big peak or two in me – Ama Dablam is one of them and I’ll do that next year – and also getting this book done. Those are two big professional goals as well as to continue to develop my speaking career. It’s amazing to have this wonderful platform and to get to speak to people all over the world. And, then, to raise my son to be a good man. That’s really it if you distill it down.
Do you see your son following in your footsteps?
I hope not, but sadly, yes (laughs). He really loves back-country skiing, hunting, mountain biking, and just being in the woods. He’s already planned what his van is going to look like that he’s going to live in. He’s embracing that dirtbag life, and I encourage every bit of it.
Photo © Jeff B. Evans.
World renowned adventurer Jeff B. Evans (center) spends quality time with his family horseback riding at Grand Teton National Park , Wyoming.
Raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Jeff B. Evans has always followed the call of the excitement and wildness of outdoor adventure and exploration. Jeff is a proud member of the prestigious Explorers Club based in New York City, the published author of Mountain Vision: Lessons Beyond The Summit, a practicing Emergency Medicine Physician Assistant and appears in three award-winning documentaries: Farther Than the Eye Can See (2003), Blindsight (2006); and High Ground (2012). As a highly sought after speaker with over 20 years delivering engaging and impactful keynotes to hundreds of clients, Jeff has made appearances at dozens of Fortune 500 companies around the world. Jeff takes the audience on a journey to high peaks around the globe, detailing his exciting endeavors as mountain guide, adventurer and philanthropist. These experiences have allowed Jeff to hone his skills of servant leadership, teamwork, communication and handling adversity which he shares in a way that is applicable to everyone in their business and personal lives. In Jeff's autobiography, Mountain Vision: Lessons Beyond The Summit, he recounts the stories from his adventurous life. In each of the chapters, readers will find vivid descriptions of locations around the globe, heart stopping action and entertaining life situations. Along the way, readers will pick up strategies for effective leadership and teamwork learned from decades of leading expeditions to many of the world's most challenging locations. To see more of Jeff's writing, and catch up on his latest adventures, please visit his blog here. For speaking events please reach out at www.jeffbevans.com and follow Jeff on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.