Based currently out of Oregon, and with nearly 2 decades of mountain climbing experience consisting of many first ascents, awards for excellence and New Zealand alpinist of the year, Graham is extremely established within the climbing and expedition community.
Graham Zimmerman is more than just an alpinist though.
Graham has a hydro glaciology degree which led him to work as a geo-physicist and search and rescue technician for many years. Now, climbing full time, this love has led him to not only continue to climb big mountains in awe of their beauty, but also give back and work with companies such as “Protect Our Winters” towards raising awareness and creating an impact towards climate change.
An Award Winning Alpinist
Starting at 15, Graham cut his teeth in the Southern Alps, New Zealand. Since then, Graham has gone on to climb in areas such as Alaska, Patagonia, the Pakistani Karakorum, Canadian Rockies, Himalayas, and Kyrgyzstan, always searching for that perfect route up the mountain.
Beginning the podcast, we chat about the differences between New Zealand and America. Starting off broadly, and then zeroing into the climbing aspect. Reflecting on his background, Graham talks about his goal to do high-end, technical routes that have never been done before on big mountains.
“One of my favourite things about climbing is we each get to choose how we get at it”, Graham says. “There are no rules in climbing besides be nice to the people around you and be nice to the environment. If you’re doing those two things you can climb however you want“. This came about because I mentioned his new route “The Indirect American“, and what his ‘why’s were for climbing new routes.
Describing Type 2 fun almost to the book, Graham describes how falling in love with wild places, heavy exertion, and a sense of exploration drive his passion and achievements for climbing new routes.
It is these reasons that have led Graham to win his most recent award: the Piolet d’Or, or the “gold medal of alpine climbing”, for his first ascent of Link Sar in Pakistan, alongside Chris Wright, Steve Swenson, and Mark Richey.
Telling Stories As An Imperfect Advocate
For years, Graham travelled wherever he could to climb. Due to this, he often wrote off any capability of fighting climate change because of his carbon footprint.
Even if he thought he could, finding out how to go about raising awareness and creating change was proving difficult.
Enter Protect Our Winters, stage left.
Protect Our Winters essentially takes athletes and ‘weaponizes’ them to become climate activists. They provide all the information and tools for these athletes to tell and share their stories and become extremely effective in the climate policy space.
Since then, Graham has spent a lot of time lobbying in Washington D.C., lobbying in the state capital in Oregon, and presenting to thousands of people across the United States.
Discussions on climate tend to be extremely partisan and divided. It gets people’s back up, and, as Graham puts it, “once you get people feeling like they’re in a confrontation, they stop listening, and you stop being effective”.
What Graham and Protect Our Winters do, is use the tool and powers of telling stories to meet people in the muddle, and use the power of other’s people’s impact and perspectives to bring about change. It engages with our shared humanity, and brings about a connection on the issue.
“The difference between climate change and ducking out of high winds is that climate change is not something we can avoid”
Graham is such a fascinating and fantastic individual. He has achieved so much, and is only growing his accomplishments as he continues to climb mountains and lead against climate change.
Listen to the podcast to hear in depth his views and answers on his climbing career and climate change. Also, make sure you check out the YouTube video “An Imperfect Advocate” – it’s a really inspiring video, and relatable in many ways.
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