D espite having faced plenty of scary mountaineering situations over the years on climbing expeditions from the Himalayas to the Andes — like seracs, avalanches, crumbling ridgelines and other stuff I just don’t want to think about — the fear that caused Jordan Campbell’s eyes to grow especially wide when talking about his upcoming trip to South Sudan was snakes.
“That’s what scares me the most,” he said (with plenty of nervous laughter) when I met up with him last week. “I’m really bad with snakes!”
Jordan’s next expedition sounds plenty scary to me — and not because of snakes. He leaves Saturday for a remote area of South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in July. He’s covered civil war in Nepal (and plenty of other hair-raising adventure stories), but this is the most war-ravaged and unstable region he’s traveled to.
And why go?
Jordan told me there’s always another mountain to climb, and at some point, you have to step back and consider your life goals. For him, one of those goals is philanthropic. In Africa, Jordan will join Dr. Geoff Tabin at the Duk County Lost Boys Clinic on a mission to cure cataract blindness.
According to the World Health Organization, age-related cataracts affects about 18 million people worldwide. But it’s treatable by surgery — easy to obtain here in the first world, impossible in some regions. That’s why Tabin, a mountaineer and ophthalmologist, started working with a Kathmandu-based doctor to found the Himalayan Cataract Project in 1995. Through the project, Tabin performed sight-restoring surgeries in rural regions of Nepal and beyond.
Jordan became part of a climbing expedition that volunteered at Tabin’s eye clinics — the Sight to Summit expedition. (If this sounds familiar, perhaps you saw “Light of the Himalaya,” a film about the expedition, a few years back.)
Jordan was moved by the doctor’s work.
“Geoff, just being the amazing surgeon he is — he’d do like 10 minutes an eye on each eye,” he said.
He wanted to keep working with him, wherever the next adventure happened to be. And it turns out, the doctor established so many clinics in Asia, he felt his work was needed elsewhere.
“If you turn your attention to Africa, it’s this gaping hole of cataract blindness,” Jordan said. “If you look at the map, the most underserved regions are high, remote areas, and Africa. Sudan is — it really is the optic nerve of the continent. It’s underserved, it represents all of the war-torn African nations, and it’s still under siege.”
Planning their first medical mission there (in 115-degree heat, he added) is a lot like planning a climbing expedition, he said.
“This expedition kind of mixes philanthropy and adventure,” he said. “You kind of need to be an athlete, you kind of need to have that salty mountain experience.”
Jordan works for Marmot, where he helped establish a new division for their athletes with a philanthropic or activist bent — ambassadors. He’s one of them, and this is his first trip under the ambassador banner.
There’s no mountain for this ambassador and athlete to climb in Sudan. But the trip satisfies his love for travel and adventure, and like a first ascent, it’s an exciting step into the unknown.