free to climb :: jordan cannon :: a real dirtbag
vehicle: 2003 Ford E-250
where you can find him sleeping: usually the Von's parking lot in Bishop, but I also spend a lot of time in Hidden Valley Campground, El Portal, random trailheads on the Eastside, the beach in San Diego, and friends' driveways.
where you can find him climbing: mainly in Joshua Tree, Yosemite Valley, the High Sierra, or the Owen's River Gorge.
where you can find him working: depends, usually guiding in the mountains or in friends backyards, but I work a lot of different jobs throughout the year.
where you can follow him: instagram
We initially met Jordan through instagram. I remember being drawn to his stories (he informed us that he frequently reaches the maximum when writing his captions) and I loved that he was clearly stoked on climbing. In an age of social media and trendy climbing gyms, it's refreshing to meet real life dirtbags like Jordan. His personal discipline and near-obsessive nature is inspiring and intriguing. Our friendship went from social media to real life when he posted that he had impulsively booked a climbing trip to Mexico and I suggested Callen join them. A few weeks after that trip, we met up with Jordan at June Mountain, a ski resort where he is working for the season (and living in the van in their often snowy parking lot), before heading into Bishop for his two days off. Despite his protests (he told me he hates being in front of the camera), I got his permission to photograph and put together this little day-in-the-life + van tour series. He also answered some questions for me, so be sure to scroll down and read his responses!
How long have you lived in your van?
Why do you live in a van?
So I can save money, travel, and climb all the time! I've never really enjoyed living with other people anyways. Having roommates sucks.
How do you shower?
With soap and water... usually at friends houses, the gym, or a local hot spring.
What do you eat?
Lots of cereal, protein bars, cookies, and macaroni. I know it sounds like a joke, but I actually have a pretty healthy diet. I've been vegetarian for almost a year and rarely drink alcohol. I love hummus, big salads, and fresh fruit. So delicious!
Do you have routines? Systems?
Not really, but I'm sure my friends would say the opposite. I guess I have a lot of systems, but they'd be hard to explain since I do most of them without really thinking about it. I'm pretty organized, but I like to plan ahead and be as efficient as possible in order to save time and maximize my energy. Just like in climbing!
What do you miss most about living in a traditional home?
All the things you would expect, like being able to stand up, having a kitchen, bathroom, shower, washer/dryer, etc.
What is the most difficult thing about this lifestyle for you?
Stability. Things can change pretty fast. I'm always looking for my next job and preparing for the worst, like getting in a car accident and losing my home!
What are some of your favorite moments?
Waking up in a beautiful place, climbing all day with my friends, cooking a bunch of food in the van, and doing it all over again the next day. I have a lot of those.
What have you been able to do/accomplish that you wouldn’t have otherwise?
I think I've been able to progress much faster as a climber living in the van than I would if I was staying in an apartment, training at the gym, and climbing outside on weekends. I've been able to put in a lot of hours on the rock and visit a bunch of different areas because of the van. As long as I'm not working a job, it's nice to be able to just get up and go. Like a spontaneous trip to Vegas or Mexico!
What has been a particularly low point for you?
Having someone break into my van while I was sleeping and steal my backpack. That was pretty grim.
Van life can be super glamorized on social media. What would you tell someone considering this lifestyle?
You have to be able to imagine yourself going a week or more without showering, hanging out in laundromats, peeing in a bottle, washing your dishes in gas station bathrooms, and getting rid of most of your possessions. It sounds like a lot of sacrifices, but it's totally worth it. The freedom and simple beauty is just too good to pass up!
If you were to quit this lifestyle, what would be a likely reason (wild guess)?
I don't think I'll ever quit this lifestyle, I love it that much. Well, I don't plan on living in a van for the rest of my life, but I'll definitely climb the rest of my life unless I lose both of my legs in an accident or something. Actually, there are blind people who have climbed El Cap, so I don't think I would have any excuse. You can always keep the dream alive if you're motivated enough.
If you could talk to yourself before starting this, what advice would you give?
Start earlier, save more money, and buy a better van!
Is this something you’d have expected yourself to do when you were younger?
Definitely not. I didn't even think about living in a van until I was a freshman in college. I grew up in South Carolina and the culture is a lot different than it is in California. People don't really do things like this, but among the climbing community my life is totally normal.
Do you ever see yourself having kids?
I want to get married, but I don't want to have kids. People always say things like, "Oh you don't know what you want, you'll definitely change your mind later on." but I'm fairly certain about that. Growing up I always thought it was socially unacceptable not to have kids, but I've meet a lot of older couples in the climbing community who don't have kids and they're really happy, they just live their lives a little differently because of it.
How have you surprised yourself in the past year(s)?
Well, I graduated college. That was a huge surprise! It was really difficult for me to stay motivated as soon as I got a van and fully committed myself to climbing, but I stuck it out and got my degree. As far as climbing goes, I think the biggest breakthroughs are more mental rather than physical, and I've had a lot of mental breakthroughs over the years that have allowed me to accomplish more than I ever thought I could. I've always been good at dreaming big, but it's a really rewarding process when you commit yourself to something and really see what you're capable of.
How do you want to push yourself this year?
I have a lot of big goals I want to accomplish this year, most of them in Yosemite and the High Sierra. I really enjoy doing long routes and big link-ups, so I've been eager to try new speed climbing tactics in order to tackle bigger and harder objectives, but there are a lot of ways you can push yourself as a climber. Mainly I just try to push myself outside my comfort zone as much as possible. That's where there's the biggest room to grow.
If you could be intermediate at any sport other than what you primarily do, what would you choose?
Probably skiing. I've been snowboarding since I was 6, but i'd like to be a badass skier as well, it's so much more accessible in the mountains.
Do you consider yourself an athlete? If so, when did that begin?
I don't like to think of myself as an athlete, but that's a hard thing to do since I've been playing sports since I was a kid. I definitely don't treat climbing as much as a sport as other people. I like to keep the adventure high as much as possible and I don't care too much about competition, at least not with others.
What role did your upbringing play in where you are now?
Well my upbringing made me move all the way across the country to California so I guess it played a pretty big role! I really enjoyed growing up in New England. I was always running around the woods and having epic imaginary adventures, but that kind of changed when I moved to Charleston, South Carolina and lived in the city. There weren't any mountains there, but I still got to go fishing, surfing, and skateboarding. I didn't really find my place until I moved to California. I think I was born on the wrong coast.
What are some big dreams you have for the future?
I would love to travel more and go on some expeditions with The North Face, but I have a seemingly endless list of routes and objectives I could do in the US. I don't really like to talk about my goals too much because talking and doing are two completely different things, but I'd like to spend a lot more time in Yosemite so I can do some more link-ups and focus my energy on big wall free-climbing.
What is a dream you had when you were younger that you’ve decided to, or been forced to, give up?
I used to want to be an actor, but I gave that up as soon as I realized how big of a junk show Hollywood and Los Angeles were. I was also really into soccer for a long time and fantasized about playing in the MLS or English Premier League, but I ended up quitting my team in college so I could go climbing instead. I got really sick of team sports.
Who are you inspired by?
I'm inspired by people who follow their own path and stay true to themselves regardless of what everyone else or does or thinks. Peter Croft and Alex Honnold are the first that come to mind, but I'm inspired by so many climbers that came before me. Especially Ron Kauk, John Bachar, and the Stonemasters from the 70's. They were so badass!
What is a quality most of your good friends have?
Most of my friends are really reliable and trustworthy. They kind of have to be if you're gonna go climbing with them, especially on long hard multi-pitch routes in the mountains.
How do you think your good friends would describe you?
Awkward, energetic, passionate, dedicated, psyched, weird, introverted, and goofy. I've actually been called all of those things by my friends before, so I think I nailed that one on the head.
Huge thank you to Jordan for stepping out of his comfort zone for this post. I really enjoyed writing it and I hope you enjoyed reading it! If you aren't already, I strongly suggest following Jordan on instagram for some awesome photos and inspiring stories.