From his home in Provo, Utah, Gnarly athlete Jackson Marvell stares into Google Maps. Everything he’s looking at is unknown foreign territory to him. There’s no street-view available for the mountainous regions in Central Asia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan or Pakistan. Everything Jaskson studies is a minimum of 6,000 miles away from Provo. All of these destinations will take a minimum of three flights and over 24 hours to reach. None of that is a deterrent to Jackson. All that matters is what he can climb when he arrives there.
Jackson Marvell is always up for a new adventure. His infatuation with climbing began when he was young. On family vacations to Zion National Park, he spotted climbers high up on the towering walls. This intrigue of big wall, multi-pitch climbing became a reality when Jaskson was 15 and convinced a co-worker to take him along on one of her climbs.
“We went up Rock Canyon and later that night I went out and bought my own harness, shoes, rope and quickdraws and decided I was gonna climb,” Jackson said. “That’s sort of a common theme in my life: going all-in when I like something.”
Jackson’s relaxed and humble nature is evident in this last statement. He went more than all-in to climbing. He’s climbed many first ascents, established new routes in Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Peru, Utah and Alaska, to name only a handful of locations. He onsighted the First Free Ascent (FFA) of the East Face of Texas Tower (5.12), an 850-foot section of wall. Before Jackson turned 21, he had climbed 100 desert towers. While driving Central Asia’s Pamir Highway in winter, he established seven new ice routes, ranging from WI3+ to WI6.
Jackson’s list of climbing accomplishments is simply too long to keep mentioning. And the list itself is just a pile of names, numbers, and places. Listing them out is meaningless without context, imagery and a full understanding of how it feels to shiver in an open bivy at zero degrees all night.
“What I’m most proud of is the ability to maintain psych and be able to go do all these things and do it safely with good people,” Jackson said. “The routes we’ve put up are there and if they get climbed again, that’ll be super cool.”
The good friends and safety aspects became paramount in Jackson’s climbing career early on.
In the beginning, Jackson adopted a motto from an influential climber in his life: Scott Adamson. Across Jackson’s helmet reads the acronym “NWS.” At first glance it looks like it could be referring to a point on a compass, but NWS stands for “No Weak Shit.” Scott coined the phrase. Jackson looked up to him, especially in his younger years of climbing when he was ticking his way to 100 desert towers.
Scott embodied everything Jackson found appealing about climbing. Sure, the climbs themselves were a focal point, but the allure for Jackson was the adventure of exploring new areas, mountains and countries.
“Originally when I was climbing a bunch of towers, it was all about getting shit done, going hard, and not backing down,” Jackson said.
Scott passed away on a climbing expedition in Pakistan in 2016. NWS took on a new meaning for Jackson after that. “In my mind NWS became more like ‘be aware’,” Jackson said. “‘No Weak Shit’ is kind of silly. It’s not weak to bail. It’s definitely harder to make the decision to bail sometimes than it is to go climb something amazing. It’s shifted for me to now mean ‘stay alive.’”
Jackson will be the first to admit that some climbs scare him. For someone with such an affinity for taking on challenging routes many of us would never dream of, we assume someone like Jackson doesn’t experience fear.
On a technical Grade VI/WI6ice climb in Kyrgyzstan , Jackson’s climbing partners noticed his lack of commenting on the climb’s difficulty. . Instead, Jackson was yelling down to them about how beautiful the area was. “Later they said it was funny that I was up there leading that pitch and just screaming about how beautiful it was, not even paying attention to climbing,” Jackson said. “I think the beauty is a distraction from the scary stuff, if you focus on that then the fear factor isn’t that bad.”
If it’s beautiful and it seems appealing, Jackson is all in. This mentality is exactly what has drawn him to Alaska each spring for the past four years. “It’s my favorite time of the year, being out on the glacier,” Jackson said. “It’s just really easy to relax and not have any other stress besides focusing on what I’m doing out there.”
Hours spent researching new areas for future expeditions has put a few new places on Jackson’s climbing wish-list. But his versatility in chasing a new experience every season makes locations he’s already traveled to and climbed still hold intrigue.
“Having seen all that stuff in winter in Kyrgyzstan and driven so much of that country, we can go back into spring and do some alpine climbing,” Jackson said. “It’s just cool how these experiences compliment each other. You can go out there and rock climb and see potential routes and think, ‘I should totally come back out here in a different time of year because it would 100% be a different experience.”
The theme in Jackson’s life of going all-in is truly evident in his dedication to climbing and seeking out new expeditions. His resume doesn’t belong on paper or in list form. A more fitting medium is a globe, with pins marking where he’s climbed. Zooming in on Google Maps, Jackson is constantly eyeing new countries and mountains for future expeditions. We’re gonna need to buy more pins to mark where he’s climbed. For now, we’ll leave Jackson alone while he gets lost in the endless possibilities of Google Maps.