Jorgeson's latest milestone: state-of-the-art climbing gym opens in Santa Rosa – The Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Seven years and five months after earning international fame for his ascent of the Dawn Wall in Yosemite Valley, the world’s hardest big wall climb, Santa Rosa native Kevin Jorgeson is celebrating another major milestone.
Saturday marked the grand opening of Session, the 23,000-square-foot climbing, yoga and fitness emporium on South A Street in Santa Rosa, founded by Jorgeson and his business partner, Mike Shaffer.
“Founding members” of the gym were welcome to use it during its soft opening, which preceded the grand opening by two weeks.
Striding through the fitness area last week, past the sculpted guy dangling from something called a kilterboard, and the woman on a yoga mat holding pigeon pose, Jorgeson exuded happiness — and relief.
To his left, a dozen founding members battled gravity in the building’s expansive bouldering section. In the ropes area to his right, climbers in harnesses, belayed from below, followed marked routes to the top of the five-story building.
“It’s like it’s not ours anymore,” said Jorgeson. “It’s everyone else’s, and that’s such a satisfying feeling.”
It took Jorgeson and his climbing partner Tommy Caldwell more than six years to plan and execute the ascent of the 3,000-foot Dawn Wall, which until that point had been considered simply too steep and difficult for free climbing.
But that epic challenge would prove straightforward compared to the difficulties Jorgeson and Session co-founder Shaffer faced in getting this project to the finish line, a quest that spanned seven years and survived several near-death experiences.
“This place is amazing,” said longtime climber Ed Henicle, who had bicycled from his downtown Santa Rosa home. “It’s so big, and look at all the natural light.”
Session is the first climbing gym to open in Santa Rosa since 1995, when the Vertex Climbing Center on Coffey Lane opened its doors. That’s where Jorgeson honed his skills as a teenager, then worked as an instructor and head route-setter.
Like Jorgeson, many of Session’s members speak of Vertex with affection and respect.
“It’s still an incredible training source,” said Jerry Dodrill, a veteran climber and acclaimed landscape photographer whose images enliven the lounge at Session.
But they’re thrilled to have this new venue.
Where Vertex was state of the art in the 1990s, noted Eric Whitbrook, “This is a state of the art gym in the 2020s.”
He praised in particular the height and “manufacturing” of Session’s walls — how they simulate outdoor terrain — and “the quality of the route-setting.”
In April, Session announced the hiring of Jeremy Ho as the gym’s head route-setter and head coach — the climbing equivalent of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signing Tom Brady.
Ho’s job is to place a series of “holds,” which create a variety of routes, up the wall. He has set routes for 13 U.S. national championships and was one of three American setters chosen for last month’s climbing World Cup in Salt Lake City.
While checking in climbers last week, Session employee Alejandro Rodriguez praised Jorgeson’s and Shaffer’s “incredible attention to detail” — down to the membership packages.
“They hand-signed every one — like, thousands of letters.”
OCD-level attention to detail is one of Jorgeson’s trademarks as a climber. In that regard, he can be “a total control freak,” said his wife, Jacqui, with a smile.
But the rocky, unpredictable journey of designing and constructing a five-story building during a pandemic “Zenned him out,” she observed.
“This whole process has been a lesson in letting go and releasing attachment.”
Twice during that process, the project’s lead investor pulled out.
The second time it happened, in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, that investor was Kenwood Investments, whose CEO is Darius Anderson. He is also the managing member of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat and other regional publications.
“I don’t blame Darius,” said Jorgeson. “It was COVID. We’re climbers. We don’t take risks we don’t think we can handle.”
Into the breach stepped Brad Baker.
The chief executive of SOMO Living, which owns and operates SOMO Village in Rohnert Park, Baker already was involved with the project. In its early stages, he agreed to buy the tract on South A Street, which cost around $1 million, and lease it back to Jorgeson and Shaffer.
In addition to owning the land, he would now be lead investor of a project which, when complete, will have cost around $9 million, he said.
Session also had a personal appeal to Baker. After moving to Sonoma County in the late 19th century, his family once owned the land on which the building now stands, a few blocks north of the Baker Avenue overpass on Highway 101.
In addition to a fitness center, the mezzanine level includes an east-facing yoga studio whose broad windows provide fine views of the Mayacamas.
Even before the grand opening, members were posting pictures on social media of the sunrise over Taylor Mountain.
In the lounge below is a jaw-dropping image titled “Sunset Over Sentinel Peak,” an 8-by-3½-foot print taken by Dodrill, who captured that panorama after a day of climbing with friends on the slopes of Mount Saint Helena.
A member of that crew is Eric Berghorn, a close friend with whom Dodrill has spent hundreds of hours climbing. Dodrill lives in Bodega; Berghorn in Calistoga. It’s always been a bit of an ordeal for them to get together to explore the routes on Mount Saint Helena.
But Session is roughly equidistant between them. Both were there last week, along with Morgan and a handful of others in their climbing tribe, “and it wasn’t even orchestrated,” said Dodrill.
“To have a gathering place like this, where we can train, and connect socially — it’s incredible.”
To date Jorgeson has witnessed members making new friends, but also renewing old acquaintances. “Friends that haven’t seen each other in a long time are bear hugging,” he said. “There are people who haven’t climbed in two years, because of COVID, or 10 years, because they’ve been raising a family. Now this has inspired them to get back into it.
“They’ve dusted off their old climbing gear, and now they’re picking up right where they left off.”
You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at or on Twitter @ausmurph88.
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