On a Monday evening in Colorado Springs, Colorado, 7-year-old Sam Baker was quite literally bouncing off the walls at a climbing gym.
“Sam, let’s try and climb,” said his dad, Joe, in a calm yet assertive voice.
But it seemed as though Sam was paying little mind. Instead, he was putting on the headphones attached to cameraman Ryan Beard, listening to his own voice through the microphone and laughing.
“He’s very busy. He’s non-stop energy,” said Joe.
Sam frequents the gym four to five nights a week. He is well-known, as front-desk employees and climbers alike all welcome him and say hi as they go to their respective walls to attach themselves to ropes and climb.
“[The climbing scale] goes from 5.0 to the hardest climb in the world is about 5.15, so 5.10 is really about where expert begins, so [Sam] is climbing right about there,” said Joe.
Sam has been doing this since he could walk, and it is noticeable. He moved across footholds nimbly as he made his way up a rock wall.
Through the headphones attached to the camera, you could hear Sam say “no fear” as he gripped a hold slightly out of reach and hoisted himself further up the edifice.
“Do you get scared of anything? What are your fears?” I asked Sam after he came back down to ground level.
“Spiders, stuff like that,” he responded with a giggle.
“Not heights or anything like that?” I retorted.
“No, I’m not afraid of anything that’s rock climbing,” he said.
Sam is one of the youngest known climbers to summit at least three peaks in the United States. He regularly takes road trips with his dad to various parks that offer climbs most experts still approach gingerly.
“People say, ‘Sam, I don’t know how you do it. I just get so afraid,’” said Joe. “He loves telling them, ‘Hey that’s easy. All you got to do is do the thing that you’re afraid of and you’ll overcome your fear.'”
Now, Sam has his sights set on a new goal: El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
Its 3,000 ft. vertical ascent and four to six days of sleeping on overhangs leaves the mountain as one of the most widely-regarded mountain climbing accomplishments in the world.
“It going to be hard and very tall,” said Sam.
“It’s kind of this Mecca of the whole climbing world, and we started talking a lot about it and Sam started getting interested and saying, 'could I climb that some day?'” said Joe.
But the duo is not planning to do the feat next summer for the prestige alone, they are doing it for the tens of thousands of kids in the country who do not have the opportunity to form similar memories with their parents.
“We were on a ledge once talking and I shared with [Sam] that not every kid has a mom and dad and that blew his mind,” said Joe. “And it was out of that that we decided what if we could raise money for the hundred thousand kids stuck in the foster system that are eligible to be adopted.”
Joe and Sam routinely film their climbing adventures and edit the videos together so others can follow along on their journeys. They plan to do the same with El Capitan, but this time they plan to pitch the finished video to Netflix and other streaming services in the hopes it raises more awareness about their cause.
“The greatest life is when you can serve others,” said Joe. “Serving our kids, serving other people in our life, and I’m trying to instill that into Sam. It’s not just about you; you can do things for other people. It’s what fills you with life and joy.”
In three weeks since Joe and Sam have started their foundation, they have been able to raise $1,000. Joe says all future donations, and part of the proceeds from the film will go toward America’s Kids Belong, a nonprofit that works to find foster kids permanent families.