Majka Burhardt doesn’t slow down much. The SCARPA athlete, author and speaker has spent much of her adult life combining a love and talent for climbing with an equal tenacity toward the arts and social responsibility. Born and raised in Minnesota, Burhardt was an unlikely candidate to be a rising voice for African conservation. But after her first trip years ago, she was entranced and thus, found her calling.
For the last several years, she’s dedicated much of her attention to exploring the cultures of Africa as much as any crag. Burhardt has already written two books, as well as a feature film, and has another film in the works. Between guiding, writing and film producing, she’s also getting married this year. Read on to see how she puts it all together.
How do you balance guiding and climbing with writing and filming? Is it a delicate balance, or do they lend themselves to one another?
I’ve lately come to appreciate balance spread out over a longer time frame. I can make myself crazy trying to do everything I am passionate about every week, but if I look at the longer view—like a year—I tend to chill out quite a bit. Climbing and writing are always part of my existence, and I play with what is taking lead in the moment. Right now I’m in a hyper climbing spree, and heading to Norway for my honeymoon in July to top that off. I’ll be working on some big writing projects when I get back stateside. Guiding fills in when I have a specific client, and filmmaking for me (as a producer) is another way to create story. They flow together as long as I am patient with the pattern.
You spend a lot of time in Africa, as a climber and as a writer and conservation advocate. What’s the allure for you?
Africa was initially unintentional in my life; it’s now inseparable with my most important work. I’m drawn to digging into why we, as a global society, think about things the way we do. There is a lot of potential to help create new ways of thinking and understanding around countries and issues inside of Africa. A lot of this comes from facing my own misconceptions and continuing to poke and prod at them and seeing ways in which they represent sticking points in global conversation.
The last year was fairly interesting. You were climbing in Armenia and had a quiet moment with a viper, followed by a tussle with some rockfall. Objective hazards come in many forms, huh? Can you speak to that?
I don’t think any run in with a viper en route is quiet… I’ve been climbing internationally for almost twenty years and have come to an uneasy understanding with a variety of hazards. Since I’m not wrapping myself in bubble wrap and staying home anytime soon, I’ve had to make peace with my choices.
I believe in learning what you can and making it a goal to not submit yourself to unnecessary hazards. Sometimes it’s choosing a different line, bribing the person driving the car or bus to stop passing around blind corners, or asking a snake expert to lie to you in the moment and tell you the toxic truth over a beer. I’m a big fan of coming home and I remind myself of that every time I leave.
You’ve said you’re not a runner, though you organized Ethiopia’s first ever trail race this March—with some big names in running. How did you get involved with that?
Accelerate Ethiopia was born out of a desire to link the immense running culture of Ethiopia with the outstanding opportunities being created in Ethiopia via sustainable development. I’m not a runner (good catch) but with two books about Ethiopia under my belt (Vertical Ethiopia and Coffee Story Ethiopia) I am someone who is committed to helping create a new vision of Ethiopia.
I produced the project in partnership the Himalayan Cataract Project, a leader in providing high-quality, low-cost eye care optimized for the developing world and imagine1day, a charity educating the next generation of leaders in Ethiopia. The event was a huge success with 179 runners in Ethiopia’s first ever trail race, 871 successful sight restoring surgeries, one new library to serve 500 primary school students, and a 1,000-person rural community in the heart of Northern Ethiopia. The running was off the hook with Scott Jurek, Gebre Gebremariam and Yemane Tsegay as our superstars and eleven committed fundraiser runners from around the world. Even with all that inspiration I didn’t run—think doubleheader back surgeries and a desire to keep climbing. Stay tuned for a September feature on Accelerate Ethiopia in Outside Magazine.
Back to climbing, what SCARPA products are you keen on these days?
I’m always tucking my Vapors into my climbing pack for micro edging or technical crack climbing and I’ve recently gotten into the Rapid LT’s—both for approach and for how easy it is to pop ‘em on my harness for a climb.
You’re headed back to Africa this coming October, specifically Mozambique, for a film conservation project. What’s that about?
The Lost Mountain is a collaboration between a motley crew of international scientists, conservationists, global adventurers and filmmakers. It’s vertical science on Mozambique’s second highest mountain, Mt Namuli, with new species of geckos and frogs and beetles and ants, not to mention crazy snakes and crocodiles. Our goals are to survey the biodiversity and conservation needs, to raise awareness, and to build partnerships for the conservation of Mt. Namuli. Yes, it really is about all of that. We did a recon trip to the area in 2011 and confirmed you really can climb grass clumps up a 55-degree 2,000′ granite face. It’s been full on ever since.
I have an all-star team and we’re doing our best to create big conversations about one of the world’s least-explored and most-threatened habitats. We’re creating media for local Mozambican and international audiences, and we’re launching a big Kickstarter initiative August 1st and finishing all of our fundraising now. This is the project that wakes me up at 2:00 AM with excitement and what if’s. I can’t wait. http://thelostmountainfilm.com/