About Expedition Hope

Expedition Hope™ was founded by Joe Lawson, an Indianapolis native and accomplished mountain climber and adventurer.

Expedition Hope is a program to raise awareness, funds and help erase the stigma of depression through recognition generated by the rare accomplishment of climbing the Seven Summits, the highest mountain on each continent.

In May 1986, Joe’s father Virgil A. Lawson committed suicide after years of battling depression. He was 50 years old. Joe, then a sophomore at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, was only 16 years old.

Virgil, shown here with three of his seven children
— sons (left to right) John, Dan and Joe —
committed suicide less than a year
after this photo was taken.

Less than a year later, during his junior year, Joe got his first taste of mountain climbing through a school trip. Since then, Joe has traveled the world in search of new adventures and personal challenges. This includes serving as a staff guide for the Discovery Channel’s 1998 and 1999 Eco-Challenge Adventure Races in Morocco, North Africa, and in Patagonia, Argentina, respectively.

Joe firmly believes the sport of mountain climbing serves as an analogy for persons battling depression and other mental illnesses. As he explains, “In mountain climbing, one needs the ability to overcome many challenges, to eliminate obstacles and to adapt to constant changes. These same challenges are true for persons battling depression and other mental illnesses, and for the loved ones who live with and care for them as well.”

As the kick-off to Expedition Hope and with the support of Eli Lilly & Company, Joe embarked on an expedition to Mt. McKinley (Denali), the highest mountain in North America, in May 2005. Joe did this not only in memory of his father, but also for the millions of other people like him.

Starting on “home turf” brought immediate recognition for the endeavor. Mt. McKinley is considered, after Mt. Everest, the most challenging of the Seven Summits, based on technical difficulty, physical hardship and altitude.

The mountains present deadly conditions and arduous climbs, yet they are attainable with the appropriate assistance. Mountain climbers face extreme weather conditions and hostile environments for extended periods of time. The same correlations may be drawn to persons suffering from depression and other mental illnesses: They may face extreme and sometimes deadly challenges, but help, treatment and relief from symptoms are attainable with appropriate assistance.

Joe’s first summit attempt was waylayed when he fell through a hidden crevasse and sustained a knee injury that disallowed him to continue the climb at that time. Like those suffering with depression, this setback only further intensifies Joe’s message of persistence and perseverance!

With the continued support of Eli Lilly & Company and other sponsors, Joe will return to Mt. McKinley in the future as part of Expedition Hope’s quest.

In September 2005, Joe successfully summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa! Two months later, he summited Mt. Kosciuszko, the highest peak in Australia!