- Your Town
Local man scaling South American peak to help battle human trafficking
“Because it’s there” serves as the only motivation necessary for many climbers to set out to scale a majestic mountain.
“Because it’s there” is also motivating Dillon trucker Matt Hopkins in his current quest to conquer Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in Argentina and the entire Western hemisphere.
But the “it” for Hopkins is not the mountain. The “it” is the growing problem of human trafficking that is spreading there, here and just about everywhere in the world, even Montana, according to numerous law enforcement experts.
“Human trafficking is one of those things that always bothered me — I knew that if I ever did something to raise awareness for an important issue, that would be the issue I would do it for,” revealed Hopkins, who said he first became aware of the problem through movies that took place overseas, but after doing some research realized that human trafficking was also very much a problem in the United States.
“I looked into it more and found out it’s a huge problem — second only to drug trafficking. This could victimize your brother, your sister.
“I thought that it was exactly the kind of thing that needs to have more light shed on it. I thought that if I could do something big, like climb the tallest mountain in North and South America, I could bring some attention and raise awareness about it,” added Hopkins, who learned more about the problem while driving in his truck and listening to the Road Dog Trucking Radio show, which also introduced him to Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), the organization that will benefit from the funds he raises during his climb.
Hopkins hopes to raise at least $22,841 — a dollar for every foot that Mt. Aconcagua rises above sea level, through donations to the website he set up for his expedition, www.frommilestomountains.com.
The 27-year-old Hopkins took a break from his cattle hauling business and left Dillon on Jan. 27 on his humanitarian quest, first flying to Chile and then taking a bus to Argentina, where he started the epic climb last weekend, a climb he needs to finish by Feb. 21 to abide by his permit.
Dillon’s Isaac Sturgeon, who runs a local lawn care business, has accompanied Hopkins on his South American expedition, along with two European men — one of whom is climbing to raise awareness about child abuse in his Greek homeland.
Since taking up mountain climbing about five years ago, Hopkins has made it to the top of some impressive Montana mountains, including Mt. Torrey and Warren Peak, but Mt. Aconcagua will still represent a big upgrade on his climbing resume.
“I’ve climbed the second highest mountain in the Pioneers and Pintlers, now I’m climbing the tallest mountain in North and South America,” laughed Hopkins, who noted that Aconcagua peaks more than 10,000 feet above the tallest mountain he’s climbed to this point.
“Hey, you only live once,” said Hopkins, who hopes to one day conquer the tallest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents, especially Mt. Vinson in Antarctica.
He said he chose South America’s Mt. Aconagua, in part, because permits to climb it run only $600, even if it is supposed to have the worst weather of the seven peaks.
But Hopkins is willing to endure that weather on the remote mountainside in South America to raise awareness about human trafficking, even though the crime has never directly impacted his life, just his conscience.
“Human trafficking has never affected me personally or anyone close to me,” explained Hopkins, “but it was just something that hit me and stuck in my mind. I knew I wanted to try to do something about it.”
You can find out more about Matt Hopkins’ climb and donate to his efforts to raise awareness about human trafficking at www.frommilestomountains.com.
The State of Montana and Town Pump recently teamed up for their own campaign to raise awareness about human trafficking.
Starting in January, over two hundred Town Pump locations began displaying a poster created by the Montana Department of Justice to alert people to the growing menace of human trafficking in the state.
“Town Pump cares about the communities we do business in, and we’re committed to helping make them safer places to live, particularly for Montana’s young people,” said Mike Kenneally, president of Town Pump Corporation.
“We’re very appreciative to have been asked to partner with the Department of Justice in its efforts to stop human trafficking in Montana.”
With text in both English and Spanish, the posters alert people to a toll-free help-line number administered by the Polaris Project, a national non-profit working to end human trafficking.
Additional posters have been put up at every rest stop along Montana state highways, as well as in city parks across the state. Another 2,000 posters were distributed at the Montana Board of Crime Control’s Conference last fall for display around the state.
In a press release announcing the campaign last month, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said that human trafficking has grown into a $32 billion a year industry and ranks as “the fastest growing element of the criminal industry in the world.”
Fox has asked other Montana businesses to display the poster, which can be printed for free from the Department of Justice website, www.doj.mt.gov. Hard copies can be obtained by calling the Attorney General’s Office at (406) 444-2026.