Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

The Thrill of Horseback Riding

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

When riding a horse, I feel connected.

Trees blurring past, the thunder of hooves.  I held tight to the reins, remembering to keep my heels down.  Fourteen hundred pounds of power galloping through the forest.  Horseback riding is a mystical, powerful adventure.

When riding a horse, I feel connected.  It’s a mixture of love, fear, and respect.  Humans and horses have a long history together, a productive relationship that has lasted centuries.  Before machines, horses were the machine, they were a power that helped pull our civilization together.  Before cars, horses carried us across the land.  When we ride horses in this modern world, it’s a timeless event.  And Sanborn Western Camps is one of the best places to ride.

At Sanborn, one of our many goals is to foster a sense of wonder in every camper.  We work to inspire a connection with nature.  And one of the many ways to achieve that connection is to swing up into a saddle and ride a horse.

I gazed into the huge marble eyes.

There is something therapeutic about horseback riding.  Studies have shown that we truly connect with the animal.  Brain waves slow.  We even change our breathing to match up with the horse.  The slightest movement, a turn, the twitch of a muscle, it’s all communication.  The horse understands without words.  If a camper is stressed, the horse can sense that.  If a camper is relaxed, the horse relaxes as well.  It’s a feedback loop, animal to animal, a real time relationship.

Many years ago when I was a camper at Sanborn, I was afraid of horses.  I pretended I didn’t care, but the truth is I was scared.  The staff was ready for this.  The counselors and wranglers gently encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone and give horseback riding a try.  So I did.

I thought we would jump right on a horse and ride, but the process was much more intricate.  The wranglers first taught me how to care for the animal, to understand it, to lead the horse gently, to speak to it.  They showed me how to brush the horse, tracing the contours of its power.  I began to relax and forget my fear.  I began to feel a sense of wonder.

I gazed into the huge marble eyes.  I ran my hands along the sway of the horse’s back and wondered if a Ute boy or a young trapper did the same with his horse two hundred years ago, right where I was standing.

We learned to saddle and bridle, tightening buckles, bringing all tack to the perfect length.

We learned to saddle and bridle, tightening buckles, bringing all tack to the perfect length.  Then, with mud on my rented boots, I swung up into the saddle.  We rode slowly, ambling away from the Big Spring barn.  That sunny afternoon, I went on my first ride.  And I’ve never looked back.

When we ride, we develop all kinds of skills.  Horseback riding is a two-way process.  You can’t just sit back and do nothing, you must interact with the animal with physical and verbal cues.  As a result, riding develops subtle communication skills.  Riding also develops balance and coordination.  Your core gets a workout, and you must stay focused on where your body is in space.  After a long ride, the next day you can truly feel it, aches in muscles you didn’t know you had.

At camp we do all kinds of rides, from half-day trail rides to five day pack trips deep into the Rockies.  It’s a range of fun that fits perfectly with the range of campers.  My favorites are the long trips, adventures that are unmatched.  We ride deep into rugged country, places where only horses can take us.  We sleep under the stars and rise before dawn to care for the herd.  It’s a unique experience that you can only find at a place like Sanborn.

In our modern chaotic world, it’s important to find ways to relax.  Horseback riding can do that.  Horses are a direct bond with nature that we can all share.  When you ride a horse, you find both companionship and solitude at the same time.

Any chance I can get, I’ll take a horseback ride.  The rasp of an old saddle, the musk of the animal, the joy of a slow walk through an aspen grove.  The world looks better from the back of a horse.  The Ute Indians of the Rockies once said, “The way to heaven is on horseback.”  I think they might be right.

- M. Huffman -

News from Camp: April 1, 2016

Friday, April 1st, 2016

The fuzzy Pasque Flowers are so fun to see in the springtime!

Significant snowfall during the last couple of weeks has provided wonderful moisture and a promise of spectacular wildflowers and full ponds in the coming months. Despite the snow, a few of our summer birds, including bluebirds and robins, have returned to the Ranch so we know spring is on the way. Our first wildflowers, the hardy Mountain Candytuft and the Pasque flower have also been spotted on south-facing slopes. We know that summer will be here before we know it and are inspired to work harder than ever on our many pre-summer projects. The summer staff will begin arriving in less than two months.

Speaking of staff, we have some great people returning for 2016! At Big Spring, returning staff include Jared Allen, Walker Crowley, Tijler deJong, Kevin Fernandez, Oliver Fisher, Kevin Gassaway, Kyle Gilbert, Will Gundlach, Matt Larimer, Slayter Marwitz, Dylan Morris, Evan Niebur, Connor Overman, Emerson Underwood, Jordan Unger, Stephen VanAsdale, Rilyn VandeMerwe, Ben Vockley, Ethan Wallgren, Bret Wolter and nurse Margot Cromack. Jeremy Mabe will be the Program Director assisted by Logistics Coordinator Martie Adams while Jalen Bazile will be a Ridge Leader. Mike Mac will lead the staff, with the help of Assistant Director Matthew Huffman.

The Mountain Candy Tufts tend to grow in the loose gravel alongside the roads.

At High Trails, returning staff include Val Peterson, Allie Almanzar, Cade Beck, Megan Blackburn, Ellen Cromack, Claire Foster, Hailey Gelzer, Carly Holthaus, Carlie Howard, Abby Johnson, Avery Katz, Sophie Leiter, Cara Mackesey, Annie McDevitt, Rachel McNamara, Maddie Ohaus, Gwen Schmidt-Arenales, Kendra Shehy, Truman Sherwood, Anne Shingler, Erica Wilkins and nurse Katie Metz. Janie Cole will again be Program Director, Carlotta Avery will take care of the camp kitchens and trip organization, Maren MacDonald will direct the riding program, Sarah Ulizio will head up rock climbing, Jessie Spehar will take plenty of canoe and river trips and Ariella and Elizabeth will keep everyone organized. We also have a great group of former campers returning as staff members, and some wonderful new staff who will join us for the first time.

We have begun our Spring outdoor education program and are excited to provide experiential, nature-based classes for 4th– 6th graders from 15 schools over the next six weeks.

The Mountain Ball Cacti are very prevalent on the South facing slopes right now.

Our April will be filled with putting the finishing touches on improved programs and trips for this summer, renovation projects to improve our facilities, hiring the last few summer staff and counting the days until camp begins. We’ll be painting, cleaning, flying tents, and planting flowers in no time.

Seeing the Dwarf Cinquefoil now, reminds us that soon Olin Gulch will be covered with its larger counterpart!

Our 2016 community is really coming together. We only have a few openings left in select grades at High Trails, Big Spring, and Sanborn Junior. Families interested for the summer of 2016 should call to check availability. As always, we are happy to send our brochure, DVD and references to any interested families.

We can’t wait to begin creating the fun, adventure, and friendship of the Summer of 2016!

A Sense of Wonder

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Enjoying the sunset at Top of the World

Many of us can remember “a moment of wonder” at camp when time stopped as we watched a Red Tail fly through the sky, or when we witnessed a sunset so beautiful it took our breath away. Perhaps we were amazed by the stars glittering in the night sky, or by the colors of the wild iris in the field below Witcher Rocks. “To inspire a sense of wonder” has always been part of the mission of the camps, and we hope that everyone who comes to camp experiences many such moments at Big Spring and High Trails.

The importance of a sense of wonder for all of us, and especially for young people, cannot be over emphasized. Scott Barry Kaufman, author of “Wired to Create” recently spoke at an American Camp Association conference we all attended.  He provided research to show that a “sense of awe” as he termed it, greatly enhances curiosity and creativity, skills that are sadly diminishing among today’s youth. Other speakers at the conference demonstrated how the simple act of “noticing” in the natural world can lead to awareness, joy, and a deep connection with nature.

Use your imagination to build a fort like the Trappers would have done over a hundred years ago!

The term “sense of wonder” was coined by Rachel Carson in a 1956 essay. Though she planned to write a book on the subject, she died in 1963 before completing the project. However, her notes were used to create a book called “Sense of Wonder”, that was published posthumously in 1965.  When Carson wrote her essay, she was already seeing signs that many children no longer had access to the wild places that were abundant for our agricultural forbears.

Carson could not have predicted, however, the changes in society which have occurred in the past 60 years. In 2006, Richard Louv picked up Carson’s theme with his bestseller, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder”. The research is now significant and it all shows that children need time spent in the natural world in the same way they need food and sleep.  And, while we now understand the power of this need, studies also show that the amount of time children are spending in the natural world is decreasing each year.

Where will these seeds go?

Two significant, and simple, realizations have become clear through the research. One: it is through a personal connection to the natural world that a child experiences the most powerful benefits of a nature experience. This is the same emotional feeling described in the phrase “Sense of Wonder”. Two: young people are 90% more likely to experience this personal connection with nature if they explore the natural world with an adult mentor who also has a personal connection.

Rachel Carson was prescient in this; in her 1956 article she said “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

“To inspire a sense of wonder” is still an important part of our mission and we are becoming ever more intentional about ensuring that each person who comes to camp leaves with a personal connection to the natural world. A sense of wonder can also be enhanced in a garden, a park, an alley, or just by looking at the stars. So go outside today, notice what is around you—and take a child with you.

From the Summer Staff Perspective

Friday, December 18th, 2015

Camp has an incredible impact on campers, but it also impacts our staff members in equally powerful ways. It allows us to reflect on the impact of our experiences and the strength of connections made during our childhood and adolescence. It gives us a perspective on the challenges of growing up that we don’t experience again until we have children of our own. And, possibly most important, it allows us to see ourselves through the eyes, actions and needs of another. We have incredible staff at Sanborn Western Camps because, as an organization, we ask them to put the needs of the campers before their own. The staff members who remain present and focused on the campers’ development end up being the ones who take away camps’ biggest lesson: how to empathize and care deeply for others–and to hold yourself accountable. As one of our long-time staff members and former campers, Iska Nardie-Warner, shared in her following response on self-reflection, “They will ask similar questions of you, and you might want [to have] your answers ready.”

Camp changes the way girls perceive themselves.

I was writing [this] and ended up getting super nostalgic for camp, the staff, and the campers. Anyway, I just thought I’d share some of what camp has given me these past 3 years mostly because I think that sharing in the moment is cool and not done enough, but also because tis the season you know?

Though I have had many reasons for returning to Sanborn, the opportunity to communicate to young girls the power that comes from living outdoors in a solely female community surely covers the main of it.

Fortunately for me, the past two summers have been spent living and working with the same girls. And I can honestly say that watching each and everyone of those unique, talented, and beautiful young ladies challenge themselves physically, emotionally and grow in themselves has been a blessing. We all remember the challenges of being a fifteen-year old girl and to help these special ladies recognize their connections to (and love for) each other and the strength they build when they rely not only upon themselves but each other as well is making a difference.

Camp changes the way girls perceive themselves. Less and less, you will observe, the girls worry about the need to look or act a specific way: instead, they focus on climbing 14,000 foot mountains, riding horses with control, and most importantly asking questions of the world, themselves. And don’t be fooled, they will ask similar questions of you, and you might want your answers ready.

The power of fifteen-year old girls is undoubtedly underestimated. There is something striking about waking each morning and having to explain yourself and your thoughts and actions, almost immediately, to your girls. Their insatiable curiosity prompts repeated recognition of the importance of self-reflection for a counselor.

Honestly, I cherish explaining why my opinions on the importance of female empowerment provide the drive behind my work as a counselor: Sanborn becomes the intersection of theory and practice, for me, and I only fully-understand that because of self-reflection, sometimes prompted by the intelligent young ladies that populate that camp. In other words, these girls challenge me just as much as I plan on challenging them each summer. And I know they will give me just as much as I am willing to give them.

"And I know they will give me just as much as I am willing to give them." Avery (left), a current camper, with Iska (right) during their long trip in Summer 2015.

I could never take my role in their life lightly, and plan to never take for granted the role they have played in mine either because they really are the most special, funny, witty, charming, intelligent, kind, poised, and lovable young women. I miss them to pieces and know that they will be some of the best JCs and people this world has ever seen. And Sanborn—as a place that changes lives forever (for the better)—would be lucky to have any of them that can return.



Thank you Iska for sharing your thoughts with us and our greater Camp community. We are so excited to continue impacting each other with our campers and staff members as the New Year approaches and brings Summer 2016 with it.

We agree – Camp is Magic

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Facing challenges that seem impossible at the time is part of the Magic of camp.

Maybe being this far back in the forest you would think that it’s hard for the News to reach us, but we do appreciate those of you who help keep us connected to what’s new and trending, and we will never pass up a great article about the Magic and Purpose of Camp! So when this article from the Huffington Post by Kelly Newsome was passed along to Jane by a couple of alums, it quickly made its way around the office and now up on the blog and back out to you, who we have a feeling will appreciate it as much as we did!

We know from first-hand experience that the thoughts Ms. Newsome expresses about how camp shaped her as a person are very real. Camp is an environment where individual growth and self-understanding occur in a way that seems magical. It does not matter where or which camp you attended as a child or worked at in your young adult years or came back to for an Alum Reunion.

The Magic of camp can happen in as short a time frame as a weekend.

And that is where this article struck me as so true. We just enjoyed the camp alum reunion to celebrate our 67th year, and welcomed nearly 50 over-excited “children” (as Ms. Newsome so aptly put it).  The excitement in the lodge on Thursday night was palpable. Pre-historic through present aged camp alum immediately blended together into a new camp community. All weekend they enjoyed together the activities that make up so many happy memories from camp days.

My favorite part of the reunions though are the stories told during meals and “rest time” on the deck. The stories of great adventures, favorite counsellors and campers, and most especially the challenging moments! Just as Ms. Newsome said, “After lice outbreaks, soiled linens, projectile vomiting, and shrill screams in the wee hours of the morning, getting splashed by an oncoming bus on the way to class or stepping in dog poop at the park just doesn’t take a toll on my happiness the way it once did.”

We all have those stories of the great mountain climbs and perfect 5-day horse trips that we look back on fondly, but it’s not these stories that get told with minute-by-minute details and pride in all the sheer will-power it took to boil water in a torrential Colorado downpour. It’s the challenges we all faced, and overcame, that turn into the stories that are now told and reflected on as being the best. You were challenged by Nature, by very-tired distraught campers, by a mountain with 14 false peaks. You struggled, worked as a team, and overcame the worst of the situation to pull through and return triumphant! Those are the memories that you hold dear and those are the times that shaped you into the strong confident human being you are now.  These are the magic moments – and yes, for those of you who are currently campers, this is happening for you too!

The world is changing out there (we do venture out of our forest home enough to know that). It is continuing to become a place of diversified challenges and struggles. Yet, we know that what we’ve done here for the past 67 years and the challenges we continue to embrace, are still helping to grow and shape us into the very best humans we can be. The humans that will take Camp out into the world and “redefine magic” there as well.

Find Kelly Newsome’s article The Magic of Summer Camp here.

News from Camp: October 1, 2015

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

We are enjoying spectacular Indian Summer days here at camp. The golden Aspen are at their peak and are stunning against the bright blue sky. We’ve been spying on the herd of elk at Potts Spring and have also seen deer, porcupines, wild turkeys, bobcats, and, of course, the fat black Abert squirrels. Many of our summer birds have headed south and the year-round bird residents are beginning to show up at our feeders more regularly.

Everyone at camp had a great time watching the lunar eclipse on September 27. It was a spectacular show from our location, and bugling elk in the background made it a night to remember!

Our outdoor education program with sixth graders from District 20 in Colorado Springs has been underway since mid-September. We also hosted a “No Child Left Inside” open house September 19 and were very happy to have many local families join us for a morning of hikes and nature-based activities led by our staff. We are very committed to doing everything we can to help young people connect with the natural world. The benefits are enormous—as Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” says: “Children who have a personal connection with nature are happier, healthier, and smarter.”

At The Nature Place, Rob Jolly and his staff are busy working with the University of Denver on a team-building and leadership development program for DU’s MBA students. We have collaborated with DU on this program, where every MBA student spends a long weekend at The Nature Place, for over 15 years. The students rock climb, participate in an orienteering course, and work through many team-building scenarios, all of which teach values-based leadership.

The horses are grazing happily in Fishcreek where they are exceptionally appreciative of the lush green grass. They miss taking rides every day with their many friends but are already looking forward to next summer.

We are most excited about opening enrollment for another season of camp. The summer of 2016 will be our 68th and we are looking forward to sharing adventures, friendships and lots of fun. We have already begun enrollment, and additional enrollment information will be going out throughout the month of October. If you know of interested families, we’ll be happy to send our brochure and DVD. They can also request information from our website.

We hope you are having a fantastic Autumn!

Reflections and Realizations

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015
Camp is finally here! We are all together again! My skin can barely hold all joy and excitement inside me! It is absolutely amazing to see everyone, staff and campers, in the lodge, on the trails and playing in the fields. What we’ve discussed for the last ten days is finally being out to practice. First year counselors and fourth year counselors are seamlessly blending together as a group of strong mentors for this group of young people we’ve welcomed home in the last 24 hours. Everyone is experiencing the first few days of Summer 2015 together and looking forward to all the adventure and fun in store.
As I struggle to sleep tonight with all this excitement, I’ve also been reflecting on the past 10 days of training and the conversations I know have happened at both Big Spring and High Trails. The impact will we have on their lives as counselors, wranglers, or leaders on trips this summer is remarkable. We talked about ways to help campers learn both hard and soft skills and build competence and confidence; not only in their lives at camp, but throughout their lives outside of camp. Staff members are taking to heart all the ideas presented to the group and looking for ways they can impact campers.

Celebrating the summit of Mt. Elbert on day 4 of the 2010 1st Session Elbert/ Massive Trip.

This helped me recognize something special about this summer for me. Many of my junior campers from my first summer on staff are now the Junior Counselors (JCs) at High Trails. In fact, a great many of our staff members were also former campers on trips of mine. Over the past ten days, I’ve realized that some of my favorite people in the world are on the staff this summer – it’s because they are the people that made a huge impact on my life!

These are the ladies that were campers on the first backpacking trip I led, on the first trip with 2 mountain climbs, and on the trip that the rain would never stop and I had dreams of our tents floating away. These were the trips that have shaped me into the mountain woman I am today. I remember those instances that I didn’t speak with grace first, I didn’t come into each conversation with the thought of teaching first. Those are the trips that were wonderful in their many missteps and these are the ladies that trusted me to guide them, teach them and celebrate with them….even when I didn’t feel I had the competence and confidence that I was trying so humbly to help them gain.

All the 2015 staff members who I first met when they were campers and took out on trips. (And Ariella too, who has always been a rock of support)

These are the ladies that impacted my life in so many positive and most important ways.

There is a phrase we use around here sometimes, because of camp… Well, because of camp, I have gained the skills and self-confidence of a great leader, all while being too busy playing in the dirt and hiking with my girls to notice.
To the parents who send their most precious treasures to camp, thank you, you are giving our staff members a most precious gift–the gift of being able to grow and change alongside your sons and daughters.

- Jessie

News From Camp: June 1, 2015

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

June is finally here and we are excited for the arrival of campers in two weeks. We had a significant amount of moisture in May, which has made the Ranch more beautiful than ever. The grass is green, the Aspens are leafing out, and the wildflowers are beginning to appear. We see deer every day in the immediate camp area, the Mountain Bluebirds are settled in for the summer, the hummingbirds are back, and the Abert’s Squirrels are exceptionally fat and sassy.

We have been preparing the facility and are almost ready for everyone’s arrival. The Big Spring tents are up, the BS Lodge is open for business, and fresh paint is being applied in many places. The flowers are planted, the horses have new shoes, and the swimming pools are full and heating. We think you will be pleased by the facility improvements we have made over the winter: a new floor in the HT Lodge, renovations at the Real Estate Office at Big Spring, a new bathroom in Crystal Palace, and new tent frames for the Outbackers at Big Spring are just a few of these. Although we are still finishing a few last minute facility projects, we have now turned our attention to staff training.

The leadership staff arrived last week and we are conducting a special training for our Senior staff team over the weekend. Several staff are also taking a lifeguard training course over the weekend. On Thursday and Friday last week, our rock climbing staff enjoyed a two-day training at our Wild Goat Mountain climbing site, while several staff completed a riflery instructor course. Our wranglers have been here for two weeks now and have been busy getting our horses ready for the summer and completing their specialized training.

On Monday and Tuesday, many of our trip leading staff will complete a two-day Wilderness First Aid course taught by the Wilderness Medicine Institute. Also on Monday, several staff will complete a course in archery instruction. On Wednesday, we will hold an all-day driver training course and also will conduct First Aid and CPR courses. Our entire staff of more than 100 will arrive on Thursday. For the following nine days, we will hold sessions on youth development, outdoor skills, our mission and core values, leadership tools, and health and safety, as well as trainings in our many program areas.

It is always special when our wonderful summer community comes together. We are looking forward to the mountains we will climb, the horseback trips we will enjoy, the sunsets we will share and the friendships we will make. We especially anticipate the opportunities we will have to learn more about ourselves, our companions and the natural world.

We again plan to post weekly updates and photos on the website once camp begins. Although we cannot promise to show every camper or every activity, we think these photos will help parents, friends, and family members to get a peek into life at Big Spring, High Trails, and Sanborn Junior. So visit us again on June 14!

News from Camp: April 1, 2015

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

The Pasque Flowers are blooming beautifully this year!

A few of our summer birds, including bluebirds and robins, have returned to the Ranch so we know Spring is on the way. We still have quite a few snow drifts scattered around, mostly on north-facing slopes, but the first Pasque flower of the season has been spotted. Temperatures have warmed up and the nice weather really inspires us to work hard on our many pre-summer projects. The summer staff will begin arriving in less than two months.

Speaking of staff, we have some great people returning for 2015!  At Big Spring, returning staff include Mike Adler, Hazel Coogler, Kevin Fernandez, Kevin Gassaway, Matthew Goodrid, Jake Gulliver, Peter Hoeller, Robert Hune-Kalter, Nick Jordan, Aaron Kilian, Jeremy Mabe, Evan Niebur, John Nowlan, Logan Parr, John Stewart, Alex Stoffel, Stephen VanAsdale, Ethan Wallgren and nurses Margot Cromack and Kristen Givens. Ian Stafford and Jackson Blackburn will once again be part of the Big Spring Leadership Team and Mike Mac will lead the staff, with the help of Assistant Director Matthew Huffman.
At High Trails, returning staff include Val Peterson, Gracie Barrett, Cade Beck, Megan Blackburn, Zena Daole, Shannon Gardner, Jenny Hartman, Jenna Howard, Maddie Jenkins, Avery Katz, Sarah LeBrun, Cara Mackesey, Annie McDevitt, Iska Nardie-Warner, Melody Reeves, Meghan Rixey, Kendra Shehy, Cheyenne Smith, Tully Sandbom, and nurse Molly Radis. Janie Cole will be Program Director, Carlotta Avery will take care of the camp kitchens and trip organization, Maren MacDonald will direct the riding program, Jessie Spehar will take photographs and Ariella and Elizabeth will keep everyone organized. We also have a great group of former campers returning as staff members, and some wonderful new staff who will join us for the first time.
We have begun our Spring outdoor education program and are excited to provide experiential, nature-based classes for 4th– 6th graders

The staff of High Trails Outdoor Education Center enjoyed learning and playing camp games out in the snow during the last couple days of March.

from 15 schools over the next six weeks.

Our April will be filled with putting the finishing touches on improved programs and trips for this summer, renovation projects to improve our facilities, hiring the last few summer staff and counting the days until camp begins.  We’ll be painting, cleaning, flying tents, and planting flowers in no time.
Our 2015 community is really coming together.  The First Term at High Trails is filled and there only a few openings left in the Second Term of High Trails.  Many grades in the First Term of Big Spring are filled, and Big Spring still has openings in most grades in the Second Term.  Some Sanborn Junior terms in both camps are filled.  Families interested for the summer of 2015 should call to check availability.  As always, we are happy to send our brochure, DVD and references to any interested families.
We can’t wait to begin creating the fun, adventure, and friendship of the Summer of 2015!

The Importance of Climbing

Friday, March 27th, 2015

Life is a gift, but some days it feels like a chore.  On those days, we can feel overloaded with the weight of responsibility, disappointment, and anxiety.  It’s important to push through those feelings because in the end, life is an adventure.  That’s one of the reasons it’s important to get outdoors.  More specifically, it’s important to climb mountains.

Climbing a mountain somehow resets your brain.  Ascending any peak, no matter its size, is an exhausting journey, a crazy trek.  It changes you as it challenges you.  Maybe it’s the lack of oxygen, but every time I climb a mountain I see the world in a new light.

I climbed my first mountain at camp many years ago.  School had ended, summer rolled around, I assumed I had three months of dullness to look forward to.  But then, my parents sent me to Sanborn.  Boredom went out the door.  I loved it.

It was that summer that I climbed my first 14er.   I’ll never forget that trip.  I remember getting dropped at the trailhead, our packs full.

At the trailhead, ready to climb

Counselors checked the maps, and we set out into the wilderness.  After many hours of hiking, we reached our basecamp.  Rising to the north was the cloud-covered mountain that we were driven to climb.  That night, we ate well, sang songs around the fire, and drifted to sleep in our little village of tents.

We woke long before dawn to find the counselors up and ready.  We crunched down some cold cereal and set out to climb the mountain.  The adrenaline was flowing, the spirit of adventure pushing us.  Hours passed, our line of headlamps bobbing up the steep trail, gaining altitude. I was exhausted and I wanted to give up.  But with encouragement from my counselors, I pushed on.

As early daylight broke on the mountain, we were able to see our progress.  I was encouraged by how high we had climbed.  In the valley below, our tents were so small they were hard to see.  And then we saw an eagle fly.  Not above us, but below us.  Looking down on that powerful bird as it soared across the sky was a shift for my brain.

We pressed on.  After a while, we could see the summit — it was only a few hundred yards away.  I was so excited I joined other campers and we ran… only to discover… it was a false peak.  We learned an important life lesson: don’t burn out racing up false peaks.  I was exhausted, but because of my counselors, because of how much they believed in me, I never gave up.  We pressed on.  It seemed like we were hiking across a lunar landscape.

Climbing a 14er

We were above tree line, no vegetation, the squeak of pikas all around us.  Hours moved like minutes.  We fought the wind and cheered each other on.  Finally, we scrambled over rocks that were billions of years old and reached the summit.  We did it.  There was a mystic silence as we stood on the peak and watched the sun rise over the Rockies.  I laughed with delight, bonding with my Big Spring brothers.  I couldn’t wait to climb again.

Standing on top is amazing, but the summit is not the goal.   The reason we climb a mountain is just that:  to climb.   One of my favorite climbs was years ago, when I was a counselor myself and our camp trip didn’t even reach the top.  A storm rolled in over Mount Harvard and pushed us down long before the summit.  We returned to base camp and took shelter from the cloudburst.  We still had a great climb.  It was an epic trip, long remembered, even though we didn’t make it to the top.  The goal is not only the summit, the goal is the journey, the strength you gain from the climb, and the memories.

Standing on top of the world

When we climb mountains, it clarifies our thinking.  The disorder of our lives — the argument with a friend, the bad grade in algebra — all of it is forgotten.  The mountain is all that matters.  It gives us perspective.  When we climb, the mountain speaks to us in geologic time, a slow-motion language, and it reminds us that that problems are fleeting and life is truly a gift.