Your steps become rhythmic, moving at a meditative pace up steep slopes, stepping over roots and rocks, pushing your body up the side of rugged mountains or through desolate wilderness areas. You become aware of all that is around you, while simultaneously focusing inward. Though the journey can be strenuous, the teachings of perseverance, fortitude and appreciation of everything you’re a part of greet you at each peak. That’s just a glimpse of what many of us experience when it comes to hiking. We use this level of challenge that the natural world provides as personal therapy, a way to connect back to ourselves. The way we push through the physical and mental blocks of moving up mountains much bigger than us can be directly applied to how we climb the mountains within ourselves.
Big City Mountaineers (BCM) is a nonprofit organization based in Golden, Colorado that connects youth from disinvested communities to metamorphic backpacking experiences in the outdoors. The national organization is making a lasting impact on students who are bringing lessons from the trail into their daily lives.
“We want to give these kids a connection to something that not only supports their week with us, but allows them to grow in a more enduring way. We want to help them improve their social and emotional capacities,” explains David Taus, executive director of BCM.
BCM is focused on offering this experience, as well as gear, completely free of charge to students. BCM works with youth agencies and organizations that serve students from economically disadvantaged areas that, without programs like BCM, wouldn’t have access to the backcountry.
With the completion of each excursion, students come back with valuable life experiences and reflections. “A realization I had is that I’m not really alone and that there are more people out there willing to support me than I realize,” states one participant. “A connection to nature shows me that my life is little compared to the life of earth, trees, etc. So, it acts as a reminder to enjoy the present, to live more and to take it easy on myself,” shares another.“The trip has given me more confidence in myself; it has given me the confidence to be independent and strong,” says a third.
Taus credits these outdoor excursions to conveying lessons of personal growth and development. “We forget that we are a part of nature; we are made of the same molecules that the other plants and animals are. Today, we are part of a society that seems like it wants us to forget that. Connecting back to nature helps us connect back to the essence of humanity and ourselves,” Taus believes. “I’m convinced that you can get more done effectively during a week in the backcountry than a year in a classroom.” With experience as a high school teacher prior to his role at BCM, it’s a safe bet to take his word for it.
A large part of what BCM is about is breaking down barriers of entry for their students. BCM conducts a survey with all those that go through their programs. Of the total number of students that completed the survey, 87% are non-white and identify as BIPOC, Taus revealed. Part of BCM’s hope in the outcome of these excursions is that these students will see that BIPOC people have a place in the backcountry and that outdoor recreation can continue to become inclusive for all — no matter their race, socioeconomic status or geographic location. This topic is brought up quite quickly by the students on the trips; they are aware of the lack of representation of BIPOC people in the outdoor space. BCM takes these discussions seriously, while encouraging healthy conversations around them, offering support in problem-solving how society can continue to break down the barriers surrounding outdoor recreation.
Recently, BCM has been cultivating a program that supports trip alumni who want to take the next step and become leaders in training. This program would not only expand upon their backcountry and outdoor knowledge, but also elevate their skills on how to offer trauma-informed support and help students on the emotional level that is accompanied with a BCM trip.
Each year, BCM continues to create safe and welcoming environments for students to explore the natural world around them and the deep parts of themselves. The supportive foundation that BCM provides communities across the country is immeasurably valuable and will continue to foster positive impacts for future generations.
Learn more about Big City Mountaineers, their mission and how to get involved at bigcitymountaineers.org.
Photos courtesy of Big City Mountaineers.
Originally published in Winter + Spring 2022-23 issue.
Laura is currently the Community Engagement Manager for Jaunt Media Collective and finds immense joy contributing to our print publication when she’s not elbow-deep in digital marketing. Whether she’s on the beaches of Maine or adventuring in the White Mountains, her border collie mix Fern, can be found by her side.