The Beautiful, Winding Road to the Top of Mount Rainier with Big City Mountaineers

We here at PEMBA have been talking for these past few months about Opportunities for #OIBIZ, primarily – so far – by addressing the need to helping women and kids to be more involved with the outdoors. Earlier, we posted a piece by Jeff Weidman about the Big City Mountaineers, a program that brings at-risk youth to the wilderness. It turns out that several of our friends participated in a “Summit For Someone” fund-raising effort in a climb of Mt. Rainier last summer. We asked our friend Katie Levy to tell us about what she experienced. Here’s her story…


“I know that I am a very strong person…and I may not shine on the outside like I want to, but I have a lot of powerful qualities on the inside that a lot of people wish they had, and that will take me further than anything else.”

– Timmeya Russell, 2009 BCM Trip Participant

I start each morning with a steaming cup of Yogi Tea because it’s delicious. Either that, or I’ve fallen for their marketing ploy – quotes that come attached to each tea bag. Gimmick or not, I can always count on those little pieces of advice to give me pause each morning. This morning’s tea bag quote describes exactly why I chose to climb Mount Rainier last summer to raise money for Big City Mountaineers. “Live for Something Bigger than Yourself.”

Sports like climbing and mountaineering can be selfish pursuits, even for those of us who participate recreationally. We intentionally take on risks, put ourselves in harms way, and give up things like a social life in favor of the next great trip. But Big City Mountaineers (BCM) gives us a way to take a selfish pursuit and turn it into an incredible way to make a difference.

BCM is a Denver-based organization founded upon the idea that wilderness can change lives, and every urban teenager should have the chance to experience that. Teens are given a chance to step outside of their comfort zones, learn and grow as people, and understand the fragility of our environment. BCM’s mentoring programs and expeditions are funded in part by Summit for Someone (SFS) climbs, which require climbers to raise thousands of dollars while preparing to ascend some of North America’s most sought after peaks. It’s a cause I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of.

Overcoming First-Timer Fears
I started filling out an application for an SFS climb in early January 2010. I balked mid-application and closed the browser window. I’m afraid of heights, I’d never picked up an ice axe, and I’d never been above 6,000’. I’d also never raised more than a few hundred dollars before, and the minimum for my climb was $4,000. What made me think I could do this?

A few days later, an email appeared in my inbox reminding me I hadn’t finished the application yet. Crap, they found me!  I decided I owed it to myself to give it another try, picked up the phone and called the BCM office for help. I spent a cumulative eternity talking to folks at the BCM office via phone and email before I signed up. It wasn’t any doing of theirs; I had so many questions and concerns. I was petrified they’d all think I was crazy and too inexperienced. If they did, they didn’t let on! I’d like to think they get calls from people like me all the time – people who want to make a difference, but are afraid of what making this kind of difference entails.

I talked about my (lack of) mountaineering experience and how I wanted to join the Mount Rainier Women’s Climb group with three of my amazing friends. I told them my plans to take a mountaineering course and about my rock climbing experience. They explained I’d be under the care of a reputable guiding company and that my four day trip would include a full day of climbing school. I was relieved. The support from the BCM team was amazing. They’re all good hearted, beautiful people, and they’re there to help you help an incredibly deserving group of kids.

Raising a Big Chunk of Change
So I pulled the trigger and signed up. (This post would be really boring if I hadn’t, right?) Part of the commitment meant charging $1,000 to my credit card, which I’d get back once I hit my $4,000 fundraising target either before or shortly after the climb. If I couldn’t make it happen, the difference was mine to provide. A wave of panic washed over me, and then I checked my email.

The folks at BCM know raising thousands of dollars is intimidating and difficult. They anticipate panic from climbers like me and they’re there to help. A few days after submitting my application and receiving word I’d been accepted, BCM gave me access to PDF document full of creative fundraising ideas. Each climber gets their own web page, which makes online donations easy. BCM also help you track your fund raising dollars and sources online. I sent out four update emails over the course of my journey thanks to the email addresses stored on my fundraising page.

I’m generally quite shy about asking for money, but this experience helped me realize if you’re passionate about a cause, people who care about you will understand and support you. I relied heavily on the generosity of friends, family and coworkers, but that’s not always going to be enough. I made great use of the ideas in the BCM fundraising packet, including creating a facebook “event” for my birthday with a donation request in lieu of wishes and gifts. I held a wine tasting party in my apartment and a bake sale at my climbing gym. Somehow, after four months of work, I’d raised over $5,000.

Summits of All Sorts
There’s the fundraising, a formidable task in and of itself, and then there’s the climbing. I started a six month training program and worked diligently to be sure I was in good enough shape. Through mind numbing training hikes, thigh burning Stairmaster sessions and long, rained out backpacking trips, I kept reminding myself I was training for something bigger than myself. “Katie,” I’d say, “you cannot fail on this climb because you didn’t do everything you could to prepare, or because you’re scared. Keep going. Be strong. Remember the kids.”

Truth be told, whether I made it to the top of Rainier or not wouldn’t change much. I’d raised the money. I’d visited the BCM office in Denver and watched a group of boys packing up for one of the trips, giant smiles on their faces and hope in their eyes. I knew what participating in this journey at all meant for the organization and the kids. But let’s be honest, I didn’t sign up just for them. I signed up for me, too.

I wanted to prove I could do it. I wanted to prove I could put myself through the suffering that is mountaineering, spend two full days absolutely terrified on a glaciated pile of rock, and that despite all, I could succeed. A big part of the BCM trips the teens participate in is self-discovery; they learn about who they are and how strong they can be. My Summit for Someone journey was as much about helping others as it was about finding my own strength. I wanted to take the girl in the mirror, guilty of so much self-doubt and self-defeating talk, and quiet her for good.

The four day Rainier climb program began with a meet and greet session followed by a full day of climbing school. I was ecstatic to be among a group of incredibly strong, inspiring ladies. Formidable climbing powerhouse Melissa Arnot was among the three guides who rounded out our group of ten women – seven climbers, three guides. We started up the mountain from the Paradise Visitors Center, spent a few hours trying to sleep at Camp Muir, and then left for the summit at midnight.

When I sat down in the crater on Rainier for a break before heading down from the top, I was elated. When we made it back to Camp Muir to rest an hour before descending to the Paradise Visitors Center, I collapsed in the tent and cried. I cried out of joy, out of relief, and out of the emotional exhaustion that comes with such a long road toward a single objective.

The girl in the mirror still shows up once in a while, and I have to gently remind her to keep her voice down. I’ve got things to do.

The 2011 Summit for Someone Climb Series is well underway, and I’ve got friends I’d love for you to help! Please consider supporting George, Patrick, and Aleya on their journeys.


Katie Levy is an outdoor adventure addict with a passion for playing outside. She’s a climber of ice and rock, a backpacker, a hiker, and a wannabe mountaineer. When she’s not strapping on a backpack or tying into a rope, she’s writing gear reviews, trip reports, and chronicling her adventures on her blog, Adventure-Inspired. Her goal is to share all things outdoors with anyone who will listen! Find her on twitter, or at

One response to “The Beautiful, Winding Road to the Top of Mount Rainier with Big City Mountaineers

  1. Great post Katie! keep climbin’