When I decided to join Big City Mountaineer’s Summit for Someone climb up the Grand Teton I felt like a bit of an underdog. I decided to join the climb as the only woman, who didn’t know anyone, and had never multi-pitch trad climbed before. But the climb was for a good cause: building access to the outdoors

At the time, I had a lot of self-doubts. Would I get along with the other climbers? Did I have what it took to make it to the summit? What if I freaked out at the exposure in front of a bunch of strangers? Was I strong enough to make the daunting journey? All of these unknowns raced through my head and caused my palms to sweat as I made the solo drive up to Jackson, Wyoming.

Hiking to Base Camp

As our team of climbers and guides made our way up to Corbet High Camp, set at the base of the stunning rock walls of the Grand Teton, I thought about the students we were supporting. The Summit for Someone program is a fundraising challenge for Big City Mountaineers. The money we raised for our climb sponsors youth from disinvested communities to go on week-long, transformative backpacking experiences.

As I huffed and puffed my way up the endless ocean of switchbacks, I reflected on a what my first backpacking experience had been like. That trip transformed my life, even if I didn’t fully realize it until 18 years later. I wondered what the Big City Mountaineers students were thinking as they put their loaded packs on for the first time. Like them, I was nervous about the unknown and weary about my abilities.

Mountaineers basecamp

Preparing for Summit Day

Back on the side of the Grand Teton, our 6-person Summit for Someone team chatted about why we choose to participate in the Summit for Someone program. We were all fortunate enough to have the ability to access the outdoors, and even pay to go on a guided trip up an iconic mountain. We each wanted to give that experience back. The outdoors is an empowering place, where we are faced with great challenges that we can only overcome by turning into the things that scare us the most.

For me, heights cause me to panic. Although I had rock climbing experience prior to climbing the Grand Teton, I had never climbed anything with hundreds of feet of air below me. On summit day, I was truly frightened. I thought back again to the Big City Mountaineers students, and how they must have felt spending their first night in a tent, far from home. A thought pulsed in my mind: if I could overcome my fears through this climb, maybe it would inspire someone else to find their strength.

rock climbing mountains

Hanging on By a Thread

It was just past dawn on the side of the Grand Teton. I cursed and screamed as I tried to pull myself up the icy rock wall. An unexpected icy route meant that I couldn’t gain any traction on the rock, but it also meant that I couldn’t feel my extremities. Numb down to my wrists, I grabbed and pulled, feeling a nauseating numbing sensation, known as “the screaming barfies,” take over.

For a second I debated if I could climb on, but I quickly pushed thoughts of quitting out of my mind. With one more concentrated push, I made it to the top of the most difficult pitch.
As a roped team, we continued to tip-toe across steep and exposed rock, yearning for the morning sun. Eventually, we turned a corner onto a precarious ridgeline and finally got the much-needed warm, morning sunlight.

Before we knew it, the summit was in sight and our team hooted and hollered. Below us, the entire Teton Valley sprawled below. We felt like giants standing on the top of a pinnacle over 5,000 feet above the valley floor. I beamed with a sense of accomplishment and thanked nature for allowing me the privilege of standing on such an expansive viewpoint.

Big City Mountaineers raising awareness and increasing access to the outdoors

Empowerment Across Barriers

After I returned from my Summit for Someone adventure, I sat down with Isa Urias Martinez a student-turned-leader for Big City Mountaineers. She spoke to me about how skeptical and scared she was to embark on her first Big City Mountaineer’s trip. However, she chose to go on the trip thanks to her family’s mantra, “If something challenges you, you should do it, as that challenge will make you stronger.”

At first, Martinez was exceptionally homesick. She wanted to go home and she didn’t believe in herself. She figured that although she signed up for the trip, she would probably quit after a few days.

Martinez’s attitude changed on day four of her journey. Her classmates set out to climb a 12,000-foot mountain. She struggled with her heavy pack as she made each step. All she could think about was collapsing on a comfy couch. Eventually, the steep grade relaxed and Martinez had reached the top. She recalled feeling a sense of peace.

“Climbing up that summit was the hardest thing I had ever done. All I wanted to do was go home. But once I got up there it was life-changing. Not everyone gets to see the view I got to see.”

Standing on top of that mountain nestled in the Colorado Rockies helped Isa realize her own power. She was no longer homesick, but instead awe-struck with the amazing places nature can take us. Returning home, she was a changed person, in love with the outdoors and the feeling it gave her. She sought to continue the tradition and help others experience what she did.

Today, Martinez is heavily involved with Big City Mountaineers, she even leads trips of younger students, mentoring them along the way. One of her favorite things about being involved with Big City Mountaineers isn’t just her mentorship of other students, but it’s her ability to lead her family in the outdoors.

She loves to take her mom camping and hiking, something her mother never got to experience as a migrant. Isa Urias Martinez’s love for the outdoors has blossomed and she hopes to become an environmental engineer one day.

Big City Mountaineers - program to improve access to the outdoors

How Summit for Someone Opens Doors

As for me, climbing the Grand Teton catapulted my outdoor climbing career. I now regularly multi-pitch trad climb, alpine climb, and I love sharing my knowledge and passion for climbing with others. Through overcoming my fears, I’m able to help empower others to lean into what scares them. Every year I work with Big City Mountaineers to support their mission to get under-serviced kids outdoors.
At the end of the day, the outdoors is a place that enables us to discover something new and step into our own strengths. Everyone should have access to the opportunity to grow from the wilderness.

If you or someone you know may be interested in helping to raise funds for youth in an effort to help provide equitable access to the outdoors, then you can learn more through Big City Mountaineer’s website.

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Originally published on Nov 26, 2019.