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"Big City Mountaineers transforms the lives of under-served urban youth through wilderness mentoring expeditions that instill critical life skills. We partner with community-based youth organizations and caring adult volunteers who act as mentors in the field to help young people realize their potential. Our curriculum improves integrity, self- esteem, responsibility, decision-making abilities and communication skills in close to 1,000 youth annually." -Big City Mountaineers
During the first week in July, I had the opportunity to serve as volunteer mentor with Big City Mountaineers (BCM) for a week long backpacking trip through the Flat Tops Wilderness. I was inspired by a video presentation made before Ed Viesturs talk in October of last year at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden. I was unfamiliar with the Flat Tops, primarily because there are no 13ers or 14ers in the area. But the purpose of this trip was different. It wasn't about bagging peaks but instead, spending time in the outdoors, mentoring young adults. Although I have a ton of outdoor experience, I do not have much experience working with high school students. I knew I was in for a challenge.
Mountain: Big Marvine Peak 11,879' Route: Loop - Marvine Creek trail to Big Marvine Peak to East Marvine Creek trail RT Elevation: 4,295' RT Distance: 25 Miles Travel time: 5 days, 4 nights
Yury - Group Leader
Brian - New America School Representative
Allan - Volunteer Mentor
Nick (MonGoose) - Volunteer Mentor
Eric, Aaron, Joseph, Alfredo, Ahkmod and Alfredo - currently attending New America School.
The students arrived at BCM headquarters in Golden, CO on the morning of July 4th where they were issued all gear they would need for the next 7 days. Each student was fitted for a backpack and then issued rain gear, warm clothes, their personal hiking boots (which they keep), warm socks, a sleeping bag and a tent to share with two other students. After five hours in a 16 passenger van, we arrived that evening at the Marvine Creek Campground where we spent the first night. The first task was teaching the students how to set up their tents, store food properly and learn how to safely use the backpacking stoves. Everyone was happy, we were finally in the outdoors. For a few of our students, this was their very first night in a tent. None of the students knew what they were in for the following day.
Hitting the Trail
The next morning it took some time to break down camp, distribute food for the next 5 days and load everyone's pack. Once the students placed the full packs on their backs, the smiles on their faces quikcly faded into looks of concern. The first day on the trail was a struggle and the students were beginning to wonder what they had signed on for. The 6 mile hike with 1,500' of elevation gain was exhausting with full packs. Everyone was worn out by the time we cruised into the Marvine Lakes at sunset. We set up camp at a cozy site between the two Marvine lakes, overlooking them both.
After our long haul on the first day, the leaders decided to award the group with a day of rest. It was an opportunity to rest up, explore the lakes and do some fishing; and fish we did.
Brian gave a casting clinic in the afternoon and then the students progressed to the stream where we worked on catching the small but daunting brook trout.
After supper, we all went down to the lake and fished the final hours of daylight, that magical window when fishing is the best. By the end of the day, all 6 students had caught fish, including 3 who caught their first trout on a fly rod. We kept a couple of the brookies from the lake for dinner.
"Big Marv" On the Horizon
Day 3 was another challenging day but the students were better prepared. After a day of rest and mental preparation for a day similar to the first, we continued the hike up to the tops of the Flat Tops.
We had a few problems with people not feeling well and we continually encouraged our members to drink plenty of water. During one struggle, we redistributed some of the weight, lessening the load of the slowest member and increasing the load of the fastest member. This balanced things out a bit and as a group we moved on up the trail. Throughout the five day trip nearly everyone had an off day but as a group, we were able to encourage each other. The American flag served as the "Encouragement Flag" which was given to a member of the group who's actions were deemed beneficial to the group. These actions included: being the leader, encouraging others, assisting in navigational decisions, struggling through a difficult stretch of the hike and so on. It was fun to watch the flag be passed between the students as they recognized these traits within each other.
Around 10,800', we topped out on the Flat Tops and Big Marvine came into view which we came to call "big Marv".
We camped that night at the base of Big Marvine Peak as we watched a herd of a hundred elk run by. We went to bed early, preparing for an early morning summit of Big Marv.
We woke the students around 3:30am in preparation for the hike of Big Marvine Peak. I watched as they sipped their morning tea and oatmeal while staring up at the stars - a sight nonexistent within the city limits. At 4:00am sharp we began the hike. There's a lot of standing water on the Flat Tops and it felt like we walked through every bit of it in the dark. Finally, we made it to the ridge and found the trail. About halfway up the trail dawn broke and we turned off the headlamps. It was a beautiful sight with no sign of human activity in any direction.
We continued to hike and about 30' short of the summit, the students waited for the entire group to catch up and we all summitted together.
The students quickly became cold and hunkered down in the shelter as the morning sun slowly warmed the peak.
The students decided that they much preferred to hike downhill as opposed to climbing uphill. Our packs were also becoming lighter as we had eaten a lot of food in the previous few days (teenagers can eat). The students were starting to figure out this backpacking thing a lot more by now. They were quickly packing their tents and bags away in the morning and hiking more efficiently throughout the day. It seemed as though the last few days of the trip the students had gotten faster and the leaders had gotten slower.
We played a team building exercise where everyone is blindfolded and have to work together to find a bandana that is hanging in a tree 100' away.
When we made it back to the trailhead, the students let out a cheer. They had survived 5 days in the wilderness.
At the end of every BCM expedition, all members are presented with a flag that is signed by the other members of the party. This makes for a very nice memory of the time spent together in the outdoors.
I really enjoyed my week serving as a volunteer mentor with Big City Mountaineers. It was a challenging and very rewarding week and overall, I learned a lot about myself. I'm glad I took the time to put down the 14er checklist for one week and spend some time with others who are just beginning to learn about the outdoors. If you're considering volunteering with BCM, feel free to send me a PM and I'll be happy answer any question and share more details.
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