Reflections from the American Alpine Institute on the Joys of Working with Young People

By wpdev March 24, 2010

The American Alpine Institute shares their thoughts and experiences on the importance and rewards of working with Wilderness Ventures students on the slopes of Mount Baker in northwestern Washington.  Every summer, Wilderness Ventures students experience rock climbing for the first time in a fun, safe, constructive and meaningful environment with the world’s most renowned guides on some of the most exciting and beautiful summits imaginable. Here are the reflections of one American Alpine Institute Guide. You can find the original text here.

This past July I had the chance to work with these budding young climbers. The trip was fantastic. The Baker portion of the Wilderness Ventures program is a way to offer the students a mountaineering crescendo to a month long North West backpacking trip. The students come into our program primed from a few weeks of backpacking in the Paseytan wilderness. By the time they reach AAI, the students are well versed with living from their backpacks. They are happy, fit and working together as a cohesive team. All of these qualities make for the most ideal group of mountaineers that a guide could ask for. The three trips that I have done with the wilderness ventures organization have been fun and very memorable.

On this particular trip the students were very eager about the adventures that wait ahead. Most had little to no experience with mountaineering, but that did not stop the excitement that was oozing out of them. With simple blind faith, they could not wait to plunge into our mountain adventure. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and I too felt a new spark of energy about a mountain that I have climbed too many times to keep track of.

A few days were spent on instruction near the edge of the glacier to get the students prepared to climb. We reviewed the climbing gear and basic skills needed to climb the mountain. The students learned to walk in the snow, use a mountain axe, self-arrest, glissade, and even ice climb. The day before summit day, we moved camp to about 8,ooo feet to sleep on the glacier. That night we practiced crevasse rescue and each student had a chance to jump into a giant gaping hole. We were now totally prepared for the summit, which we planned to go for the following morning.

Summit day was a beautiful day. We awoke well before the sun. The weather was better than we could of asked for. The climb went smoothly. The route was in perfect conditions and the students were bursting with elation. At the summit, one student known as Chuckles said, ” this is my first mountain, and it will not be my last.” It was this attitude and appreciation for the day that inspired me as well.

We descended back to high camp. The descent down the head wall went smoothly, even though the student’s anxiety about the degree of steepness was evident. Once back at camp we took a short break. Joy was in the air as everyone looked back toward the route. The conversation kept turning back to, “I can’t believe we were up there.”

This trip was a great adventure. The summit of Mount Baker on a bluebird summer day was the perfect way for the students to complete a month in the Cascades. The excitement that the students had for this trip was awesome. Their gratitude was overwhelming. It was the overall attitude of elation and accomplishment that I found so contagious. I too found myself inspired. I hope too have passed the climbing spark and the love of the mountains onto at least one student. I look forward to seeing each of these young mountaineers out in the field again someday.

Wilderness Ventures is the oldest and most experienced outdoor adventure travel program for teenagers. To learn more about the Washington Mountaineering Expedition and all of our opportunities to learn rock climbing skills in world-class environments, click here.