Never happier being cold and tired

04/10/2014

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From March 3rd to the 7th, Sierra Club Military Outdoors partnered with Veterans Expeditions on our annual veteran ice climbing trip to Hyalite Canyon, outside of Bozeman Montana. It is this week of natural beauty, camaraderie, and mental and physical challenge that makes this one of the best weeks of the year for me in the SCMO program. I personally left refreshed and committed to exploring the outdoors with my fellow warriors, having accomplished my first lead ice climb under the watchful eye of Conrad Anker, all the while basking in the glory of one of our great wild places. Far more satisfying was that I witnessed veterans and active duty service members achieve far more than they thought they could on steep pitches of ice. I watched their spirits rise and their demeanor change as they developed close bonds with their fellow climbers and were transformed by the beautiful canyon around them.

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Navy Captain Bruce Black: "A common theme I have heard from all of my fellow service members that have retired is that it is very difficult to find that sense of camaraderie in the civilian world that you find so readily in the military.  The ice climbing trip in Hyalite Canyon was a chance to see that camaraderie still exists, you just have to know where to look for it.  As I get close to completing my 30 years of active duty service and look at that transition to post military life I know that I want to surround myself with those veterans that have served their country.

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Whatever branch we served in we have a common bond and a common ethos that will stay with us through our active duty journey and post service lives.  The five days of ice climbing allowed me to spend quality time with people that have the same common bond but have gone in different directions after the military and it showed me that I am going to be all right as I head off to my next career.  I never thought that I would find a sense of resilience and peace with a group of 14 people I had never met before, in an area of the country I had never been to before doing a sport that I had very little experience with but I did.  Ironically, as I look back on my active duty service, this one week will be one of the memories that I hold closest."

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Army First Sergeant Mike Pickerel: "Sierra Club Military Outdoors is simple and brilliant.  Ice climbing for my first time with this group was everything I could ask for. The contracted guide service was more than helpful, knowledgeable and safe.  We were even fortunate enough to have one of America’s greatest climbers of Conrad Anker to not only give motivation and climb with us, but coaching and assisting in improving climbing techniques. The selected group of veterans was of different back grounds and experiences.  We had a great common denominator throughout us and that was we all were people of strong resilience, military background, a passion for the outdoors and a drive to excel in the path that lay ahead.

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Using outdoors as your sanctuary is not anything new, throughout the ages this has been a place people of all types have come to relax, think and just find themselves.  The fact that Sierra Club is reaching out to the Military as an audience for this is quite awesome. Hyalite Canyon was a beautiful piece of land with great ice climbing and views to be lost in as you gained the elevation on each pitch. I wish to give a thanks to SCMO for such an opportunity to learn a new skill, enjoy and meet new and other veterans who enjoy nature, and a chance for me to get back to nature in it’s rare beauty."

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Read more about the trip in the following articles by Chris Kassar and Stacy Bare.

Stacy Bare Finds Camaraderie on the Ice

Return to Hyalite Canyon

A special thanks to the North Face, Black Diamond, Petzl, and Outdoor Research for their support on this trip. I'd also like to thank Sam Magro from Montana Mountain Guides and Conrad Anker for their professionalism, great spirits, and good company.

We have a great year ahead of us with trips to Cedar Mesa Utah, the Veteran Film School in the North Cascades, the Birth of Rivers trek with Paradox Sports, and the Ptarmigan Traverse in the Pickets. Check out the SCMO site for more information.

Highlights and the Hangout with Michael Brune

03/28/2014

A couple weeks back Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and I, along with Sierra Club Foundation Board member and fellow National Geographic Adventurer and ambassador at The North Face, Juan Martinez, and I sat down for a thirty-minute conversation about Sierra Club Outdoors and the mission critical role to any healthy conservation movement that getting people outside plays.

You can see the full thirty minute hangout here

 

 A few highlighted quotes from Michael Brune speaking about the value of Sierra Club Outdoors (SCO) and the importance of getting outside:

 “Getting outdoors is a vital as an end to itself…no one looks back at the end of the year and says, ‘I wish I had sent more emails, I wish I had spent more time on conference calls…’”

 “We all come away from the power of the outdoors more centered…Reconnect to our roots, inspire our activists, fighting coal plants, or monuments; staff or volunteer, working in the chapters or groups, to find more ways to get more people outside including our friends and family.”

 “The real value of the outdoors is now, more important than ever…More efforts to bring conservatives, liberals, libertarians, Republicans and Democrats together outdoors and get to know one another.”

 “Outings fits into the vision of everything we’re doing, coal, oil, OWA (Our Wild America) to protect 5 million acres over the next couple of years and inspire the Administration to inspire use of the Antiquities Act.”

 “The work that we’re (Sierra Club Outdoors) doing is so important, and the fact that its lead by volunteers; is being driven and led and guided and shaped and powering this work is amazing.”

Thanks for the hangout Michael and Juan and for the many volunteers who joined in and asked questions! In the next few days we'll have longer answers out here in this space to many of the questions asked!

Sierra Club ICO Volunteer Wins White House “Champions of Change” Award

03/24/2014

Ben Blonder

via sierraclub.typepad.com

Resources and Organizations Getting Service Members, Veterans, and their Families Outdoors

03/19/2014

IMG_0365A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine reached out on behalf of a few veterans he knew and asked if there was one place where someone could get information on all the various outdoor recreation opportunities that existed for folks. Part of the challenge of being a veteran today is that our country has really responded in a huge way to the needs of our service men and women, veterans, and their families and the support can be difficult to manage at times.

What follows is a list of organizations that provide outdoor opportunities for service members, veterans, and their families. While we have had a lot of positive experiences in many of these organizations, please do not use this list as an endorsement of different organizations over another. Each organization has many positives but may not be the right fit for an individual.

This list is meant as a starting point for individual research and decision-making and is certainly not exhaustive. Please list other resources in the comments section and we’ll update this as we learn about more organizations. All Military members and their dependants have free access to public lands. More information on the program, called The America the Beautiful pass can be found here.

A great place to start for sifting through the support providers and support wanted or needed can be found at Warrior Gateway: http://www.warriorgateway.org/ for a number of different resources.

Obviously, we at Sierra Club Outdoors are very proud of the many opportunities we provide for service members, veterans and their families, more information can always be found at this blog and the website here: http://content.sierraclub.org/outings/military

Additionally, all veterans and military family members receive 10% off our National Outings, which can be found here: http://www.sierraclub.org/outings/military-discount.aspx

One of the neatest programs we’ve had the opportunity to partner with is the National Military Family Associations Operation Purple Program which sends military kids to summer camp: http://www.militaryfamily.org/our-programs/operation-purple/

A number of outdoor recreation and recreational therapy organizations have come together to form the R4 Alliance to try and minimize these challenges of finding the right opportunities and can be found here: http://r4alliance.org/current-members/

Includes links to Ride to Recovery, Project Sanctuary, Team River Runner, Higher Ground, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Northeast Passage, Terros, and Operation Game On are all current members along with the Sierra Club.

Again, this list is not complete, far from of it. Please tell us in the comments section who we’re missing and hopefully this can be a resource for other service members, veterans, and families who want to find resources to get outdoors.

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Thanks to the Women

03/13/2014

P9283875My Great Aunt Mildred who served in WW2, lived in Tokyo for four years following the end of the war, skied Hokkaido, and in her 80s began a travel schedule that included Egypt, Papua New Guinea, and China amongst others, is one of the heroes I have long looked up to and hoped to emulate in my own journey through this amazing world. She’s now a spry 95 and living alone on a farm in south central Minnesota where she still tends to her fields in a golf cart. She will wear you out with activity if you get the chance to visit.

In honor of Aunt Mildred and all the women in my life who have inspired me, challenged me, and pushed me forward in my own career and personal life, I wanted to share a big thank you during Women’s History Month to the just as many women as men, who have made a great impact on what otherwise might be viewed as a proto typical man’s career in the military, design and planning, and the great outdoors. As with any list of this sort, there will be unfortunate omissions and it by no means is the definitive list of women who have had a tremendous impact on my life.

Not withstanding the incredible impact of my amazing wife, my Mom (who raised two hellions), all my aunts and cousins, I have been surrounded by barrier breaking women as long as I’ve had a memory.

As a young Captain being asked to step up and lead an intelligence team in Bosnia in 2003, I was in turn led and mentored by now COL Karen Bridges. COL Bridges helped shaped my critical thinking and decision making skills, taught me how to stay calm under pressure and pushed me to maintain my integrity and honesty in the often morally ambiguous world of intelligence operations.

In graduate school after my time in Iraq, it was none other than Lucinda Sanders, the CEO and Partner of world-class design firm, Olin, who proved to be one of the most demanding, consistent and compassionate instructors I ever had. Not unlike COL Bridges, I’d gladly follow Cindy into battle. She forged me into a better person.

DSC_0152After graduate school I would have been lost out in the woods without Tamara Naumann, a biologist at Dinosaur National Monument. Under her own initiative, Tamara developed a program to support veterans in reintegration through service work in the Monument. Learning from Tamara as she wended our way safely down a raging river and led us in an incredible week of physical labor for the betterment of the Monument, helped solidify my personal and professional trajectory in 2010.


Also in 2010, Nick Watson and I had the bright idea to start Veterans Expeditions. It was Deanne Buck, then of the American Alpine Club, now the Executive Director of the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition, who was one of our strongest supporters and advocates inside the AAC and who has remained a mentor, friend, and connector. And on our first big climb, it was Vietnam Veteran Heidi Baruch who was the heart and soul of our expedition team.

There’s also the amazing team of Ann Krcik, Blaire Witte, and Brook Hopper at The North Face. Though Brook has moved on since we first met, these three women have been incredible advocates for supporting military service members, veterans, their families, youth, and everyone in general outdoors. Ann is an incredible leader in the outdoor industry and is more than generous with her time and wisdom in helping me forge my own path.

Speaking of getting outdoors, I’d be remiss without mentioning my great colleagues at the Sierra Club and those women I get to work with (or used to get to work with) closest on a daily or weekly basis at the Sierra Club: Mel Mac Innis, Debra Asher, Jackie Ostfeld, Jennifer Edwards, Stephanie Linder, Mary Nemerov, Gabrielle Rierra, Juana Torres, Allison Chin, Tiffany Saleh, Kristina Ortez de Jones and Kristi Rummel. I could list every woman at the Club; it is an incredible group of women making positive history every day! And have you met Rue Mapp? CEO of OutdoorAfro? A phenomenal partner and friend.

As I try and wrap up this thank you note to amazing women, I realize how many people I’ve left off the list, women like BriGette McCoy, Genevieve Chase, and Raven Bukowski; three great women I got to serve with or work with now in the veteran community. Women like my sophomore year English teacher, know just as Gerb, who I still visit when I go home to South Dakota or Judy Kroll and Sally Pies, my high school speech coaches and Annie Lett, my high school swim coach, the women at Blue Star Families, National Military Family Association, Military Spouse Magazine, the YMCA, and the list continues on…women rock!

Thanks Ladies for helping to point a direction into the wild and encourage me when the going got tough with your wisdom and energy. I couldn’t do it without y’all. None of us could.

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 Heidi Baruch on a climb in Rocky Mountain National Park with veteran Ian Smith and myself showing her some love in 2010.

I Believe, a 5th grader speaks about the outdoors

02/24/2014

Image"A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit friends the night before their fifth grade son, Johannes, participated in a speaking contest called 'I believe...' designed to help the fifth graders share something they were very passionate about.

Johannes spoke about the outdoors and I thought it was a pretty good speech, not just for a fifth grader, but for all of us. You can see him give his presentation here, or read the speech below:

"Have you ever been stressed or angry and you just want to go outside for as long as you want? Because I have.

That is why I believe in the power of Outdoors. The way outdoors suck you outside, like a vacuum sucking in dust.

I, Johannes Wiegand believe in the power of the outdoors. Whenever I go outside I feel happy, free, healthy, and confident. One day my dad said that we were going to a place we call Red Rocks in Boulder. Red Rocks is a rock-climbing place in Boulder. I had been going to Red Rocks since before I could even walk! My dad always said it was my playground.

We were going to help wounded veterans climb. I got super excited! Red Rocks is by far my most favorite place to climb and hike. My dad and I bring wounded veterans to the rocks to try to help them feel the same way I do about being in the outdoors.

After the thirty-minute drive, we finally got to red rocks. Once my dad parked the car, we literally jumped out of the car to start the mile hike up to the rocks.

Whenever I am actually on the rocks I feel as happy, free, and confident as any bird or fish.

Climbing helps me release all my sorrows or hardships. When I jump from rock to rock I feel weightless and energetic. When I am outside, the saddest part of my soul is released.

My point for this piece is go do something outside after you finish reading this, and remember to go always outside whenever you get the chance.  That is why I believe in outdoors.

This I believe."

Johannes - 10 years Old | Lafayette Elementary School- 5th Grade 

Johannes is also a pretty lucky kid, growing up in a great family that values the outdoors. You can learn more about his Dad's work here.

 

Hiking in Hollywood with Brooklyn Decker

02/06/2014

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By Stacy Bare, Sierra Club Outdoors Director

Last week I had the opportunity to go for a hike in the Hollywood Hills with a few Sierra Club friends and veterans, as well as Brooklyn Decker (above).

Img_8824Having never spent that much time in L.A., it was nice to drive off the freeway and up into the Hollywood Hills to Griffith Park, the 11th largest municipally-owned park in the United States, and where you go if you want to get up close and personal with the Hollywood Sign.

I had missed out on an opportunity to go to the Arctic with Brooklyn two years ago because we were finishing up a great trip in Glacier National Park with a group of veterans, but she’s stayed very engaged with our work and is a dedicated spokesperson for living a healthy, adventurous life outdoors.

Not unlike any other hike in the hills with new friends and old, the rhythm of the trail doesn’t take long to loosen up good conversation and as we meandered up the hill and ultimately down the wrong fork in the trail, we discovered that Brooklyn had been to a lot of the places a lot of our brothers and sisters in arms had been and still are (Kuwait and Brooke Army Medical Center). When I asked her why she cared about veterans, she replied simply that, “it’s the right thing to do.”

Winding our way back up to the top of the sign we were cheered on by power pup Betty and only occasionally would we get any sideways glances for getting to be on a hike with Men’s Health Magazine’s Perfect Woman!

You can read more on MTV.com about the hike from Brooklyn’s perspective and what we heard on the trail as to why she spends her time on supporting veterans and encouraging all people to get outside more.

Remember though, hiking isn’t and the outdoors aren’t just for the stars, its for everyone and getting outside will give you the best chance to see the stars anyway!

Img_8859Griffith Park hike participants; Stacy Bare at far right. Photo courtesy of Saveria Tilden.

See you at the trailhead!

Protecting Those Who Protected Us

02/05/2014

It's not hard to understand why the Sierra Club has had a long and proud relationship with the men and women who serve our country in the armed services. As our history shows, a passion for exploring and enjoying the outdoors is a natural complement of both the skills and the spirit of the military.

via sierraclub.typepad.com

Incredibly excited to be a part of an organization that doesn't look at the world around it and ignore the other issues and challenges presented with it. An organization that stands up for its members because its the right thing to do and because the Club does have a long and proud relationship with our men and women who serve in uniform!

DC ICO Kids Explore Nearby Nature Along the Billy Goat Trail

11/12/2013

Also published in the Huffington Post

Usually when I knock on doors, it’s the weekend before Election Day, not after, and I am asking for votes, not liability waivers. Four days after the polls closed, I rapped on the doors of the Highland townhouse apartments in the Anacostia neighborhood of southeast Washington, D.C. I had just met Anne Marie DiNardo, a program leader for Sierra Club’s inner city outings group (ICO) in Washington, D.C., and she was walking me through her process for getting the neighborhood kids ready for their monthly outing, this time a trip to Great Falls National Park.

The kids were excited. Once they saw us, they ran towards us to grab permission slips to take back to their parents and guardians. They knew the routine. I was just learning – this trip was part of my process to become a certified outings leader for the Sierra Club.

DC ICO has been going on outings with the kids from the Highland Addition low-income housing project for ten years. When I asked a few of the leaders why they chose to volunteer with DC ICO, these were some of the responses:

“I became a leader after volunteering for a few months because I enjoy planning educational activities for children and finding creative ways for children to learn. What keeps me coming back is the connection we make with the youth. They look forward to the trips with us and having a positive environment to explore nature,” says Sierra Club volunteer DC ICO Leader, Anne Marie DiNardo.

“I grew up in a single-parent household in an urban area where I helped my mom with my brother and my sister. After I joined the Army and I settled into my adult life routine, I wanted to give back to the community, especially to the kids who were growing up in areas like the one I grew up in. The kids are the reason I volunteer with ICO and the reason I keep coming back. Watching them hop from rock to rock, learn to swim or improve upon their swimming skills, and learn that the outdoors is fun, not scary, is lovely and fulfilling,” says Sierra Club volunteer DC ICO Leader, Melaina Sharpe.

IMG_5939Meliana Sharpe with Highland Addition Youth

 

We arrived at the picnic area near the Billy Goat trailhead and the kids made sandwiches and ate lunch before we started on our hike. Some of the youth got a good work out running through the park to catch falling leaves before they made landfall. Then we hit the trail, which was packed. We spent the day scrambling over rocks (like Billy goats), watching Great Blue Herons wade in the water, and waiting to see a few white water kayakers prepare to brave the falls.

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Highland Addition Youth on the Billy Goat Trail

 

My outing with DC ICO gave me another reason to be proud to work for the Sierra Club. Not everyone has access to the great outdoors; only one in five kids have playgrounds or parks within walking distance of their home. Spending time in nature makes kids (and adults) healthier, happier and smarter. Leading ICO trips for 14,000 young people, with limited opportunities to explore nature, each year, is one way Sierra Club volunteers are bridging the divide between youth and the outdoors. We’ve also recently launched a Nearby Nature initiative to encourage communities to access, discover, protect and restore nature in and around urban areas, ensuring that access to the outdoors is increasingly equitable.

Learn more about Sierra Club’s outdoor programs and the Nearby Nature initiative.

 

--by Jackie Ostfeld, Outdoors Policy Manager, Sierra Club

 

Getting you ready for Veterans Day with the UGM

11/10/2013

The day before Veterans Day, take some time to learn about one of our incredible partners and what they are doing to get veterans in the outdoors and why that matters, not just to these veterans, but to all people in our great country.

Each year in August, Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission (UGM) takes a group of men and women battling to overcome homelessness and addiction, many who are veterans up to the top of Mt. Rainier. UGM Special Projects Director, and ex-Army Ranger Mike Johnson says they climb “to establish a track record of accomplishment to counteract a narrative of failure.”

Watch the trailer here:

 

You can also follow along through connecting with the documentary crew and UGM team on facebook.

You can also always follow along with Sierra Club Mission Outdoors and partners on facebook or by visiting our website for updates.

 Below is an excerpt of a recent conversation with Mike Johnson and some of the participants.

 Mike, what is special about this climb and how many people make it to the start of the Rainier Climb?

“We started with 25 expressing interest, and from this group a stable crew emerged of around a dozen who all went on to summit Mt. Hood in Oregon and attempt to summit Mt. Rainier.  The big message of the Climb for participants is that their future is totally open, as long as they attend to their recovery.  One year ago, they were addicted, recently incarcerated, unemployable and on the streets without the faintest idea that one year later they would be atop Mt. Rainier!  Anything is possible; there are no limits.  This creates hope, and a willingness to dream again for the future-- to have goals again, maybe even big ones.”

What changes do you see in the climbers? Do you measure it or study the process in any formal way? 

“We see changes in three main areas:

1)  recovery,

2) relationships, and

3) goal-setting. 

Climbers go through a year-long recovery program that includes 6 months of individual therapy with a Licensed Mental Health Counselor.  They are tracked in their capacity to stay clean & sober for years after graduating.  This crew has displayed the most stable recovery rates so far. 

This team has learned better than any previous one how to lean on each other.  We deliberately increased the exercise demand this year, which more effectively knit the group in the face of adversity.  Their counselors track quality and depth of relating as a key predictor of a person's capacity to succeed in family and employment contexts. 

The next mountain must now be climbed: getting a job, getting parental visitations restored, securing quality housing and rebuilding finances.  Counselors track goal-setting and goal-progress in these areas.  These climbers aren't just climbing Rainier.” 

What do participants do after the climb? Do they clean up, get jobs, find homes?

“Yes. Climber Brad Cohen is back in the workforce and stably housed.  Climber Shane Leitheiser started his new job two days after coming off Rainier.  Christian Downs and Jason Reyes have secured internships in Youth Ministry at a large church in Bellevue. Chris Foss was offered the first job for which he applied.  Others are on their way to graduation.”

If the success of the program is so great, why does it seem that the wilderness or climbing or outdoor experiences are so often left out of the equation for supportive services?

“Outdoor experience, and spending time in nature, is very therapeutic at an individual level. But it also very relationship-building for those who join together in these activities. It doesn’t have to just be mountaineering. Anyone can benefit from whatever outdoor experience is available to them. Such experiences are indeed often left out of the equation because they require support and a least some expertise that are additional to the already high demand of rehabilitative services.  Community partnerships can help bridge that gap.”

Do you see any similarities between war and climbing?

“Combat operations and climbing have a lot in common, minus the bullets.  Both are specialized activities with specific gear, practices and culture.  Both are team-driven enterprises, and both rely on that team and on high-quality leadership to overcome potentially fatal obstacles. These kinds of teams achieve missions in all but the most impossible circumstances-- and sometimes even then too.”

“Everyone on the climb is overcoming; the vets and non-vets share this experience. But the sense of a close-knit team, forged through hard work and disciplined preparation for a challenging mission-- that is often new to the non-veterans.  They report that the best part of the process isn't really the climb: it's the team.”

Climbers, what did climbing Rainier mean to you?

Wednesday Moore (Recovery Climber, Women’s Shelter)

The climb means a lot to me. It is one of the scariest things I have ever done in my life.  I have never worked this hard towards a goal or wanted to do something this bad.” 

Chris Foss (Recovery Climber, Men’s Shelter)

The Mt. Rainier Climb has been central to my recovery.  The grueling training and the overcoming of unknown obstacles has taught the value of teamwork and strong character.  Most importantly, it helped renew my self-confidence.  I am grateful. 

Mark Berrier (Recovery Climber, Men’s Shelter)

Climbing Mount Rainier means that I can conquer something, it means that I can persevere

Christian Downs (Recovery Climber, Men’s Shelter)

This program taught me to be an overcomer through struggles for good and for bad... I learned the importance of friends and teamwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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