Torment to Forbidden; Wars, Wilderness, and Discovery on September 11th, 2014



The 911 climb has come to honor and recognize many things since its inception. It serves as a remembrance of the events of September 11th, 2001 that so radically changed the course of our country. The climb also serves to honor a generation of men and women whose lives were irrecoverably changed in the wars that followed that day.

This year, the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the climb took on a special meaning as it celebrated the wilderness that a new generation of veterans now explores after their own wars. This same wilderness I first stumbled into in the Cascades in 2008, found its powerful spiritual and mental healing, and decided that I had to fight for something that gave me so much in return.


Personally, alpine climbing and the wilderness have been my escape, my medicine, my adversary, and most importantly my victory since leaving the battlefield. The risk, camaraderie,  struggle, and accomplishment are how I can replicate my best experiences in battle  and heal my soul as a result. There are no sounds of the guns; no one shuns the death eyes.

Enjoy our tale.


We began our approach on a scratch of a "climbers" trail that petered out after 2000 feet at a blow down of trees. We then fought sliding alder and devils club, lost a hiking pole while taking a few lumps from angry hornets, and managed to get in a great session of land navigation that took me back to breaking brush through "Wait a Minute" vines that seem to grow at every Army post I've been. One of the characteristics of Washington's best wilderness climbs are that the remote approaches are literal bushwhacks through plants designed by nature to trip your feet, pull at your pack, clock you in the face, and generally not let you pass.

Photo Courtesy of

After a few hours and over 3000 feet of elevation gain, we broke out onto the glacial moraine and made our way to the edge of the snow field to find a spot at the base of Mt Torment to bed down for the night. Our initial rocky camp had all of the necessary amenities such as brain freezing water (I suffered four) and a great cooking rock, but as the wind was unkind, we moved to the saddle at the edge of the ridge line found by Kurt's watchful eye. With names like Torment and Forbidden, one would think you would be terrified with views of Mordor and Barad-dur, yet we were treated to a glorious alpine wilderness sunset and a brilliant midnight moon. On a side note, the moon was so bright that I rudely cursed at a groggy Mike who I thought was shining his headlamp into the small opening of my sleeping bag. My apologies, Mike.


We lazily awoke to predawn light, and instead of going to stand too as I have for years (Roger Standing Order No 15 "Don’t sleep beyond dawn. Dawn’s when the French and Indians attack."), we fought the urge to crawl back into warm bags while scarfing down a breakfast of oatmeal and instant coffee. After a quick movement up a snow field and along the moat (The gap between the mountain and snow decided by nature to make scaling mountain walls more difficult), we began our ascent of Mt Torment. Having not climbed either Forbidden or Torment before, I was in high spirits to be making our way up and over rock that was far better than its reputation told. I was especially excited for Mike as this was his first Alpine traverse, and it was an awesome sight to see him develop and become proficient at his new craft over the course of the climb. After a brief stop at the summit of Torment (again it was actually quite pleasant despite its name), we threw on our packs and headed out. It dawned on me that we had reached what typically was the climax of a climb first, and that we still faced a long slog ahead. It felt an appropriate way to honor and represent the events of 911 and our personal wars that followed. We traversed a classic ridge in pairs, sending up and rapping down down features with 500-2000 feet of drop to the glacier on either side. Climb, belay, rappel, repeat for was wonderful work.


Mike making the airy step

One thing that's thrilling about an alpine traverses is the way that you move. Climbing it in pairs made us fast and efficient. While you use protection (tools such as cams, nuts, and belay devices that keep you usually keep you from falling too far) at really hairy or dangerously exposed places, the majority of the time you are hand belaying or wrapping horns while leapfrogging your partner. Its strange how quickly you get comfortable with moving along with thousands of feet of open space on either side. As you and your partner begin to sink, the movement becomes almost elegant in nature, unless you are Mike who accidentally breaks rocks (Although rumor has it that I may not be as graceful as I let on). The long drop almost ceases to have meaning as you are swallowed up by its scenery, more concerned with making immediate moves and protecting your partner.

Kurt and Josh on the Ascent


We ended our big day at a series of bivy ledges (Bivy is short for bivouac that I believe is French for accidentally having to sleep outside in crappy conditions), where we melted snow, enjoyed a hot meal, and had a few interesting conversations all the while enjoying some of Chris' alpine elixir. Not believing it was possible, we were treated to an even more incredible sunset and Alpenglow on Forbidden and El Dorado Peaks and the Boston Basin. Our slice of alpine home was one of the best places I have spent the night in the world. I had no trouble falling asleep inches away from a several thousand foot drop into gorgeous glacial valley below. The only real challenge was how to strategically and safely relieve oneself without disturbing your partner or groggily falling to one's death while doing so.


The last day we powered up the west ridge of Forbidden. After the previous day's work, the ascent was brilliant and over all too quickly, but we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the Cascades to include a look back at the route we had traveled. Again, I was struck with the significance of the traverse and its meaning to me as a way to honor the journey of my comrades and I in the years that followed September 11th, 2001.



After descending back to our bivy camp, we packed up and began the long walk back to the trail head. We made a series of rappels and some down climbing to the glacier below. Our walk on snow was quick and unremarkable as the hazards were uncommonly minimal this time of year. Sadly, there was not even a bergschrund on this mere remnant of a glacier turned snow field. (Bergschrund is a terrifying German word for mountain tear or crack where the ice and snow pull from the mountain).

On rappel

For me, the worse part of the climb is the retreat or walkout. Id like to attach some mystical significance to it such as "saying good bye to a wild place or good friends," but in all reality I hate it because the climb is over, I want a cheeseburger and a beer, and time slows to a crawl because I'm bored out of my mind thinking of said cheeseburger and beer. After several hours of crossing gorgeous alpine and subalpine terrain, I was glad our walk was at an end.


Little did we know our worst setback lay on front of us. After getting naked roadside and using a generous portion of cheap body spray to disguise our smell, we made our way back to Marblemount, a gateway to this section of the North Cascades. Much to our horror the BBQ pit we had our sights set on for the last day was closed. Not to be defeated, we found an excellent 80s style pizza joint in Concrete off of highway 20 with good pizza, a Ms.Pacman machine, and the old red plastic fountain drink cups.

A special thanks to Brian Rafferty and the Project Rebirth Team, Outdoor Research, and Suunto for their generous support of our climbers. You made this possible. Thank you Pro Guiding for your professional support for all of our Cascade adventures this summer. Most importantly a thank you Chris, Kurt, and Mike for a climb I won't soon forget.


I'll leave you with this: You too can accomplish amazing objectives in the mountains. You can find the silence of the guns;the acceptance of the death eyes. Find your inner strength that drove you in war, train, and get after it. The only roadblock to accomplishing objectives is you.

Sierra Club Military Outdoors 911 Climb Torment - Forbidden Traverse



Calling all volunteers for Sierra Club Military Outdoor's 3rd annual 911 Climb. This year's objective is the American Classic Mount Torment to Mount Forbidden Traverse in the North Cascades of Washington State. This climb is not for the faint of heart or the arm chair mountaineer. Mountaineering and rock climbing experience are required to be considered for our expeditionary team. 


Our 911 climb originated out of the idea that we as veterans, servicemembers, and first responders should always rember the events of September 11th, 2001. We remeber not only the events of that day, but the following 13 years of war that forever changed a generation.

Every year, Sierra Club Military Outdoors leaders, volunteers, and our most avid participants attempt to challenge themselves in the mountains on September 11th. They do it for themselves, their comrades, and their country. We recreate the comraderie, risk, objective, and purpose of combat in our wildest and beautiful places. These members of the military community learn to move beyond survival, but to live again through exploring, enjoying, and protecting our most wildest places. 


Slots are extremely limited. 

If you are interested in applying for the trip, send an email with the subject line: ‘YOUR LAST NAME_FIRST NAME White Water’ to that includes the following information:

  • Name
  • Branch of service, rank, when and where you served (or are serving)
  • Proof of service
  • Mountainering Experience 
  • Two sentences about why you want to go on the trip.
  • Where you will be coming from and if you need help getting to Seattle
  • Any physical or mental concerns you might have about your participation on the trip (we will aim to make this trip 100% adaptable to your needs)


Cedar Mesa Military Expedition


"The Cedar Mesa country in southeast Utah is a land of convoluted cliffs with arches, natural bridges, hoodoos, spires, hat rocks, ledges, and alcoves. It is a land of flash floods and extreme temperatures that demands much from those who would explore it. It is also an unparalleled museum of geological features and ancestral Puebloan culture. This fascinating culture flowered for more than a millennium and visitors to southeast Utah are treated to a sampling of archaeological wonders."

-A hiking guide to Cedar Mesa


Veterans and Service Members, join the Sierra Club Military Outdoors, the Bureau of Land Management, and Paradox Sports from OCT 3rd through the 9th in an epic cultural, spiritual, and adventurous expedition in one of the most enchanting wild places in our country. After a weekend of celebration and a traditional Navajo healing sweat lodge ceremony, our veterans will explore Grand Gulch and the other surrounding canyons of the Cedar Mesa area through a series of day and through hikes led by Sierra Club Veteran leaders and assisted by local rangers and experts who have a vast knowledge of how to live, explore, and enjoy these sacred natural and historical sites. 


General Itinerary:

3 OCT: No later than noon arrive at SLC Airport and move to Cedar Mesa

4 OCTt: Trip Logistics, local historical and natural talk, celebration dinner

5 OCT: Traditional Navajo sweat lodge and welcome home ceremony

6 OCT - 8 OCT: Group 1 Day hikes from central camp, Group 2 Hike through of Grand Gulch

9 OCT: Re-consolidate and move to SLC

Travel to and from SLC is the responsibility of the participant. We will provide local lodging in SLC for those arriving on the 2nd or leaving on the 10th. All group gear and food will be provided, a light backpacking packing list will be provided upon acceptance. 

If you are interested in applying for the trip, send an email with the subject line: ‘YOUR LAST NAME_FIRST NAME Cedar Mesa’ to that includes the following information:

  • Name
  • Branch of service, rank, when and where you served (or are serving)
  • Proof of service
  • Outdoor Experience (none is required) and other veteran / service member trips you’ve been on
  • Two sentences about why you want to go on the trip.
  • Where you will be coming from and if you need help getting to SLC
  • Any physical or mental concerns you might have about your participation on the trip (we will aim to make this trip 100% adaptable to your needs)

We will let everyone know about their participation no later than Septrember 20th, 2014.

What kids are saying about ICO!


Klamath Rafting One
You hear a lot from us about what our programming is doing here at Sierra Club Outdors, so today, we figured we'd let you know about what our participants think of the programming!

-I had such a great time, the volunteers are so great! I'm so thankful for this experience I wouldn't have had otherwise
-This trip added onto my "wilderness" experience. The bee's were mean, the hygiene system was so luxurious, and the rafting was adventurous. At the very beginning, I was soooo excited to swim and get with one with  nature. Now, it's the fourth day and I just want a nice shower. I learned how to be independent, strong, and courageous. 
p.s. I can finally take off "jumping off a waterfall" out of my bucket list.
-So my experience ICO was awesome!!! I got to do things that I probably will never do again, thank you so so much!!!!!! Honestly one of the best experiences I ever had. I learned so many new things about the river and nature, sleeping outside and having to go to the bathroom without the technology of a toilet. It was hot but we got through the heat; It was really great. The hike to the waterfall was the hardest for me but worth the beautiful and refreshing experience of the waterfall.
-My experience at ICO was great. It was something new that I've never done before. It was a great experience because I got to experience something new. The hike was my favorite because it was beautiful!! Despite the heat, no bathrooms, no showers and mosquito. I really enjoy being so close to nature. A lot of the people were also really nice, except the iodine water.
-My experience at ICO was AMAZING! I love the people, the river, and the bonding. I truly enjoyed every moment!! The beauty of nature truly impacted me to go out in the wilderness & just have a great time. I thank the volunteers from the bottom of my heart, they inspire me to  become one of them. :)
-I enjoyed everything and everyone. LOL. Anyways, the waterfall was truly amazing. It was something I've never seen. It will be a great memory. Even though, it was a long trip it was totally worth it. It was great meeting new people. The stars at night were amazing. The time on the river was EPIC! This trip has inspired me to be more spontaneous and adventurous. I really hope I could become a guide. It was cool to see two of our friends (Fernando and Ricardo) guide us. ICO is awesome and I can't wait to come on another trip.
Love, Peace, and Sunshine
-I'm not going to lie. I have gone rafting before but the other trips do not compare to this one. I have enjoyed myself to the max. Sleeping under the stars, next to the river was fun. Also glad you got to taste my cooking, hope you all enjoyed it. I want to help plan the next trip, and also I have made a lot more friends. Thanks for everything.
-I have gone on many rafting trips. This one was by far the best. I had an amazing time. From the guides, to the food, even the GROOVER! (Not really, that was weird) but I really really loved it. 
-At this rafting trip, I had an awesome time. I enjoyed everything we did like camping, rafting, eating, and just getting to know new people. I felt kind of weird to go to the bathroom ha it was akward....Hope I come he with you guys next year. THANK YOU!!! for everything and your help.
-KIPP student =)
-Yo. This was great, living as a big family, helping each other, taking responsibilities for all of our own needs, watching each others backs, and being productive members of society. What really made this trip was the talk of ageism or classism. We all helped out, made each other more comfortable and we learned and taught. This trip, I discovered my own ability to help someone get past a challenge just outside her comfort zone. She was nervous on one log crossing coming back from the waterfall. I was able to talk her through it and after she thanked me for my help. ICO is family. 

A Letter from the School Principal


Kids in front of lake   

At ICO, we work closely with a number of schools, principals, and after school programs and their directors to work together to help the kids they serve access the outdoors. The principal of Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation who our fantastic team at NYC ICO supports is moving on, but took the time to write this letter to our amazing team of volunteers:


    I am writing to announce that I will be transitioning over the next few weeks from the principalship at UASWC...[we] are all working to ensure a successful transition in leadership...I am confident that our mission will remain as focused and purposeful as it has always been.

     As founding principal, this was not an easy decision and I want to personally  thank every  you for your dedication as a founding partner in delivering a program that challenges students with high college ready expectations, and also provides the supports our students need to reach them – including fresh air!  The Sierra Club Inner City Outings Program and your team on a personal level contribute a great deal in  engaging students and their families in their education and breaking the cycles of poverty that otherwise limit their opportunities.   I am truly grateful to you and the work you’ve done with our students.



Washington Military Community and the Outdoors at Islandwood



In Washington State, the population of the military community is approximately 40% of the state's total population. Additionally, the revenues generated around the military community, ranging from military installations and their surrounding communities to the aerospace industry are a powerhouse in the state's economy. Why then is the Washington military community an underserved population in regards to outdoor access, outdoor recreation, and outdoor based therapeutic programs?


On August 4th and 5th, I was given the honor and privilege to lead a committee consisting of a diverse cross section of the military community from across the state in attempting to address this issue at Islandwood's second annual Military Families and Veterans Action Summit. While there are numerous brilliant ideas by brilliant people regarding the military community and the outdoors, most seem to never quite materialize out of the conception or planning phase. At the summit, we enjoyed a rare opportunity to plan and action our ideas, not only backed by the direct buy-in of numerous outdoor and military community organizations and sponsors, but we enjoyed the direct support of Washington Senator Patty Murray, Representative Derek Kilmer, and the WDVA Director Lourdes E. (Alfie) Alvarado-Ramos. 


In two short days, our team rolled up their sleeves and drew from years of experience in working with the military community in the outdoors in a variety of organizations ranging from hiking and climbing to agriculture and sweat lodges to formulate an actionable plan that would not only serve as part of a comprehensive solution stemming from the Islandwood Summit, but that would also serve as a feasible, achievable, and measurable plan as part of Governor Jay Inslee's Parks and Outdoor Recreation Task Force recommendations. 


Our recommendations were broken down under four major categories as follows in brief:

1. Mental and Behavioral Health: The use of the outdoors in the treatment of mental and physical health has proven to be incredibly effective.

- Partner with existing mental health and military community health care organizations for veteran and active duty outreach and to modify existing care (VA and Tri-Care) with privately funded initiatives that increase the scope and effectiveness of existing treatment.

- Encourage the use of alternative therapeutic practices such as outdoor, equine, art, and tribal ceremony as primary forms of treatment as opposed to limited augmentation of existing practices.

- Reach out to military community youth with outdoor programming in order to reach their military parents. Use the children as a means to engage adults in healthier lives outdoors.

2. Research: While numerous examples of anecdotal evidence exists as for the effectiveness of the outdoors in treating mental and behavioral health issues, effective scientific research must be conducted to bring the outdoors to mainstream public health.

- Connect the Washington military community and state and NGOs to existing outdoor research initiatives around the country (U Michigan, California Berkley, Georgetown, and the VA Center of Excellence)

- Generate Washington based research; connect WA universities, nonprofits, government agencies and members of the military community to partner in research that will lead the nation in connecting outdoor therapy and recreation to public health.

- Expand research into the effectiveness of other alternative therapies such as art, equine, and tribal ceremony.

3. Networking, Public / Private Partnerships

- Create a Washington State veteran subcommittee or task force to oversee outdoor recreation and outdoor therapeutic initiatives in direct partnership with the WDVA.

- Design and implement a system of MOUs between community members, NGOs, Universities, and the WDVA to encourage partnerships and cooperation across the state.

- Create a WDVA website to provide outdoor resources for active and veteran community in order to consolidate reputable resources and to provide communication between organizations to better facilitate internal communication for individual service member needs.

4. Funding and Branding

- Create a State or WDVA grant program in partnership with private foundations to empower grassroots organization to conduct effective care, research, and programming for the military community.

Warriors and Film in the North Cascades



For me, mountaineering has always replicated the good things that come from combat. Camaraderie, putting your life in the hands of your team in the pursuit of a dangerous objective, the inherent risk and thrill, operations and logistics, an adversary, and a sense of self worth and extraordinary accomplishment. The mountains have also been a place for me to move on with my life and to heal after ten years in the Army, the majority of them in spent in a state of constant preparedness, fighting, and recovery.


Many of my fellow soldiers and I have always had difficulty in processing these experiences, lacking the medium or the proper words to really get at the heart of what we experienced. I feel at home in the mountains, seemingly balanced half way between my old life and my new one, and for a brief moment, I am able to transcend from my daily life into a state of clarity, able to see and understand who I have become, where I have been, and where I am headed. 

Michael Brown_20140712_3933

In choosing the Boston Basin in the North Cascades for the 2014 Sierra Club Military Outdoors Adventure Film School, we attempted to recreate the positive challenges and outcomes of combat for our veterans to tell their stories for themselves and for the world. This was no canned veteran event. Success and failure hinged on our veterans ability to act as a team, to move beyond their percieved limits, and to learn about themselves.


After two months of pre-production training and expedition planning, our team began the expedition with a grueling approach hike, followed by top class instruction in mountaineering and outdoor technical film making. In small teams, they filmed their endeavors while working together in climbing Sahale Peak, Shark fin Tower, and the Aguirre. After six hard days in the mountains, they returned to Snoqualmie Pass where they were mentored in post production, crafting their stories through three sleepless days. The filmmakers debuted their films at the North Bend Theatre at the first annual Veteran Film Festival in an emotional yet thrilling night. 

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I am incredibly proud of our team. The Instructors from the Adventure Film School, Nasa Koski, Liz Hampton, and Micha Baird executed a highly successful program. Guest Instructors Benjamin Patton from I was There and Micahel Brown gave top class mentor ship and and guidance to our team. Chris Simmons and Aaron Mainer of Pro Guiding  provided professional level instruction and leadership in the mountains. A special thanks to our sponsors Race for A Soldier, Outdoor Research, Cascade Deseigns, Danner Boots, and the Martin Family Foundation for your generous support in making this event possible.

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Finally, I would like to personally thank our veterans Daniel Shoemaker, David Fierner, Elle Hanson, Melanie Barrow, Aaron Gerenscer, and Brian Mockenhapt for giving everything the had to this project. They achieved in 10 days what many wont achieve in a life time. Some made a goal of personal of physical summits, all achieved personal summits. they alone deserve credit for what they have accomplished. I'm lucky to have been there to witness their journey. Their words, their pictures, and their films speak for them best.




Dan ShoeMaker 


Captain Dan Shoemaker's world was forever changed on June 11th, 2010 when his platoon was attacked by a suicide car bomb in Jalula Iraq. His combat injuries were only the start of his battle as he began his fight with cancer that day. Enjoy No Matter What.






Elle Hanson

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 For 7 days, the Boston Basin became my home. It welcomed me with frustration, exhaustion, and more than my share of bruises. The mountain took every opportunity to test my physical strength and psychological vulnerabilities.

Every night, defeated, I sat under the stars wondering why I took on this journey. Every morning the crisp air of the sunrise reminded me why.

Life gets complicated after deployment. Every day for almost a year, I left a piece of myself in the mountains of Afghanistan.  In that void, the sight, smell, and sounds of war followed me home. I thought that I was climbing the North Cascades make a film. But that's not why the mountain called my name.

The mountain wanted to return something to me that was left behind on a battlefield on the other side of the world...

My peace. My purpose. My sanity.

Words cannot express how thankful I am to the Sierra Club Outdoors and Adventure Film School for giving me the opportunity to heal the wounds of war through fun, friendship, and filmmaking.There is no better place to clear you mind than being in the great outdoors.

If you can't see the forest through the trees, then get above the tree line.

If a pair of combat boots could tell a story, what would they say? Follow a pair of boots to war and back and discover that for many, putting on boots to go to war is EASY.... Taking them off is where the real battle begins. These Boots.


Brian Mockenhaput

20140712_7D_Vets_Micah_0118I figured the adventure film course in the northern Cascades would be great because, really, how could it not be? A week of alpine climbing with other vets while learning how to make movies. But I wasn't expecting the days to be as amazing as they were, or that I'd learn as much as I did, about alpine climbing, film making, and the experiences and perspectives of others on the trip.

Leaving the Army after three tours in Iraq, Josh Brandon felt stuck between his old, pre-war life, and his life in combat. Full Ruck looks at the role outdoor adventure and the mountains have played for Brandon, who heads up Sierra Club's Military Outdoors, which runs adventure programs for veterans. 



Melanie Barrow

20140710_MicahBaird_7D_AFS_Vets_0804Originally, when I made the decision to attend Adventure Film School, my number one rule was, DON'T get personal. I wasn't interested in making a film, that was a first hand account. Then, as Michael Brown says, "The Magic of the Mountain", took hold.

1000 Steps is a film about self discovery, friendship, enlightenment, and most importantly, the journey. Sometimes, many factors play into a "light bulb moment". For me, this experience was not only a defining moment, but a life changing one. It truly was the hardest thing that I have ever done; though, it certainly won't be the last.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Always do the things you are afraid to do". I wrote this quote on the inside of my boots, right before leaving for the expedition. Truthfully, I was petrified, and thought I would never make it out alive. Even though I didn't accomplish everything I had planned on, I survived, and I'll do it all over again, in a heartbeat.




 David Fierner

_X9C8598Knife is the story of a Soldier who struggles to leave combat behind. During his time in the mountains he finds a way to loosen his grip on his inner warrior and comes to find peace.














Enjoy the rest of the Photos:















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What ICO did this summer in Raleigh, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Nashville


As promised, here's the follow up from the post early this week about four other ICO groups doing amazing work outdoors on special trips in amazing places nationwide!

Raleigh ICO leaders took nine youth from the Wake County Heritage Park Learning Center to Fort Fisher State Park and Aquarium for a coastal experience and an overnight “sleeping with the fishes” program at the aquarium. The youth, most of whom have never seen the ocean before, got to experience swimming, sand and more swimming! In the early evening they participated in the “Sleeping with the Fishes” environmental educational experience at the aquarium, where the group spent the night in the aquarium in front of the large shark tank. They participated in a program about reptiles and sharks, made t-shirts with an ancient Japanese fish printing method, and got a private aquarium tour the next morning. In talking about the beach environment, Tabion, one of the youth, reacted with surprise: “We swam in the Atlantic Ocean??!! I thought we were swimming at Fort Fisher, not the ocean!!!”

Seattle ICO leaders took 12 students from Washington Middle School on their final outing of the school year to Mt. Saint Helens for an overnight camping adventure. The students, many of whom are new to Seattle, coming from northern and eastern Africa and Southeast Asia, have had introductory experiences with ICO, including walking through forests, putting on hiking boots, and paddling a canoe. This camping trip helped instill confidence and teamwork, learning the skill sets needed to set up tents, assist with camp chores, and overcome fears of trying something new. Only two of the participants had slept in a tent before this outing. The group drove to Mt. Saint Helen’s Volcanic National Monument on Saturday and, although the mountain remained shrouded in cloud cover the entire weekend, it the group hiked the Hummocks Trail and explored the different microclimates and ecosystems created post-eruption. The group then camped in the Lewis River Valley, which provides access to ten miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, and trout streams. Setting up camp, cooking, learning about “leave no trace” ethics and proper etiquette in the woods, plus a night hike through an old growth Douglass fir forest followed by a game of “capture the flag” by headlamps, made for a very full day. The next morning, the group packed up camp and ventured to Ape Caves, an underground series of lava tubes 2.6 miles long dating from a flow that occurred roughly 2,000 years ago. The students had headlamps and got to experience challenging spelunking, scrambling over approximately 27 boulder piles and scaling an 8-foot high lava wall, all while learning about the geology and power of a volcano. After the strenuous morning, most of the kids slept all the way back to Seattle. A highlight of the trip for the teachers who came along was to see so many of their “hyperactive” classroom kids engaging and exerting themselves to the point of stillness. This was truly a special and memorable outing for these students, who will be eager to be part of ICO trips in the new school year.

Los Angeles ICO took 28 students from the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities and Los Angeles Academy of Arts and Enterprise on a two-hour Level II rafting adventure along the Kern River. Along with the expert guides from River’s End Rafting and Adventure Company, the students learned the basics of paddling a raft safely and working together as a team to navigate the river. Trip highlights included going down three rapids, swimming in the river, and a variety of water games. This special outing was a treat for these urban kids who primarily go hiking with ICO during the school year.

Nashville ICO spent a weekend canoeing and kayaking down the scenic Duck River near Columbia, Tennessee. Fifteen students—refugees from Somalia and The Congo—from Catholic Charities’ Refugee Youth Program were very eager to see the sights of their new home, and the ICO leaders were very happy to show them as much as they could about the natural world outside the confines of the housing projects where most of them currently live. This special outing included a morning of paddling, swimming, and lunch, and then paddling to a primitive campground for an overnight adventure. The teens cooked dinner over a fire, set up tents, and slept well. After fixing a camp breakfast in the morning, they packed up their gear and paddled back to the put-in site. The weekend provided the ICO leaders an opportunity to teach the teens how to canoe or kayak (whichever they chose) and experience a typical American summer day of swimming, paddling, and relaxing as they let the current pull them down the river.

Researching Awe and the Outdoors



Sierra Club Outdoors, the University of California Berkeley’s Psychology Department, and the Greater Good Science Center are teaming up on a research project to measure the physical and mental benefits that teenagers enjoy as a result of their participation in a series of six ICO rafting trips. The research is investigating the link between awe experienced when out in nature and good health and resilience.

Specifically, the project’s benefits include: scientific methods to document the positive outcomes of outdoor programs; engaging teenagers in hands-on psychological research; and producing data on the health and wellness benefits of being outdoors. Participants will complete questionnaires before and after the trip, provide saliva samples to measure hormones and immune functions, keep a trip diary, and collect video and photos during the trips—all to measure, observe, and collect data on the physical and emotional state of the teens on these trips.

The first rafting trip of the research series occurred in late June on the south fork of the American River with approximately 25 students from Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy. The participants were accompanied by environmental science teacher Kevin Jordan, ten SF Bay Rafting guides, Craig Anderson, and UC Berkeley research project manager and his graduate student assistants, as well as Sierra magazine writer Jake Abramson and a Sierra free-lance photographer who documented the trip. Amidst all the chaos of gear, participants, and extra people, the trip and research component went off without a hitch. The simple pre- and post- trip questionnaires and journal reflections provided an excellent way to get the young people focused and reflect on their outdoor experience. And having the college graduate students interact with these college-bound high school students proved a plus for everyone. Craig Anderson came away saying that this first trip experience exceeded his expectations on participant reactions and data collection; ICO rafting leaders realized the importance of adding a journal exercise and including some environmental science on their trips to truly enhance the fun. We hope having some science behind what we intuitively know is true—that being outdoors is a positive value for both the body and mind—will help raise awareness and encourage support for our outdoor programming.

We plan on taking the information we learn from this first pilot research program and implementing a three year longitiduinal research project in 2015 that will work with youth as well as veterans and service members to determine the benefit of what the outdoors does for all of us. For more information get in touch with 

What ICO did this summer in Boulder Valley, Orange County, and Cleveland


In June, seven different ICO groups from across the country participated in special trips we support from the National level. Here are three trip summaries from our groups in Boulder Valley, Orange County, and Cleveland.

Boulder Valley ICO leaders repeated a previously successful multi-day service trip to Mission: Wolf, a wolf sanctuary in Southern Colorado. Participation in this outing is so coveted that it serves as a reward for good and frequent participation in other ICO outings over the course of the year. This time, the participants were from Creekside Elementary School, a primarily Latino, low-income public school. Leaders invited parents to come along on this adventure. The group had the opportunity to help the sanctuary facility with everything from moving firewood to butchering animals that are fed to the wolves. They also met the “ambassador wolves” in a face-to-face meeting to help break down fears of the wild. Photos!

Cleveland ICO leaders took 13 young Nepalese refugees, ages 7 to 14, on a horseback riding outing at Maypine Farms. While some of these youth have been exposed to cows and goats in their native country, they have had little to no exposure to horses. After one successful horse-back riding experience last year with ICO, the students wanted to do it again. This special outing enabled the youth to learn how to first groom the horses to develop trust and lessen fear. Then each participant had an experienced teenaged rider take them around the ring and quickly advance to trotting, learning to ride safely, and comfortably. Maypine Farms provided a lovely location for a short game of soccer and a hike before the group headed for lunch. ICO leaders treated the group to a “sit down” restaurant for lunch, which was a new experience for most of the kids. Many of the refugees don’t use a knife and fork to eat, as they eat their Nepali meals at home with their fingers, and American “fast food” (pizza and chicken nuggets) at school. After lunch, the group went to another nearby Metropark for a longer hike before heading home. Cleveland ICO leaders have been able to provide the Nepalese refugee community opportunities to explore the outdoors and introduce them to a variety of cultural aspects in their new home, helping make the transition less harsh.

Orange County ICO leaders took a group of 10 students from Bolsa Grande High School’s Wilderness Adventure Club on a five day camping trip to Reds Meadow in Inyo National Forest in the Eastern Sierra. The group assisted the Forest Service on some trail maintenance while experiencing this beautiful area on three ranger-led hikes to Devil’s Postpile, Minnent Falls, and Rainbow Falls. The students also did some fishing in Johnston Lake and Sotcher Lake near the campground and ate their catch of fresh trout for dinner. Leaders helped the students identify flowers, trees, and animal scat on their hikes, and saw many deer and a brown bear from afar. It was a great way to begin the summer!

Check in later this week for four more trip reports!

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