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Mission & History

Where It All Began

In the summer of 1989, Jim Kern bought an extra child’s plane ticket to take one of his son, Drew’s, friends along on a backpacking trip in the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness in Montana. Drew couldn’t find a friend to go, so Jim decided to use it for a kid who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to explore the American West. Over the course of that week the seeds that would grow into Big City Mountaineers were planted. Jim realized that every kid deserved the chance to explore the Wilderness and experience the personal growth that only comes through rugged physical challenge. In 1990, Jim filed the paperwork and BCM was born.

For the next seven years BCM was entirely volunteer run, but Jim knew that we were capable of much more. Someone introduced him to the co-founder of JanSport, Skip Yowell, and Jim set up a meeting. Intending to ask for a handful of JanSport’s state-of-the-art external framed backpacks, Jim laid out his vision for BCM to Skip. That very day, Skip, and a team of executives at JanSport, handed Jim a $100,000 check – launching BCM into it’s future. Over 20 years, Skip drove funding to our organization from the outdoor industry, served on our board of directors, and became involved as a mentor on over a dozen trips! Skip’s sense of adventure and desire to give back is ingrained in the DNA of Big City Mountaineers. Jim remains in communication with the board and staff and continues to regale staff with stories of early BCM expeditions.

In 1998 we hired our first executive director and set up headquarters in Denver, Colorado,  eventually establishing hubs in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and Boston. Today, we engage about 700 youth every year, maintaining Jim’s original vision of a 1:1 youth to adult ratio. We have served over 9,000 kids, conducted nearly 800 expeditions, organized over 5,000 volunteers, led over 100 overnight camps, and provided nearly 42,000 nights under the stars for kids that would not have had the opportunity without BCM. 

Our Mission – What We Do

Big City Mountaineers instills critical life skills in under-resourced youth through transformative wilderness mentoring experiences.



2020 Update: In an effort to move away from language that disempowers students, BCM is in the middle of a process to reframe our mission, vision, and values. Click here to learn more.

Our Vision – Where We’re Going

A nation transformed by youth connected to and empowered by nature.

Group of Hikers

Our Values – What’s Important

Youth – Youth possess power, potential, and resilience. We make organizational decisions based on what will be best for our students.

Nature – The outdoors restores, renews, inspires, and teaches. To experience nature is to unlock our own potential.

Community – Communities provide a context that drives our work – to be inclusive, impactful, and meaningful.

Collaboration – Partnership coaxes fresh perspectives and promotes creative problem solving, enabling us all to succeed.

Accountability – Transparency builds trust. Through a culture of communication we hold ourselves to the highest standards of safety, stewardship of resources, and program delivery.

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