Grit in the Face of Challenge: A Week in the Oh-Be-Joyful Wilderness

Written by BCM mentor Phil Taylor

I chose to be a BCM adult mentor because I wanted to transform the lives of under-served youth. Little did I know that our youth would transform me. These kids were brave. They were compassionate. And they showed true resilience in the face of adversity. I feel I learned as much from them as they did from me.

Spending five days in the backcountry is a scary experience for kids who have little exposure to the outdoors. It showed during our expedition to Oh-Be-Joyful Pass. Our kids struggled with homesickness, heavy packs, steep climbs, blisters and bugs — all without the comforts of cell phones, video games and home-cooked meals!

“Most of all, they showed toughness in the face of challenges both on the trail and in their home lives.”

Yet, what impressed me most about our kids, is the care and compassion they showed for one another. They showed a sincere appreciation for the opportunity they were being given. Most of all, they showed toughness in the face of challenges both on the trail and in their home lives.

During our expedition, our youth learned the fundamentals of wilderness survival, including how to pitch a tent, how to read a topographic map, how to avoid being struck by lightning and how to locate water and a good campsite.

More importantly, they learned to communicate with one another, listen carefully and make informed decisions. They learned how to evaluate risks, weigh pros and cons and reach consensus on the best path forward. In short, they developed critical decision-making skills, patience and empathy that will help them succeed in school and throughout life

I took many happy memories home from this expedition. Among them was the brisk dip we took in a creek on Day Two. Our group had just spent hours slogging up a mountain through aspen groves and fields of wildflowers. By the time we reached the creek, the kids were fatigued, frustrated and demoralized and showed little interest in going on. What a difference a dip in the creek made! I’ll never forget the expressions on their faces, their unbridled laughter and their screams of cold shock when they came up from the water. As we prepared to resume our hike, a Monarch butterfly landed on the pant leg of one of our kids. It later crawled onto one of their fingers. Each of the youth took turns passing the butterfly around, photographing it and admiring its beauty. For the first time on our expedition, I saw the kids feel a kinship with nature

Summit day was definitely the highlight of our trip. The kids chose Jaelee to serve as group leader for the ascent up Oh-Be-Joyful Pass. This was a remarkable choice considering that Jaelee had struggled to keep pace on the previous days hikes. In nominating Jaelee, the kids showed him that they believed in him. Jaelee did well for most of the hike, but he began to struggle mentally and physically once we arrived at the switchbacks up to the pass. Jaelee decided he could not go on and he stayed back with Micah and two of the adult leaders. I hiked on with Gary, Gage and Marcos along with two other adult leaders to the top.

When we reached the pass, the kids were beaming with pride. They could see Crested Butte from a gap many miles down the Oh-Be-Joyful valley below. They competed with each other on who could throw a rock the furthest down the ridge and had a wild snowball fight. As we descended, we saw Jaelee and Micah climbing up the switchbacks. They had summoned the will to finish the ascent! Gary, Gage and Marcos could have bragged about the views they’d seen from the top and continued their descent. Instead, they filed in behind Jaelee and Micah and followed them back up the pass, shouting words of encouragement. It was a remarkable show of selflessness and solidarity.

Each of the kids brought unique qualities to the team. Gary, a BCM veteran, played a key leadership role and was a true diplomat during group discussions. Gage was an expert navigator whose poise on the trail brought everyone a sense of calm. Marcos, who was embarking on his first BCM expedition, was small in stature but punched well above his weight. Micah’s humor and swagger brightened everyone’s mood. His nickname: “Sunshine.” Then there was Jaelee, an aspiring music producer who enjoyed photography and dealt with his struggles with a calm composure.

Each of these kids struggled at times during the week, but they never quit. Their willingness to forge ahead was truly inspiring.

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