The following is a guest post from our friends at Peak 7, an organization that works to foster leadership and positively engage youth through outdoor adventure. Kevin Glover is the volunteer and marketing coordinator for Peak 7, and spent this past summer working as a guide on the Bower Adventure Course, a 50+ day intensive outdoor leader expedition program designed to shape resilient peer leaders.
If you have ever spent time on a glacier, you know a little about self-reflection. There’s something about the sheer austerity of that environment, the pristine uncaring coldness, that makes you think differently.
If you have been filling up your days with business, glacier ice will scour all of that away. This last July, we took eight high school guys up to the massive Inspiration Glacier in the North Cascades. And then we sat there for six days.
Well, we didn’t just sit there. The eight students were there on a leadership course, one that Peak 7 Adventures specifically designed for teenagers in an outdoor context. For the 54 days of the Bower Adventure Course (BAC), these eight students would be unplugged from their worlds while they backpacked, rafted and climbed in some of the nation’s most desirable locations.
It was good that they were out of touch with their real lives for a while. Many of them were coming to the summer from tough situations: bad home lives, violence, drug use, rehab programs of various descriptions. At first blush you wouldn’t expect these to be the type of kids who would enroll in a leadership course, but there they were.
Nobody made them come. And in fact, these are exactly the type of kids who need to become leaders. They’re the ones who have influence back in their friend groups and families – or on the streets. Squeaky clean youth workers don’t have the same credibility. So the question was, would these guys be able to go back to their lives and become a positive influence, rather than negative or neutral?
That brings us back to the glacier. In late July, towards the end of the leadership course, we climbed one of Washington’s all-time classics: Eldorado Peak. It’s a classic climb crossing two glaciers and culminating in an intimidating knife-edge snow ridge up to the 8,850-foot summit. After the summit, we lowered the students into gaping crevasses so they could learn how to ice climb out of the glacier’s frigid blue mouths.
They also learned the skills of crevasse self-rescue, or how you ascend a rope after falling into a crevasse. And then, once the sun started getting low and the glacier got chilly, we would all gather into a giant eight-person dome tent that we had turned into a kitchen and family room. We carved out seats and a table in the glacier, and every night we would talk – about life, climbing, leadership, spirituality. Everything.
The end of the week saw each student spending 24 hours alone, spread out on the granite rock outcroppings along the glacier. They needed time to reflect, not just on their successful climb but on how much they had risen above in their own lives.
And so, with the barren ice and cold air keeping them awake and uncomfortable, the glaciers worked their magic. The views of ice and snow cleared away some of the emotional baggage that they had hauled up there.
A lot of this came out during our last night in the giant dome tent. The teens talked with each other about how their friendships had changed and deepened, and how they never thought they would become so close. They said that the BAC had become like a family.
Importantly, that family wasn’t just shared good feelings but real familiarity; the level of knowing where they could really speak truth into each other’s lives because they had seen their peers at their best. And their worst. So there was a mutual agreement to hold each other to high standards. They were there to grow as leaders, and the only way they saw to do that was by becoming a community of peer leaders.
Our time on the glacier came to an end quickly and we made the brutal trek back down into the valley in record time. With the trip behind them, the students have already been making great changes in their home lives. Some are applying for jobs, scholarships and college. Some have made decisions about what friend groups are unhealthy and need to be given some distance, choosing to move schools or join new programs.
It’s hard to tell how much change happens in a kid’s life over the course of a summer, but I know a few things: the ice up on those glaciers is melting fast. It’ll be gone in a few decades. What will last, though, is the impact this summer made on eight high school kids’ life paths.
Find out more about how to support or be involved in the Bower Adventure Course at www.peak7.org/BAC