I Have the Greatest Job in the World*

*Or Maybe Just the Outdoor Industry

Shilpen Patel is an oncologist in Seattle, and in December 2009, he called me with a few questions about participating in Summit For Someone, specifically about the fundraising commitment. I told him the fundraising isn’t what I’d call “easy,” but if you put some effort into it, you’ll be surprised how many people will support you, and how good it will make you feel.

Shilpen signed up, and 20 weeks later, he had met the fundraising goal of $4,000 for his Mount Rainier climb. His total ended up at $4,509.

It must be tough living in Seattle, under the shadow of one of the most famous mountains in America, and wondering what it’s like up on the summit. On August 14th, Shilpen went up with his Summit For Someone team and found out. A few weeks later, he called to chat with me about Summit For Someone 2011. I asked him how his Rainier climb had gone, and he said

“It was better than I ever imagined it would be.”

That sentence made my month. I smiled into the phone when Shilpen told me a group of participants on his climb had gotten along so well, they came back to Shilpen’s house in Seattle afterward and stayed over for a night on the town.

Stories like that make me happy I do what I do. And videos like this one, from SFS Rainier Women’s climber Sara Lingafelter, whose emotions at about 7:20 in this video show what it’s like when you get to the top after all those months of fundraising and training:

I help people climb mountains, and live out their dreams. Those people, in turn, make incredible things possible for a bunch of city kids who don’t have the advantages many of us had growing up — the teens on BCM’s weeklong expeditions who sometimes have fathers in prison, gang members recruiting them, or think their best option for the future is getting pregnant as soon as possible. And on our expeditions, we get to watch these teens experience silence for the first time, or see the Big Dipper for the first time, or dig deep and find what it takes to keep moving forward toward the summit (just like we do sometimes).

Longtime BCM trip leader Jack Sasser (left) and me, about to climb Vestal Peak in southwest Colorado, Labor Day 2010.

My official job title is “Summit For Someone Manager,” and I talk about climbing mountains to people almost every day – gear, training, and even fundraising. I love sharing what I’ve learned in the mountains, little secrets like using tyvek envelopes to carry crampons in my pack, or why I think stretching your calf muscles can prevent altitude sickness, or what (junk) food I eat at high altitude instead of all “energy” bars or gels. I climb on the weekends so I can be a legitimate source of information for our climbers – of course, I’m not going to say my “research” isn’t fun.

I had almost no experience raising money before my first day at BCM, but in the past two and a half years, I’ve taken it upon myself to get some of that experience, which hasn’t been all bad. I’ve climbed Mount Shasta with three good friends, bicycled across America with another good friend, and walked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim, all to raise money for BCM and to realize what it takes to bring in a few thousand dollars in small donations. Some people have bake sales, and some of us can’t bake so well – so we climb mountains or go on long bike rides to support what we believe in. Which, in my case, is that the outdoors can change someone’s life.

I always say that even if I have a bad day at work, at the end of the day, our teens still get to go out and have a week in the wilderness. And, 100-some people with big hearts get a shot at climbing their dream mountain every year.

-Brendan

Questions about Summit For Someone? E-mail Brendan at brendan@bigcitymountaineers.org or call him at 303-271-9200, ext. 403.

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