Big City Mountaineers


Nov 2, 2011
Outside Magazine
Big City Mountaineers

Big City Mountaineers teens and adult mentors on their weeklong expedition in Olympic National Park.    Photo: Wesley Allen

BY THE NUMBERS: More than 15,000 urban teenagers have taken part in sponsored outdoor trips since 1989.
WHO'S IN CHARGE: Executive director Lisa Mattis, 41, former director of individual giving and director of the scholarship program for Outward Bound
WHAT IT DOES: Big City Mountaineers (BCM) gives underprivileged city kids a chance to experience wilderness adventure. Roughly 83 percent of urban teens who participate in BCM’s trips live below the poverty line, 62 percent have never been outside their home counties, and the vast majority have never seen a starry sky. Drawing on an annual budget of $1.5 million, this 22-year-old nonprofit takes young city dwellers from Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, on seven-day hiking or canoeing trips in settings like the Boundary Waters and Yosemite National Park. Along the way, volunteer leaders guide teens through a series of challenges that culminate in summiting a peak or completing a long river portage. BCM has devised innovative fundraising techniques, including Summit for Someone, in which participants challenge themselves in the same way BCM kids might—by tackling a guided climb of a difficult peak and raising funds through sponsorships. This year, North Face–sponsored athlete Cedar Wright signed on, choosing a self-guided climb on a remote Malaysian island. He hopes to raise $10,000.
EXTRA CREDIT: BCM offers diverse ways to get involved and is one of the largest wilderness programs for urban kids.
LOOKING AHEAD: The group has added single-day and overnight programs to augment its seven-day courses. These offer gateway programs for kids intimidated by longer outings.