Seven People, One Mountain, and Hundreds of Kids Getting Outdoors

By Michael Lanza

I first tied my son, Nate, into a climbing rope when he was four or five years old. As I stood next to him at the base of an easy rock climb in Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, belaying him on a top-rope, he gazed up at the wall of granite rising more than 100 feet above him and started scrabbling upward. He got maybe six feet off the ground—I could still reach up and touch him—then stopped and asked me, “Is this as high as Mount Everest, Dad?” I said, “Yup, I’m pretty sure it is.” Satisfied with his accomplishment, he told me, “Okay, I’ll come down now.” And I lowered him back to the ground.

Today, that little boy is 15 years old and his rock climbing skills have improved significantly. He has also backpacked all over the West (lead photo, above, is of him and me in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains), whitewater kayaked some of its great rivers, and enjoyed outdoor adventures from New Hampshire to California, Florida to Alaska. Now he wants to help teenagers who haven’t had the same opportunities as him get introduced to the kind of experiences he’s enjoyed for longer than he can remember. So Nate and I, joined by five readers of The Big Outside, will climb the highest peak in the Lower 48 to do just that.


Nate, at 11 months old, on one of his first backpacking trips in Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains.
Nate, at 11 months old, on an early backpacking trip in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains.

In mid-April, our seven-person climbing team will all meet for the first time in the little Eastern Sierra town of Lone Pine, California, with our guides from Sierra Mountaineering International. Over the next four days, we plan to backpack to a high camp at around 12,000 feet at the base of the east face of 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, in Sequoia National Park, and weather and snow conditions permitting, climb Whitney’s Mountaineers Route. It will be buried under several feet of snow, so we’ll use ropes, crampons, and ice axes to make the climb.

Whether we reach the summit or not, we will have already accomplished something far more important: Each member of our climbing team has committed to raising at least $4,000 for Big City Mountaineers through BCM’s Summit For Someone program—a great cause that all of us believe in strongly.

Since 1989, Big City Mountaineers has been providing wilderness-mentoring experiences to underprivileged urban youths. Every year, BCM partners with existing youth-development agencies and professional field instructors to take hundreds of kids age 13 to 18 into the wilderness. The core BCM program is a weeklong expedition that includes a five-day wilderness backpacking or canoe trip on which adults and teens work together in a unique, one-to-one ratio.

These are kids who lack the resources and opportunities to pursue experiences that families like mine are fortunate to enjoy frequently. The organization has an inspirational track record of increasing the likelihood of these kids staying in school and not getting involved in violence or drugs. BCM’s goal for 2016 is to take 800 youths outdoors.

You can support my son Nate’s and my goal of raising at least $4,000 for Big City Mountaineers by making a donation here. Thank you for your support for Big City Mountaineers.

I began hiking mountains in my early twenties, and it quickly grew into my passion and my vocation. When I had children, I wanted them to grow up with the outdoors central to their lives—because I believe it will make them happier and better people. I’ve had the great pleasure many times of seeing the awe in their eyes and hearing it in their voices.

Our fundraiser for BCM gives Nate and me an opportunity to help do that for other teenagers—and maybe change their lives. I will write about our team climbing Mount Whitney later at The Big Outside.


Nate, age 11, rock climbing at Idaho's Castle Rocks State Park.
Nate, age 11, rock climbing at Idaho’s Castle Rocks State Park.

Meet Our Mt. Whitney Climbing Team

The four Americans and one Canadian comprising our Mount Whitney climbing team include four men and one woman. They hail from the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and British Columbia, and range in age from 31 to 66. Please consider supporting their fundraising efforts at

Our team:


Molly Baab
Molly Baab

Molly Baab, 40, Melrose, Massachusetts

“I work for the ecommerce website Rue La La in Boston, MA. On the weekends you’ll usually find my husband and me rock or ice climbing, cross-country skiing, canoeing or hiking. Our five-year old daughter, Anna, is out with us most of the time. I’ve told her she’ll have to get a bit older before she can do a big mountain with me, so hopefully Mount Whitney is the first but not the last. I was inspired to sign up for this trip because I’ve long wanted to do a snow climb on a larger mountain and because I believe that all kids would be better off if they spent more time in outdoorsy, active pursuits. So the mission of Big City Mountaineers really speaks to me.”


Tim Brosnan
Tim Brosnan

Tim Brosnan, 56, Annandale, New Jersey

“I’m a senior vice president at Willis Towers Watson, a risk-management consulting firm. In addition to many trips throughout the Northeast, I have completed treks in Northern Spain, Nepal, and other parts of the U.S. I’ve been blessed with a beautiful, brilliant wife, three healthy, happy children and the resources to give them everything they needed. Climbing for BCM allows me to honor them and do something to improve the lives of kids who haven’t been as lucky as we have. This adventure combines my interest in helping others and challenging myself.”


John Kelly
John Kelly

John Kelly, 66, Maple Ridge, British Columbia

“I’m a retired environmental manager and now a full-time trekker, backpacker and hiker. Raised on a small farm in southeastern British Columbia, my playground was the mountains and forests: fishing, hiking, camping, exploring, bike riding, horseback riding, snowshoeing. I was blessed for 41 years to share my life with my first wife, Iona, who was struck down by cancer. Marrying Iona also gave me an amazing son, Angus. He has a number of physical challenges, including a progressive loss of vision, but has led his life with a positive determination to not let his challenges keep him from doing whatever he sets his mind to. Angus is my one true hero. I have been blessed for a second time by having a beautiful lady share her life with me. Walking the Camino de Santiago in 2015 with Cynthia was the best five weeks of my life. The great outdoors is not only my inspiration but my sanctuary, the place I go to get grounded. The mission of Big City Mountaineers resonates with me at every level, and the opportunity to help make a difference to young people while pursuing my passion is a dream come true.”


Nick Ornella
Nick Ornella

Nick Ornella. 31, Cincinnati, Ohio

“I love running, skiing, biking, hiking, camping, and backpacking in various local and national parks. I am a huge fan of the National Park System and hope to visit all of the national parks (17 down, 42 to go!). I signed up to climb Mount Whitney and raise money for BCM because I want some kids less fortunate than I’ve been to be able to have the same types of outdoors experiences that I was fortunate to have as a kid with my family. The outdoors has always been a great source of self-confidence and stress relief for me, and I want to pass some of that along to these kids through my fundraising efforts and climb.”


Frank Weber and sons Jeremiah and Jonah.
Frank Weber and sons Jeremiah and Jonah.

Frank Weber, 39, Hardeeville, South Carolina

“Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, I have spent the last 20 years vigorously backpacking as much as I can. Over the past eight years, my wife and I have taken our children with us on the majority of our outdoors adventures. Since before they could crawl, we have watched them flourish in the outdoors, which has solidified for us the importance of unplugging children from our hyper-connected world to let them experience the peace and tranquility of nature. This climb is an opportunity for me to contribute to an unforgettable experience for a child who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance, while doing what I love.”



Wind4-016Did you enjoy this story? I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, and I appreciate connecting with my readers. I invite you to subscribe to this blog by entering your email address in the box at the top of the left sidebar or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter.



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4 thoughts on “Seven People, One Mountain, and Hundreds of Kids Getting Outdoors”

  1. Your son, Nate, is remarkable 🙂

    Really wish I could join this climb to Mount Whitney! It’s been on my bucket list of mountains to conquer, but im not ready yet. Hopefully there’ll be another one next year! Goodluck to everyone!

  2. Great read! Best of luck to the whole team. Tell Frank Weber that he can come up from SC to the NC mountains and train/ get the inside scoop on Whitney’s Mountaineer”s Route anytime!