Leaving our comfort zone is never easy. But venturing into the unknown, trying something new and putting ourselves in vulnerable places is often where we experience the most growth. Joelle Hamm, Smartwool Planner/Buyer, pushed her boundaries by climbing a Colorado 14er—while raising more than $2,300 for Smartwool advocacy partner, Big City Mountaineers. How did she do it? With a lot of trust.
Big City Mountaineers works to leave a lasting impact on the lives of under-resourced youth. Their wilderness expeditions bring kids out of their comfort zones and into nature. Why is this important?
The majority of kids are growing up in cities and urban areas, and don’t have the means to get out in nature. I think it’s important that kids are exposed to the outdoors to develop a passion for our wild places. If they aren’t able to experience nature, it’s going to be really hard for them to care. Funds raised from Summit for Someone go to kids that don’t know what it’s like to go outside and go camping. Fortunately, it was very normal for me growing up to have those experiences. I want all kids to have that opportunity. Big City Mountaineers gets urban youth groups outside on week-long backpacking trips, it’s very transformative.
Summit for Someone is a Big City Mountaineers challenge that takes participants to the tops of peaks while raising funds to support their programs. What inspired you to participate in Summit for Someone?
The inspiration came from being part of the Smartwool Advocacy Team. Big City Mountaineers has been a longtime partner of ours. We’ve volunteered on their backpacking excursions and provided generous financial support. This year, I wanted to dive a little deeper with them. In June, I volunteered with a group of fellow Smartwool employees on an overnight camp in Genesee, CO. It was great to see one of Big City Mountaineers’ programs in-action and the impact it left on the kids. Summit for Someone was another perfect opportunity to get more involved and do something really fun at the same time. I signed up right away.
Long’s Peak is such an iconic Colorado 14er. It’s in Rocky Mountain National Park and can be seen from almost anywhere on the Front Range. Why did you pick this one to climb?
I had hiked 11 Colorado 14ers before but had yet to do Long’s Peak. I saw it as an awesome opportunity to do the climbing route that I would never have done on my own. It was longer and more technical than any of the others I’ve done. Being with a group with experienced mountaineer guides made it easy. Long’s Peak is one of the harder 14ers, even the Keyhole hiking route has a lot of boulders and scrambling.
Had you ever done anything like this?
I had been to a climbing gym a couple of times, but never climbed in an outside environment. Climbing outside is totally different than climbing in a gym. A 5.4 climb in a gym is not a 5.4 outside. There’s weather—rain and wind. I’d never even backpacked a 14er. For this, we were roped in. It was such a great experience to do something like that, not only to do it, but also for a good cause.
How did you train?
Well, I did zero climbing! I did do a lot of cardio training though. I wanted to make sure my lungs were capable at that elevation. I trained for our annual Ride to Outdoor Retailer, so lots of long road rides and I went on longer trail runs. It was a lot of cross training all summer long.
What was your go-to gear?
I purchased a harness and helmet right before the climb. It was nice to have my own gear, because I wanted to know the ins and outs and how to use it. Feet are the most important thing to take care of while out in the backcountry. Good socks and boots are a must. I wore the Women's PhD® Outdoor Light Crew Socks and sturdy hiking boots with ankle support. The first day was a 6-mile hike from 9,400 feet to 13,000 feet to the boulder field where we camped. We did that with 40-50 pound packs. Because I had the proper gear, I didn’t have any issues. There was lots of layering. I had the Women's PhD® Light Long Sleeve, Women's PhD® Tight , Women's Smartloft 60 Hoodie, PhD® Wind Training Glove and the Merino 150 Micro Stripe Beanie.
What was the climb like?
I didn’t get great sleep the night before, because the tent walls were flapping in the wind most of the night. When we woke up at 6 a.m. on Sunday, I was ready to go. It was a sunny morning and I was super excited that the weather had held. I was nervous, because it did rain during the night and when I was lying in the tent I kept thinking, well, I hope it doesn’t freeze. I didn’t want to just hike the Keyhole route because of icy conditions. I could do that on my own so that would be a huge bummer. Sunday morning was warm enough, I was super excited to climb the north face.
Roping in to reach the summit was a little nerve-racking. There were two of us harnessed to the same rope. You had to give at least a 10-foot buffer to allow enough space. It was all about trust. Trust in strangers, trust that your harness fit you right, trust that you were tied to the rope correctly, trust that the carabiner was locked and going to stay that way. We climbed four pitches that were about 60 feet. You have to find hand holes and trust your boot will stick to the rock. Parts of the rock were wet, that was definitely scary. You climb up, wait, the guide sets the rope… climb up, wait, the guide sets the rope... it’s a slow process.
How did it feel when you reached the summit?
Windy! The wind was 40-50 mph up there, the clouds were flying over us with all the wind. But it was really good. Once we got past climbing and some bouldering to get to the top, it was this amazing feeling of accomplishing something I’ve never done before. It’s great to do that and feel successful. The summit of Long’s Peak is the size of a football field, it’s really expansive. You had room to spread out and get a totally different view.
What did you find most challenging?
The start of the rappel, physically and mentally. It was scarier than climbing up. We self-rappelled down, that’s something I had never done before. Our guide described it as a trust fall down the mountain. You have to let yourself go, let yourself sit back, and trust your equipment. We rappelled down two pitches. The first one I was trying to rappel inch by inch, which doesn’t really work. It’s not smooth, it’s too jerky. I had a moment where I fell into the wall. A moment of OK, I have to do this. The second pitch was way more comfortable.
What was the most rewarding part?
The climbing part, because it was totally new to me. I didn’t think that was something I would ever do. Not only physically, but mentally. I don’t have friends that climb, and opportunities to get outside and climb where I live aren’t huge. It’s not really accessible. So being able to climb, at 13,000-14,000 feet nonetheless.
What are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of the fact that I raised $2,331. Each person needed to raise a minimum of $1,000. This was my first experience raising money as an adult, really since Girl Scouts. I’m asking people for money and don’t know if they’re going to care. I reached the goal of $1,000 quickly, so I just kept going. It shows how many people are passionate about the outdoors. It’s really humbling. My faith in humanity was elevated. That feeling was awesome and to know it was going to a really good cause. Our 8-person team raised a total of $11,241.
What did you learn about yourself through this experience?
I can do more than I think I can. Hiking up with a super heavy pack made me nervous. I have neck and upper back issues and didn’t know if it was going to be a struggle. I learned that I can do it. Now that I’ve done it, I want to go backpacking more. I want to go backpacking every weekend.
You were in this vulnerable place, stepping outside of your comfort zone with 8 strangers. What was that like?
One of the more unique things about this experience was doing it with 8 strangers. I’d normally do something like this with close friends and family where I know everyone’s pace. This was very new going out into the wilderness with 8 people, not knowing how the group dynamic will be. Everyone was incredibly supportive of each other. There was a moment when I had to be the calm friend to someone climbing above me. She was really nervous, it was all mental. Because I’m generally a pretty calm person, I encouraged her to look at the rock and not look down, that she’s got this. Once she got started, she could do it and she did great.
What advice would you give to someone looking to tackle a physical and mental challenge?
Don’t overthink it. If it’s something you want to do, and you think you could do—just do it.
“People can do so much more than they think they can. It’s all about making a commitment and being dedicated to it.”
Interested in learning more about Big City Mountaineers or making a summit of your very own? Check out Big City Mountaineers to learn how you can get involved.
Gear for Mountaineering
Whether you’re hiking up scree or climbing up cliffs, our Merino wool helps keep you comfortable. Merino works to regulate body temperature for chilly sunrise ascents and windy summits. It effectively manages moisture, helping to keep you dry in the afternoon heat. Layering Merino wool is the way to go. Make sure you’re adventure ready with Merino wool socks, base layers and accessories.