While I was still in Afghanistan, I decided that when I got home I’d make time to do something for myself that I’ve been wanting to do for a while now: sign up for one of the Outward Bound courses for veterans. My thought was to do something I would never do on my own, something I would never think myself capable of, and someplace I’d never been before. When applications first opened up for the 2013 courses, I signed up right away for my most logical choice: mountaineering in the Colorado Rockies. In the winter.
Brief sidenote: What you need to know about Outward Bound courses for veterans is that they are completely free for vets. Equipment, food, activities, round-trip airfare, everything. And it’s an amazing experience. Make the time, sign up for a course, and go do it–you’ll be glad you did.
I ended up in the Colorado Rockies course at the end of February, and the day I flew into Denver we had several inches of snow dump. My classmates and I were shuttled from Denver (5,000+ feet above sea level) to the Colorado Outward Bound School in Leadville, which is above 10,000 feet. The first thing we all learned: altitude is no joke. We all felt it, but by the second day, one of our classmates had to be put on oxygen and taken back to a lower altitude. It was an extreme case, but an important lesson on how everyone responds differently to altitude, and how important it is to pay attention to your body’s signals to slow down, take it easy, and be patient with what you’re trying to do. Which also isn’t a bad life lesson in general.
Thanks to our outstanding instructors, we learned the basics of mountain/snow environment orienteering, ice climbing, snowshoeing, and building a camp designed to keep us alive and with a few creature comforts in below-zero temperatures. It’s totally true that I was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life, and that I was pretty uncomfortable at times (using poo bags outdoors in sub-zero temperatures just isn’t something I prefer to do every day, let’s say). But at the same time, I learned how to get out and about and feel confident and comfortable in an extreme environment. Plus it is simply, positively stunning to see these mountains up close, blanketed in pure white snow. It’s cold, but it’s breathtaking in a way that has no comparison.
I also had the opportunity to get to know, work with, and learn from a group of tremendously accomplished and amazing instructors and fellow veterans. The program in its entirety is a huge confidence-builder, and it shifts your focus to the challenges immediately in front of you. If you need a chance to reset how you’re thinking and feeling about your life, or to just expand your horizons to include something new and amazing, then Outward Bound is simply a must.
If you’d like to learn more and/or make a donation to support this amazing program for veterans, please click HERE.