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Pursuing a mountain climbing feat to inspire and support those touched by mental illness
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Pursuing a mountain climbing feat to inspire and support those touched by mental illness

This summer a group of Fort Lewis College students and alumni are banding together to climb every 14,000-foot peak in Colorado to raise awareness of mental health issues. The team created the Climb Out of the Darkness expedition and has invited the public to join them for a number of their ascents, including Mt. Princeton on June 30, Handies Peak on July 7, and Pikes Peak on August 7. Anyone interested in joining the climbs can email the team at cotd2015@gmail.com.  More information about the expedition and its members can be found at http://cotdexpedition.wix.com/cotd.

“I’m doing some hard research for classes right now on mental health, specifically in Colorado. Even after we’d chosen [mental health as the expedition’s theme], we keep learning about how much of an issue—a challenge—it is for Colorado and the Intermountain West,” explains FLC Environmental Studies senior and expedition leader, Anthony Reinert.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of Coloradoans seek treatment for severe mental health issues, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression. More troubling is that in 2013 the Centers for Disease Control reported that Colorado owned the sixth highest suicide rate in the nation. This despite the fact that Colorado is consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in the country.

“There’s a lot of things that kind of stew together to make [Colorado] the best place on Earth,” Anthony says, “but also a really challenging place for a lot of people.”

The expedition has become very personal to the team members. Each of them has either dealt with their own mental health issues, or has seen someone close to them go through struggles. Those experiences make Climb Out of the Darkness more than just an interesting project.

“We really want to take this summer and approach our adventure differently and make it not about us and use our passion and our love for these types of adventures and this place to better more than just ourselves,” says Charly McConaghy, a junior in FLC’s Environmental Studies program. 

“Our team and our expedition is focusing more on helping other people look into themselves and the mountains they’re facing and help them keep climbing on,” adds Seth Pooler, a FLC sophomore studying psychology.

“If our trip inspires one person to continue on and to press forward, to climb on toward their own personal goals,” he says, “then we’ve done our job.” 

Known for the beauty of its surroundings, the team credits Durango and Fort Lewis College as an inspiration and a launch pad for their endeavor.

“It’s no secret that Durango and the environment drew us all here,” says Anthony, “but Fort Lewis gave us that ability to meet and facilitate and create these connections.”

“The liberal arts model and the community as a whole here fosters a spirit of giving back to the world and our communities for how fortunate we’ve been,” says Aaron McDowell, a senior studying environmental biology. “We’re really incredibly lucky to be here. We get to live in Durango, go to Fort Lewis, meet wonderful people, learn great things, and spend time in the mountains.”

As of June 21, the Climb Out of the Darkness expedition had already summited over a dozen peaks in the state, often beginning in the darkness of the early morning and summiting as the sun breaks over the horizon. In all, there are 54 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado.

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