A stranger called this Spring and asked me to volunteer to document cancer surviving teenagers backpacking in the Three Sisters Wilderness. The stranger’s name is Heather Rose and she has spent the last 20 years putting together a program called "See You At The Summit" to help kids/teens backpack in the wilderness. The teens I would be photographing spent nine days total in the woods and I would be joining for a few of them.
There are many goals for participants of the program, mainly, self sustaining and decision making in the wilderness, which hopefully translates into all aspects of life. The teens learn everything from filtering water to food prep to route finding to camp set up and everything in between while being in the wilderness.
My mom died from cancer when I was 31 years old...it was nine months from diagnosis to death. I remember when she was diagnosed and thinking, ‘she’ll beat this, she is so tough!’ She didn’t and I regret not spending more time with her during those nine months.
I showed up on day six of the See You At The Summit program and the teens were well under way with filtering water, putting together meal plans, learning to fly fish, battling emotional woes, laughing, learning, tent camping, had completed a few hikes and were preparing for their Summit hike the following day! I won’t get into the details of what I was feeling upon meeting, shooting photos and acclimating to the group, yet I will say these teens are warriors! Being a teenager is hard enough in so many ways, add cancer to that and see how you would respond?
This is getting long and I haven’t even dived into much of anything about the days spent with the cancer survivors. Hmmm. The following morning I woke up at 6am in my tent. The doctor/lead counselor, nurse, therapist and mountain rescue were all waking up as well. The three teenagers that would be leading the hike were up and getting ready too. There were many other staff members and teens in the initial group, but our crew would be the aforementioned, eight in total. The group would be hiking 8+miles in total for the day to an area above No Name Lake and then a short hike back to camp for the night.
We spent over 10hrs. hiking until we were back at camp. Each one of those hours had laughter, resting, route finding, words of encouragement, enjoyment of views, accomplishing the goal of the teens “summit” and an opportunity to throw a rock in a creek to symbolize something each individual wanted to let go. The sun went down, stars came out and everyone fell peacefully asleep.
I woke up at 4:30am and hiked back to No Name Lake for sunrise. This is one of the images I captured. I will always remember this experience and how positive an outlook the cancer surviving teenagers have; we could all take a page from these warriors book.