Climbing with First Ascent


CAMP HALE, Colo. – For Aspen High School freshman Corey Michelin, mountains and rivers are familiar territory. Running rivers is also familiar to Priscyla Mendoza of Silt who is a sophomore at Glenwood Spring High School this fall.

And Summit County students Corbin Finley of Breckenridge and Emily Carrish of Dillon are at home in the mountains, too.

Priscyla Mendoza

Priscyla Mendoza from Silt took part in First Ascent, a youth leadership program during June.

What may not be as familiar is meeting and spending a week with students they’ve never met before. In First Ascent, high school underclassmen learn how to trust others, solve problems and build teams, all while gaining confidence both outdoors and with each other.

Now in its 24th year, First Ascent is a free, week-long residential program based at Colorado Mountain College Leadville. Nearly 35 students from all over CMC’s district entering ninth and 10th grade this fall spent a week in June rock climbing at Camp Hale, hiking up Colorado’s highest peak Mount Elbert, and rafting the Arkansas River, all while learning what it takes to be a leader and a team player.

Kiera Larson

Kiera Larson from Glenwood Springs took part in First Ascent.

During the third day of the program, the students broke into morning and afternoon groups to rock climb at Camp Hale near CMC Leadville. Although Mendoza lives a couple of hours away, the area around Leadville was new to her.

“I’ve never been here before,” she said. “It’s beautiful. I didn’t even know that Leadville existed.”

Mendoza said First Ascent has taught her how to trust and be part of a team.

“It’s really good to be here, connecting,” she said. “I didn’t know the people on my team at all. Now I think, ‘Wow! This person!’”

Corbin Finley

Corbin Finley of Breckenridge – with calls of “You got this, Corbin!” from fellow students below – took part in First Ascent at Camp Hale.

Year after year

Program director Carolyn Larsen was once a First Ascent student. Like the other counselors and staff, she is a graduate of the program. Students who complete First Ascent can return to work as staff during future summers. Many come back year after year.

The program is free to students thanks, in part, to sponsorship from the J. Robert Young Foundation and Alpine Bank.

For information about the 2020 First Ascent program for rising ninth- and 10th-graders, visit Larsen and Colorado Mountain College begin distributing information and applications about the program each March.