2,000 Miles to Summer Camp: One Counselor's Journey

Summer camp season is a special time at The Mountaineers. Students are given memories to last a lifetime - and so are our counselors! Hear from Marissa McDowell who joined us from Indianapolis last summer, and learn how you and your kiddos can get involved.
Andrew Bassett Andrew Bassett
Youth Education Manager
June 19, 2018

Here at the Seattle Program Center, we look forward to the start of summer and are busily preparing ourselves for the hive to once again be buzzing with activity from our younger Mountaineers members. For eight weeks we will have around 65 students per week participating in Mountaineers Summer Camp. During this time, students will get a chance to climb, sail, kayak, explore the local parks around Seattle, and participate in two separate overnight camping trips. After the successful trip to Mount Rainier last summer, we have added a second overnight up to our lodge at Mount Baker.

Though the students do make these summer camps, it's the talent of the counselors and coordinators we hire that make it run. We are fortunate to incorporate excellent educators from around the country to work with this program. This past summer, Marissa McDowell joined us all the way from Indianapolis, Indiana, to work with the Seattle Mountaineers Summer Camp, here is what Marissa had to say about her experience:

Growing up in Indianapolis, I could only experience mountains and oceans on my family’s yearly summer excursions to national parks. These trips were where I discovered my love for nature and my ambition to share this love with others. But I really wanted to do more. So started searching online and found The Mountaineers. I saw it was is an organization and a community that has a passion to help others explore and enjoy the outdoors. Not only that, they had a job opening. I thought to myself, 'Why not travel over 2000 miles to live in Seattle for the summer and be a camp counselor for The Mountaineers?!'

With experience as an outdoor education counselor and a rock climber, I felt I was destined to be a part of this community. I could work with kids to fulfill The Mountaineers' mission and provide a unique perspective as someone who did not grow up in the area. When the Summer Camp Director, Danielle Leitao, called to offer me the job along with a place to stay with their member and data manager Tess Wendel, I knew I was about to embark on an unforgettable journey.

When I reached Seattle, everyone from The Mountaineers greeted me with kindness, and I made friends almost instantly. My favorite part of being a camp counselor was gaining new experiences along with the kids; such as glissading down Mount Rainier, sailing catamarans, and paddle boarding on Lake Washington. This camp was extremely well run and staff members went above and beyond to ensure parents and children were having a positive experience. Going to work every day was not just a job, it was an opportunity for me to share my passion, to teach outdoor living skills, and to laugh and grow with my camp kids.

Outside of camp, I took countless adventures with my fellow camp counselors and my roommate, Tess. Everyone was eager to show me everything Seattle and the Pacific Northwest had to offer, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity. With insider tips and friends that acted as tour guides, I saw more breath-taking views than I ever imagined. Thinking back on the summer, some of my most memorable moments were sitting winded and smiling after a 4,788 ft. ascent to Mount Rainier’s Muir base camp overlooking the mountain ranges, hiking along the stunning, blue-green water of Diablo Lake in North Cascades National Park, and exploring Second Beach at low tide while the ocean waves crashed over my feet. My last adventure in Washington was a sunrise hike to the top of Mount Pilchuck with my camp family. As the sun peaked above the horizon, we sat drinking hot chocolate and rehashing our favorite memories of the summer. Each of these moments gave me a feeling of clarity and peace.

I came to Seattle with no friends and no family, but left with friends that felt like family. I've been inspired to spend more time sharing the outdoors with people who may not have much knowledge of what to do or where to go but are brave enough to step out of their comfort zones. The Mountaineers did more than give me an immensely gratifying job, they gave me new perspectives, chances to grow, and friends I'll never forget.

As we look forward to the upcoming summer adventure season our calendar is getting pretty full with all the programs we aim to offer for the youth in the greater Seattle area. We are so lucky to have such amazing volunteers and staff like Marissa to provide such excellent educational opportunities. If you're interested in volunteering with youth programs, please contact The Mountaineers Youth Education Manager, Andy Bassett at andyb@mountaineers.org for more information. We look forward to seeing you out in the field this coming summer.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2018 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archives.