Seasons of Change: A 30-year member reflects on a life outdoors

In this feature from Mountaineer magazine, enjoy a reflection from 30-year member, Courtenay Schurman, about her years adventuring and leading programs with The Mountaineers.
Courtenay Schurman Courtenay Schurman
30-year member & Climb Leader emeritus
February 21, 2023
Seasons of Change: A 30-year member reflects on a life outdoors
Climbers at basecamp on Mt. Shuksan, July 2012. Photo by Courtenay Schurman.

In the fall of 1990, my parents drove with me from Asheville to Seattle in Ol’ Red, our ancient family station wagon. I’d heard only positive things about the Emerald City, except for one: would it really be as rainy as people said? As we drove west across Washington, I spotted Mt. Rainier in all her splendor and drew in a sharp breath. I must climb that mountain.

Nine months later, with classmates and colleagues from UW’s Oceanography department, I got my chance. My climbing partners and I crossed a narrow snow bridge in the dark, early hours of the morning, only to find it completely melted by the time we passed it on our descent. Those same partners held me tightly on belay as I nervously inched across another snow bridge, convinced it would collapse and pitch me into a bottomless crevasse. Much later, as we drove away from the mountain exhausted but happy, I remember thinking I’ll never do that again.

Two days later, I stared longingly at the mountain. I gotta go back.

Over the next year and a half I looked for ways to explore the Cascades, a challenge as I didn't own a car. One of my rope leaders had mentioned The Mountaineers as a great resource for anything outdoors. When I finally looked into the club and learned that I could go on hiking trips and meet other outdoorsy people – without needing a car of my own – I signed up and never looked back.

That was October of 1992. I never could have predicted the huge role the club would play in shaping my recreational, social, creative, personal, and professional life over the course of the following 30 years.

The early years

My earliest exposure to the outdoors came in grade school. On a car camping trip in Georgia, I remember being grotesquely fascinated as I watched a snake devour an entire frog in one gulp. As a Girl Scout for four years, I spent parts of two summers at Camp Northern Hills in Wisconsin. I came home having learned how to safely make a fire, navigate with map and compass, and tell intriguing campfire stories, including the one about a bunkmate nicknamed “Mosquito.” The poor girl’s arm fell outside of her bug netting, resulting in 54 bug bites and a calamine-slathered arm.

At sixteen, I spent three weeks canoeing through the boundary waters of the US and Canada with Minnesota Outward Bound School (MOBS). This included fending for myself on a small island for three days on a diet of only granola and blueberries, portaging a canoe half a mile balanced on my shoulders, and voting to send a tripmate home early for stealing food.

Snow 1 2012 (1 of 1).jpgCourtenay, her husband Doug, their daughter Brooke, and the family dog Emily enjoying a day in the snow, 2012. Photo by Doug Schurman.

My love for the outdoors continued at Mt. Holyoke College, a women’s college in South Hadley, MA. I participated in crew for four years and learned how to cross-country ski during January terms on campus. The summer of 1987, I attended a geology field camp in Colorado and Wyoming. Several classmates wanted to climb Grand Teton and invited me along. The hike in went perfectly fine. But at the base of the technical portion, I flashed back to my experience at Girl Scout camp years earlier when I’d stared up at steep rock with trembling calves and panic, wondering how I would ever climb it. At the time, I didn’t know what sewing machine legs meant — that moment when adrenaline meets fear and your calves start jitterbugging. As we assessed the route, the two guys leading our informal outing realized they didn’t have enough gear for all of us to climb safely. I hiked out with two of my classmates, secretly relieved that I didn’t have to face that fear again.

It would not be the last time I felt out of my element.

Stepping into the mountains

In January of 1995, I met my husband-to-be. He had joined The Mountaineers in 1994, two years after I did (but no, we did not actually meet through the club like so many others have!). On a beautiful Friday afternoon in 1998, two years after we got married, we decided it was the perfect weekend to climb Mt. Adams. We teamed up with a hiking friend, grabbed some gear and snacks, and headed out.

We pulled up to the trailhead so late that it was technically an early morning start. Driven by our adrenaline and excitement (despite running on fumes), we made decent time, watching the sun rise as we climbed above the tree line. Unfortunately, we did not succeed. As we approached the false summit our friend kept saying he saw bug carcasses everywhere, which we understood to be hallucinations from lack of water, food, and sleep. When we reached the false summit, he plunked down in the snow and refused to move. He may have even taken a short cat nap. We had to admit defeat, something I hate doing.

As I had the most experience in our little group (which wasn’t saying much), I gave them a brief lesson on how to glissade and we started down. But the south side of Adams above the Lunch Counter is steep, and not the place to learn how to self[1]arrest. Halfway down, my husband pulled so hard on his ice axe that he injured a rib. Somehow, we managed to limp back to the car, delirious from the heat, hunger, and lack of sleep. At the ranger station, we stumbled out of the car to find shade under a tree and slept for an hour before starting the long drive back to Seattle. That clinched it: if we wanted to climb safely without a guide, we had to improve our mountaineering skills.

The next spring, we enrolled in the Basic Alpine Climbing program. Our graduation climb was a peak in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness called Lundin. A climbing friend of mine told me that one of her friends had died in rockfall on Lundin. I flashed back to earlier moments in Girl Scouts and at the base of Grand Teton. What have I gotten myself into? She suggested, “If you get sketched out, request a belay.” So I did. But our leader took my request as a sign that I should not advance to the Intermediate Climbing program. He advised me to get more experience first. But I felt a sense of urgency. We enrolled in Intermediate a few months later, and in 2003, we co-led a dozen climbs as newly-minted climb leaders. That fall we got pregnant, and our daughter Brooke joined our family in May of 2004. Everything changed.

Mountain Week 2012 (1 of 1).jpgChildren enjoying the newly-constructed south plaza climbing wall at the Seattle Program Center during “Mountain Week” in 2012, the first summer that Mountaineers youth camps were offered. Photo by Courtenay Schurman.


We’d just invested five years in getting on the climb leaders list. A new daughter meant new responsibilities, and the risks of climbing suddenly seemed much higher. We decided to try to maintain our status as climb leaders as long as possible, which meant alternating climb leads. For the next 13 years we did so, finally agreeing in 2017 to stop leading Mountaineers climbs. In the meantime, we looked for family[1]friendly opportunities within the club and came up lacking. How could we encourage more families to participate?

I asked other parents with school-aged children to join forces to reignite the dormant Family Activities Committee. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing; I only knew that I wanted to find other like-minded families with kids to hike with. In November of 2007, with our three-year-old daughter in tow, my husband and I led a small family group to St. Edward State Park as the kick-off activity. While this was a far cry from climbing Mt. Rainier, a walk with a three-year-old has its own unique challenges. Some families had zero experience hiking. Others were fully decked out. Kids ranged from babies to adolescents. Planning suitable activities proved to be a real challenge. But we soon found our rhythm as families joined us with kids roughly the same age as our daughter.

When Brooke turned six, she asked if she could paint a bird-house for the woodpeckers in our yard. That interest sparked a cascade of new outdoor activities over the next decade. I enrolled in the club’s Intro to the Natural World Course and Basic Photography classes. We installed bird feeders and turned our backyard into a certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat. My husband surprised me with a DSLR camera one Mother’s Day, then surprised me again by enrolling himself in Seattle Audubon’s Master Birder program. This developed into a love for international wildlife and birding photography adventures. We visited New Zealand, the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, and Madagascar.

Adams 2003 (1 of 1).jpgCourtenay on her graduation climb from the Basic Climbing Course, Mt. Adams, in June 2003. Photo by Ken Garrison.

When we weren’t photographing birds and wildlife, we co-led more than 50 Family Activities outings, introducing other families to the outdoors and having a great time doing so. With a very small number of adult volunteers and participating children who were quickly turning their interests toward school activities and sports, my goal of leading two events a month was not sustainable. I didn’t have any idea what else to try. During the end of my tenure as chair of the Family Activities Committee, I received notice that I’d been recognized as Volunteer of the Year. I didn’t even know there was such a thing! I also learned that the club had just hired paid staff to establish summer camps. What a relief! Maybe it was time to step down and try something else.

Shifting gears again

Throughout Brooke’s childhood my role in The Mountaineers was ever-changing. For 25 years, my husband and I have run a personal training and alpine coaching studio in North Seattle called Body Results. I found myself in a unique position to share my knowledge of fitness and conditioning with Mountaineers members. I taught the conditioning portion of the Basic Alpine Climbing Course. My husband and I offered evening classes to help people prepare to climb Mt. Rainier. And in 2014, I landed the opportunity to contribute to both Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills (editions 7-10) and Mountaineer magazine, which in turn led to being a regular contributor through my column “Peak Performance.”

Then of course, everything changed again in March of 2020. The world spiraled out of control. Almost all of my volunteer opportunities disappeared and hiking trails closed for six weeks. No access to the mountains? My happy place? During a time when we needed access to nature more than ever? I was devastated.

Trail restrictions were lifted on May 5, 2020 and my dog Ajax and I immediately made up for lost time and headed for Mt. Washington. That would be the start of hiking more than 30 trips each year. Solo hiking provided the freedom that I’d yearned for in 1992 when I first joined the club. I also wanted to create something positive and long-lasting out of the pandemic. In July 2021, I combined all of my passions: photography, writing, physical conditioning, hiking, coaching, teaching, and getting “unstuck.” The result? I launched a weekly blog, In it, I also started documenting another transition in my life – Brooke leaving for college.

Wallace Falls 2010 (1 of 1).jpgBrooke (right) and her friend on a day hike of Wallace Falls, 2010. Photo by Courtenay Schurman.

An empty nest

Our daughter graduated from Shorecrest High School in June 2022 and enrolled as a freshman at UW for the following September. So much has changed in the 30 years since I studied at UW as a newly-minted Mountaineers member. We have a wonderful new clubhouse in Magnuson Park, two miles north of campus instead of downtown. The organization now boasts opportunities for members in all seasons of their lives, from robust youth programming to the Retired Rovers.

I have evolved as well. While I remain a member, I wonder what my next role within the organization will be, now that I have more time with Brooke in college. I could learn more about trail maintenance and become a steward for green spaces. I might get more active within the Naturalists, sharing my love of birds. Maybe I could seek other like-minded people, starting an “Empty Nest” group for parents without kids. Or four-legged frolics for hikers and their dogs. The sky truly is the limit. I’m reminded of the slogan we came up with for our company 25 years ago. It applies here, too: Don’t just dream it, live it.

Although my daughter and I are in completely different stages of our lives, I wonder if she will find her way back to the club someday. Will she return to find people to hike with? Or rediscover hiking or white-water rafting? Will she remember early backpacking trips to Sheep Lake and Barclay Lake, or want to relive those experiences with college friends? In 30 years, will she be writing a similar article about her own journey into and beyond the club? One thing is certain: in this new season of my life, I will continue to be a part of The Mountaineers. The club has shaped me and my daughter into who we are today.

This article originally appeared in our winter 2023 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive


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