DU student hikes all 14ers to raise money for Rotary Club ShelterBox initiative
FRISCO — Most people don’t do day hikes with a 60-liter box on their back. Brittney “Bert” Woodrum isn’t most people. The graduate student at University of Denver has completed the Appalachian Trail and the Camino de Santiago as well as cycled across the country.
Each of those physical challenges was done with a specific cause in mind, such raising money for health care or affordable housing. This summer, Woodrum is summiting all of Colorado’s 14ers — the 58 named by the U.S. Geological Survey — to raise money for the disaster relief nonprofit ShelterBox. Her goal is about $81,200, or $1,400 per peak.
The green plastic box Woodrum carries up each mountain isn’t filled to the brim. It has only the essentials she needs for the hike: about 8 pounds of snacks and clothing or around 12 pounds when water vessels are filled.
Yet the container’s bulkiness still poses a challenge, especially on the ridges of more difficult mountains like Blanca and Little Bear peaks. So far, it has mainly been used as a conversation starter during her adventure of 232,300 feet of elevation gain over 540 miles.
“Whenever you see a giant box on some girl’s back, that prompts people to stop,” Woodrum said. “I’ve gotten everything from, ‘Are you releasing butterflies?’ to ‘Are you carrying a cooler with beer?’”
What the box usually holds is a heavy-duty tent and whatever else is needed to recover from a specific disaster, whether it be blankets, solar lights, cooking equipment, water filters, mosquito nets or school supplies. ShelterBox has delivered aid around the globe since starting as a Rotary Club project 20 years ago.
Woodrum’s passion for the outdoors and her minimalist lifestyle are what drew her to become an ambassador for ShelterBox last year. Before returning to Colorado, her studies in humanitarian assistance had her living in a Buddhist nunnery in Myanmar. Now she can be found camping on public lands, in her car or in the yard of a Rotary Club member.
“Some Rotarians have offered me their treehouse or their condo,” Woodrum said. “I came out here with the expectation to be roughing it, and I’ve kind of been ‘glamping’ for the most part. It’s been a nice surprise.”
The Rotary Club of Summit County sponsored four peaks — Grays, Torreys, Quandary and the 12,479-foot Rotary — for over $5,000. The local club has supported ShelterBox for more than a decade and donated $40,000 in tsunami relief a few years ago, according to former club President Jim Brook. Woodrum completed Mounts Bross, Lincoln, Cameron and Democrat on Sunday, July 26, with Lincoln sponsored by Breckenridge Mountain Rotary Club, which also has donated to ShelterBox annually.
The iconic 14ers have been on her list since moving to Colorado from Kentucky, and she managed to summit Quandary Peak, Mount Shavano and Handies Peak before this year. Yet she knew she had to turn her checklist into a fundraiser when she heard about other ShelterBox ambassadors doing their own challenges, like kayaking the Mississippi, cycling from Chile to Alaska or competing in Iron Man races with the box.
“The bar was set,” Woodrum said. “It wasn’t so much a question of if but when.”
Woodrum planned on starting the project after graduating, but the coronavirus pandemic sped up her timeline. Though she knew sheltering in place was the best thing to do for herself and her community, she felt debilitated and wanted to do more.
Hiking similarly to the Appalachian Trail wasn’t the answer because it involves frequent resupplying at multiple small communities, so Woodrum decided on day hikes. She’s found her travels to be popular among Coloradans and others who want to vicariously live through her.
“You do have these people who want to be doing something, but we can’t necessarily,” she said. “This is a way to inspire. It’s been really great.”
ShelterBox has been doing more during these past few months, as well. Natural disasters don’t stop during a pandemic, and the nonprofit knows that housing and access to water are important since social distancing and proper hygiene are key to reducing the spread of the new coronavirus.
When the island of Vanuatu was hit with a cyclone this spring, ShelterBox already had supplies in warehouses waiting to be deployed by local Rotarians. Since everything was on the island, there was no need for foreign aid that could have potentially transmitted the coronavirus.
ShelterBox is also critical in places like Bangladesh, which is experiencing large amounts of flooding and is home to the world’s largest refugee camp.
“You have a refugee camp, you have a pandemic, and you have a cyclone,” Woodrum said. “It’s a huge recipe for disaster. These populations and individuals are some of the most vulnerable on the planet.”
Water basins, soap and cooking equipment were supplied so families could stay as self-sufficient as possible and not risk exposure at crowded refugee centers.
Summit County summits
Woodrum has been lucky to have good weather and did Quandary on Wednesday, July 15. She followed that up with Mount Yale and Pikes Peak before returning to the area for Grays and Torreys on Sunday, July 19. Each new mountain becomes her favorite until the next, but the duo of Grays and Torreys will stick in her mind because of forming a “tramily,” or trail family, with friends from DU, the Appalachian Trail and Rotarians like Brook.
Brook started at 4 a.m., two hours before Woodrum, and waited for her at the top of Grays before joining and summiting Torreys together. On Thursday, July 23, Brook and about 15 other Rotarians from around the state, including Breckenridge’s Jenni Stephens, joined her on the aptly named Rotary Peak.
“I don’t get out and hike as much as I would like to, and when she had a particular event and day, I said, ‘OK, that’s going to be what I do that day,’” Brook said. “She’s doing it out of a sense of duty to people she doesn’t even know. It’s pretty neat.”
In between hikes, Woodrum uses the time to update social media, plan for the next leg of the journey, reach out to sponsors and other logistical housekeeping. People can follow Woodrum’s journey at ShelterBoxUSA.org/fourteeners or on Facebook at Facebook.com/the14ersproject.