Summer Summits: Graduate Student to Tackle 58 Fourteeners for Humanitarian Cause
In just two weeks, University of Denver graduate student Brittney “Bert” Woodrum will fill her car with prepared meals, dried fruits, hiking gear and a special green box she mounted to a backpack frame and then head for the hills — or rather, the mountains. She’ll spend the next three months living in her car and waking up with the sun, just in time to begin her summit of all 58 of Colorado’s famed fourteeners (mountain peaks exceeding 14,000 feet in elevation).
This would be a remarkable feat on its own, but it’s the special green box that makes her journey unusual. It’s called a Shelter Box, and it’s made by a company of the same name. Woodrum’s trip will raise money for the emergency aid organization through donations. For each summit she climbs — Shelter Box in tow — she plans to donate $1,400.
“Physical challenges have been a thing for me, but I never want to do them just for myself,” says Woodrum, who is specializing in humanitarian assistance at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. “I’m always looking for a way I can use them to elevate others or other projects and really combine my desire to serve with my passion for the outdoors.”
Shelter Box deploys its green containers to areas in need of emergency disaster relief, a service that’s particularly needed as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Each box is packed with lifesaving gear: a tent, tools, lighting, blankets, pots and pans, and even school supplies. In its 20 years, Shelter Box has provided aid across the globe. It helped Texans rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey and Nepalese communities contending with the devastating 2015 earthquake.
Now, as people everywhere are retreating indoors to stem the spread of coronavirus, Woodrum says Shelter Box’s services are crucial.
“Pandemics always affect most vulnerable populations the worst,” she says. “These individuals, specifically individuals without shelter, are in a very difficult situation. They are being asked to shelter in place, and it’s very hard to do so if you don’t have shelter.”
Though Woodrum originally planned to tackle Colorado’s fourteeners after graduation, she adjusted her timeline to align with this pressing global challenge.
“When COVID-19 happened I was like, this is something I think I need to do now because it is going to make an impact,” she explains. “Nowadays we really have to be creative with how we interact with our communities and how we can support our communities. We can’t be out there physically, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need and that we can’t do something to help.”
Over the last few months, Woodrum and her Shelter Box team have meticulously planned, scheduled, learned and prepped. She’s lining up sponsors for each peak, deemed “Mountain Heroes,” and seeking donations of any size from a variety of sources. In total, she hopes to donate nearly $82,000 to Shelter Box’s COVID relief fund.
The coronavirus has added complications to her trip. To avoid unnecessarily burdening Colorado’s mountain towns, Woodrum will spend her July-September journey living in her car and eating primarily pre-prepared meals. She’ll work her way from northeast to southwest — starting and ending with Pike’s Peak — and will carry her supplies for each hike in her hand-crafted Shelter Box backpack.
Though there are some peaks she’s nervous about, particularly in the Sangre de Cristo range, Woodrum is an old pro when it comes to outdoor adventures. Her portfolio includes hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise money for mental health research and cycling across the country educating others about affordable housing.
She came to Denver and DU after spending four years working abroad in Southeast Asia not just to pursue a master’s in international studies, but also for Colorado’s reputation as an outdoor playground.
“I’m always looking for creative ways to combine my passion for the outdoors with my love of service,” Woodrum says. “I thought attending DU would be the perfect opportunity to combine both my professional and personal goals and passions.”