Three bracelets on her wrist remind her what she’s hiking for; one has the coordinates of her Pennsylvania home, the other two are from her younger sisters. She musters her strength to fight through the end of a kidney infection on her way to see the stark contrast of jagged gray peaks diving down into the blue green water of Emerald Lake.
Emily’s Miles for Smiles is Emily Beehler’s mission to hike one hundred miles while raising money for the Colorado Mountain Club’s (CMC) Youth Education Program.
“Everybody wants to do good and everybody wants to give back somehow,” Beehler says. “A lot of people can’t, either physically, time-wise, something. So they’re more than happy to give money because that’s how they are able to do good.
“I’ll do the hiking and the work if you just support me and help support the kids,” she says.
Beehler is raising money through CMC’s MountainUp campaign, where individuals set goals for themselves and create personal fundraisers. Campaigners donate money to CMC overall or choose a specific program, like the Youth Education Program or Conservation Program.
“[CMC] is one of Colorado’s oldest organizations promoting outdoor recreation and education to get out into the mountains safely and sustainably,” says Leslie Woollenweber, development director for the club.
“We’re here for everybody that wants to learn about and enjoy the mountains,” she says. “All ages, all skill levels, we welcome everyone.”
Other campaigners have set goals of climbing seven 14ers, running the Pikes Peak marathon and hiking 10,000 feet of elevation gain, Woollenweber says. So far they’ve raised $3,000 of the $10,000 goal.
Beehler was the second person to sign up for MountainUp, putting all her money toward the 7,000 kids served each year by the Youth Education Program. Her funds will go to education programs and getting kids into the mountains.
“The first weekend in July, when I signed up for MountainUp, I actually was sick, I had a kidney infection so I couldn’t really get hiking,” Beehler says. “Really my body needed to rest.”
But she didn’t stay down long.
“I’m not good at just relaxing,” she says. “I want to be out doing stuff and I especially was so excited about doing MountainUp so I went up to Estes and just strung together a few small hikes.”
The short trail to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is a popular tourist destination. The path from Bear Lake trailhead gains 650 feet of elevation over 1.8 miles. The well-traveled trail glimpses Nymph Lake, borders Dream Lake and offers views of Longs Peak, Hallett Peak and the craggy spires of Flattop Mountain, all while water melting from the nearby Tyndall Glacier burbles down the gorge.
Determined to get her fundraising started, on July 4, despite her troublesome kidney, Beehler made it to five lakes. In front of glittering Emerald Lake, nestled beneath Hallett Peak, she pulled out a handmade MountainUp sign and asked a nearby family to snap a picture.
Next thing she knew a crowd gathered and began asking about MountainUp.
“I started explaining it to them and explaining the Youth Education Program and what I was doing, that I wanted to hike at least a hundred miles to get as much support as I can and funding for our youth program,” Beehler says. “It was so cool, everybody then was cheering me on when I left Emerald Lake to keep going to Lake Haiyaha … it was like I had a whole fan squad right there with me.”
Beehler’s support goes far beyond the people she’s met on the trail.
She set a goal of $500, expecting to get a hundred or two. But she’s already raised $565. Distant friends have reached out, sending messages and donations, including a boy she hasn’t been close with since middle school.
“He donated $20 to me and left the sweetest note [saying], ‘I see what you’re doing on Facebook and I’m so proud of you and what you’re doing and it’s inspiring,’” she says. “Oh my gosh I just cried when I read it.”
A rookie to the Rockies, Beehler moved to Colorado from Pennsylvania, in January as an intern for the CMC. She’s since become a teacher for the Youth Education Program.
Beehler works toward her hundred miles on weekends and spends her weeks with kids.
“I learn each week, from every kid,” she says. “Sometimes I think I learn more than they do.”
One of her most memorable trips was her first time out as group leader. She described the group as brave, confident and possibly the happiest she’s ever worked with. They also happen to be blind.
“I had no clue what to expect ’cause they were gonna go climbing and they were meeting us at a trailhead and we were gonna go hike and then climb and the trail was crazy rocky,” Beehler says.
“But these kids, right off the bat they were trusting me and just… they were so incredible, they were so positive,” she says.
“Through climbing they cheered each other on in an amazing way and I was really surprised the way that they were able to remember features in the route,” she says. “There was one part that had a really hard overhang and this one boy who tried it first and did get to the top, I told him when another girl was climbing it, I was like, ‘Oh, she’s at the hard part,’ and he was able to tell her exactly what to do. He remembered each hold in each part of the rock almost more so than other groups that I’ve seen.
“These kids can’t see what’s in front of them and they just trust it and they go with it and their trust in people that they just met is incredible,” Beehler says. “So I really took away a lot from them.”
Not all days on the trail are quite so inspiring. But for Beehler, the people she meets along the way bring back the magic.
One particularly hard day she struck out for Bear Peak in Boulder and took a wrong turn. She wasn’t feeling well and was dejected about not reaching the summit. But on the way down she came across two women, smiled and asked them how they were. They stopped her to thank her for being so friendly.
“I had my Colorado Mountain Club hat on and they were asking me about it,” Beehler says. “They were new to the area and they were like, ‘Wow, we need that, we need to find people to go out and hike with. We want to learn. We want to learn how to ice climb, we want to learn how to cross-country ski … we want to be outside and engaged, but we just don’t know all that’s available and accessible.’ And they felt really empowered by the possibility that Colorado Mountain Club could offer them.”
They turned the day around for Beehler. Whenever she is struggling, she looks down at her bracelets to remind herself why she’s out there.
“My youngest sister Carly is the reason that I want to work with kids,” Beehler says. “I want to empower kids. I want people to feel smart and strong and capable of doing whatever they want to do. And I want them to know that possibilities are out there, you just need to push for it and hiking for me is that push.”