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Cheers echoed through Boulder Canyon on a sunny morning in late September. Ropes fell from cliff tops, and first timers roped in, using rubber soles to smear the rock and pulling themselves higher, one hold at a time. A group of about 20—campers, a nurse, guides, counselors—craned their necks to follow the progress of others up the rock. First Descents brought the group together to teach 15 campers how to rock climb. They were all between 18 and 39 years old, and they were all cancer survivors. Some had been in remission for years; one had just finished her last round of chemo two weeks before. They choose a "camp name" and, as this alter ego, take on a different kind of challenge.
First Descents has been bringing together groups like this since 2001 for free, week-long adventure programs in whitewater kayaking and rock climbing. The organization had a banner year in 2011, running 27 programs from Oregon to North Carolina. This fall, Mountain visited an FD group in Boulder Canyon to learn more about what the program offers. Watch the video above. —Olivia Dwyer
For more information, visit firstdescents.org.