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Photos by Raffaela Oeler

Two hours in and we were barely halfway to Annette Lake. It was time to take a pulse check and see how the group of sixth-grade girls was fairing. For many of these girls, this was the first time they had ever laced up hiking boots and set out for a hike – let alone a seven-mile hike with 1,400 feet of elevation.

Seattle ICO (Inspiring Connections Outdoors), a branch of the Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors Program, is a completely volunteer led program. Volunteer leaders plan and lead wilderness-based trips for Seattle and Tukwila students who don’t typically get a chance to explore the mountains in Seattle’s backyard.

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This particular day, the volunteer leaders knew that we planned a hike that was going to challenge the group of girls from Showalter Middle School in Tukwila, WA.

“Ladies, you’re doing great! We have two options: Find a spot off the trail to eat a longer lunch and then head down, or eat a quick snack and push through and eat lunch at the lake.”

The lure of food attracted many until one girl spoke up and said, “Wait, you’re saying if we eat lunch now we won’t make it to the lake? That’s not okay. We hiked this far, we gotta get to the lake.”

“Yeah, let’s go,” chimed in another.

These ladies set a goal, and they were determined to reach it. After a quick granola bar break, the girls picked up their packs and hiked onward.

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An hour later we arrived at the half frozen alpine lake surrounded by tall peaks and blue sky. “We did it!” “Can we go by the water?” “My brother is going to be so jealous!” “Can you take my picture? I want to show my mom what a lake in the mountains looks like.” Joy filled the cool, crisp air as the girls refueled for the hike down and soaked in the surroundings.

All kids deserve to get outside and explore natural spaces. Despite Seattle’s location near pristine mountain ranges and forests, time, resources and effects of poverty, homelessness and refugee status limit many residences’ access to the natural world.

Each year Seattle ICO takes 700-800 students from nine underserved schools across Seattle and Tukwila on wilderness-based outings. The outings are completely free to the students – gear, food, transportation and fees are all covered by Seattle ICO.

This story comes to you from Sara Toledo of the Seattle ICO organization.

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Seattle ICO is looking for outdoor enthusiasts to join our team! If you want to share your passion for hiking, snowshoeing, canoeing, camping, or backpacking with students who are eager to get outside, this is the organization for you! Seattle ICO provides leadership training for all volunteers and expects volunteers to go on 4-6 day trips on Saturdays throughout the school year. Opportunities to assist with gear coordination, grant writing and public relations are also available. New Leader Training will be held on September 13-14, 2015 near Snoqualmie Pass, and attendance is required for new volunteers.

Learn more about volunteering with Seattle ICO and contact us at seattleico@yahoo.com if you have any questions. Check out our Facebook page to see pictures from other adventures this year. Applications for the 2015-16 school year are due on August 10th.

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