Tag Archives: backpacking

Leave No Trace

May 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Take a look at 19-year-old Katie Werkmeister scaling an indoor climbing wall, trudging along happily on a backcountry hike, or scrambling along on a bouldering trip, and you’d think she has been adventuring her entire life.

But that’s not the case. “I led a really bland life before college,” she admits.

Growing up in Kearney, she yearned for a “bigger city with more culture.” In Omaha, however, she ended up on a path to some of the nation’s most remote locales.

“College really opened my perspective to get outside,” she says, adding that an outdoor leadership class during her first semester of freshman year at the University of Nebraska-Omaha changed her life.

“We learned about LNT [Leave No Trace] and backpacking to get ready for a trip to the Badlands in South Dakota, where we took turns guiding and leading the group.” 

She learned how to read a map and lead a group through sometimes unforgiving terrain. She also learned that she loved being outside (even when the going gets tough): “Backpacking is sometimes—honestly—not fun, but when you get to where you’re going it makes it all worth it.”

The philosophy of Leave No Trace had a profound impact on Werkmeister. She continues to be amazed and appalled by mankind’s negative consequences on the natural environment—particularly by those people who negatively impact nature while themselves trying to enjoy the outdoors.

Even around the UNO campus, she notices where students create worn walking paths in spots where people are not meant to walk. Werkmeister fully endorses the idea of leaving no trace when out in nature, whether that’s around a college campus or in remote spots only accessible by backpacking for days.

Climbing was a natural next step for this adventurer. She was a complete beginner when she started in 2016.

“Everybody starts at the lowest point. There’s something exciting about being at the lowest point because there’s always somewhere to go from there,” she says.

Werkmeister admits that climbing was not easy in the beginning and didn’t come to her naturally at first. “I went in really weak,” says the young woman who had received a pacemaker in her heart in 2015.

“Sometimes my heart would randomly stop beating and I would pass out,” she says, referring to her health pre-pacemaker. As a result, one side of her body is weaker than the other, which has made climbing difficult. But she’s not the kind of person to give up on something because it’s difficult. Nowadays she’s an active and strong climber, both indoors and out in the wild.    

Currently working at the UNO Outdoor Venture Center, she enjoys helping beginning climbers discover their own strength. “Not many people know it’s open to the public,” she says, urging people to check out the climbing wall even if they aren’t UNO students.

Werkmeister and other staff can help climbing novices learn everything they need, even if they have never climbed before.

As Werkmeister says: when you start from the bottom, you can only go up from there.


Visit unomaha.edu for information about the climbing wall and excursions with the Outdoor Venture Center.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

High on Jesus

October 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Getting high on Jesus in the Rocky Mountains, however, is always 100 percent legal.

The Front Range looms overhead as Dan and Dawne Broadfield sip their morning coffee. Towering at a height of 14,259 feet, the snow-capped Longs Peak is the highest point in the adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Residing at an elevation of nearly 1.5 miles above sea level, the Broadfields live on the forested grounds of Covenant Heights. The year-round Christian camp is located nine miles south of Estes Park, on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, near the base of Longs Peak.

estespark6The parents are career missionaries and together have visited Haiti, Mexico, Canada, England, France, Belgium, and Holland, among others. As assistant director of facilities, Dan helps to maintain the 65-acre Covenant Heights, while Dawne home-schools their three children: 18-year-old Darby, 14-year-old Dakota, and 11-year-old Max.

Their days are filled with hiking, fishing, backpacking, paddleboarding, archery, and kayaking. They have unfettered access to high ropes, zip lines, and a climbing wall—perks of living at a wilderness retreat. The same activities draw campers from across the country.

If the weather is nice, Dan and Dawne say they might go six to eight hours without seeing their offspring, and that’s fine for both parents and frolicking children alike.

In summer, nighttime unveils an infinite heaven of twinkling stars, with the Milky Way shining down on three hammocks arranged in a triangular formation in the trees. Each hammock cradles a Broadfield child, peacefully sleeping.

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Once the weather turns chilly, they gather firewood for campfires. The winter season also brings snow-shoeing, ice hockey, and cross-country skiing.

Wildlife is an integral part of living at the campground, where animals also make their home. Coyotes, moose, and deer frequently wander through Covenant Heights. Herds of elk are common visitors; during the fall rut, the bulls’ high-pitched bugling will echo for miles.

“The other day, an elk walked through the middle of (the triangle of hammocks),” Dawne says. “Our youngest woke up and thought, ‘Uh, oh. This isn’t good.’ But the elk eventually moved along.”

estespark5The free-spirited mother of three does have one rule about sleeping outdoors. Her kids can’t have lipgloss, sunscreen, or other scented items in their pockets. Bears live in the neighborhood, and scented items or food will attract them. Dawne even brings her bird feeders inside at night so as not to attract unwelcome scavengers.

She loves life amongst the animals. In fact, her animal-watching pastime vaguely reminds her of childhood years spent in Omaha. “We went to the Henry Doorly Zoo about every two weeks,” says the one-time Omahan. Dawne’s father served in the Air Force at Offutt Air Force Base for three years, when she was in fifth through eighth grades.

Her adult life unfolded away from Omaha. Before relocating to Colorado in 2015, Dawne and Dan were living in San Antonio, Texas, where they ran an art gallery and online networking platform for artists called ArtLife.

“Here we are now in Estes Park because we felt like we ran out of space in San Antonio. We wanted to become more of a starving artists community,” says Dan. “We want to develop an artists community up here. I want to create a safe space for people to come and hone their skills. It’s the idea of not being in their normal circumstances.”

estespark4Surrounded by natural abundance, the family feels rich. Not so when it comes to the latest technological amenities. They have a satellite television, the only reliable phone is a landline, and mobile internet service is patchy from camp.

Dawne says “there’s a 20-minute window about twice a day” for internet access. An avid photographer, she posts almost daily on Instagram from her smartphone during those limited windows of online accessibility.

Her photo stream documents their neighbors, mostly the wildlife (@adeltadawne). “We have lots of moose that hang out,” she says. “The elk, the deer, the eagles, and then I sprinkle in family stuff.” If it is necessary to check something online, they head to a coffeeshop or the library in town. Dan and Dawne enjoy their wireless existence. “I kind of like the idea of being disconnected,” Dan says.

Christian wilderness retreats have a rich history on the Front Range near Covenant Heights. Even before Colorado was a state, missionaries were spreading the gospel across the landscape.

estespark3Summer encampments for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) date back to the 1890s. The YMCA summer campsite from 1908 remains the site of the modern-day YMCA of the Rockies. Today, the organization hosts Christian gap-year programs for 18-to-24 year olds “seeking personal and spiritual growth while working in a seasonal job at Snow Mountain Ranch.”

On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park into existence, and the nationwide National Park Service came into being the following year (celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016).

Covenant Heights arrived on the scene in the early 1930s through the fellowship of the Covenant Young Peoples and Sunday School Conference of Colorado and Wyoming. The coalition of Rocky Mountain churches sought to give “a concerted effort to provide inspiration, Christian fellowship, and evangelism for the young people of the churches in Colorado and Wyoming,” according to its website. Covenant Heights’ current permanent campsite became operational in 1948.

Separate from the YMCA or Covenant Heights, the nonprofit Wind River Ministries also runs the ongoing Wind River Ranch, a “Christian Family Guest Ranch Resort”complete with dude ranch.

Regardless of one’s spiritual inclination, the sweeping mountain vistas are inspiring throughout the vicinity of Estes Park.

In the wake of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, residents of Estes Park voted to block the opening of recreational and medicinal dispensaries within the limits of town and Larimer County. It was a strategic move to preserve the region’s wholesome reputation as a family destination. Meanwhile, federal marijuana laws reign supreme over Rocky Mountain National Park and other federally owned lands.

Getting high on Jesus in the Rocky Mountains, however, is always 100 percent legal.

Visit covenantheights.org for more information.

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