In mid-September, near the end of her mission to climb all of Colorado's 54 14,000-foot peaks, Brittney Woodrum thought she would come up short.

Making matters worse on the snow-packed Crestone Needle was the wind that howled, throwing off her balance with a bulky, green box strapped to her back. She and friends had to turn around.

"It was really disheartening," said Woodrum, 27. "That was the moment where I was really worried I might not get the (Needle) this year."

But as much of a detriment as it was, "having that box there was what always encouraged me to keep going," she said. "I knew I had a greater purpose for being out there."

The purpose of her fourteener mission was to raise funds for ShelterBox, the nonprofit sending the green crates packed with essentials around the world to people displaced by disaster. Woodrum is the organization's latest outdoor-driven ambassador to embark on a wild, promotional trip while sporting the box.

On a return to Crestone Needle the last weekend of September, the mission was accomplished.

Woodrum made one final entry to her journal, recording close to 550 miles on foot and more than 232,000 feet of elevation over the conquest that began with Culebra Peak on July 10. Woodrum went on to average five summits a week, according to the log.

Atop the Needle, she felt "an immense amount of gratitude," she said recently from Leadville, her home base for the venture. "2020 has been very difficult for everyone, and this summer has been one of the best summers of my life. I just feel so grateful that I've gotten to run around surrounded by awe-inspiring nature.

"Another emotion I definitely felt was absolute relief and astonishment ... I just can't believe I pulled it off."

That was especially considering she had never hiked a fourteener before.

The soften-spoken Kentucky native originally intended to pursue her masters degree in humanitarian assistance at the University of Denver this summer. COVID-19 changed that.

"Sitting in Denver and looking at the mountains," she said, "it seemed fitting to climb mountains as we as a community are kind of climbing this abstract mountain together."

She had connected with ShelterBox, whose cause she found to be central to her own. Woodrum has mostly lived abroad the past few years, embedded in underserved communities.

One stop was at a Buddhist nunnery. "We had nothing to very little," Woodrum recalled, "and yet these women were some of the happiest I ever met."

That experience, she said, prepared her to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, which she finished in August last year. And that prepared her for this summer of fourteeners, she said: "There's so many days you want to quit, but you find a way to put one foot in front of the other. That was my mentality."

By the start of October, ShelterBox's website showed her having raised nearly $75,000.

Woodrum gained, too.

"Sometimes I think we just get (stuck) in our own bubble. Especially with COVID-19, it's hard not to be attached to your device and the news and think everything's constantly in chaos," she said. "To go out and kind of escape and be surrounded by nature, it's really grounding in many ways."


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