Finding Grit in Wild Places

By: Alice Howell, Photos by Erin Feinblatt, Cody Doucette, Daniel Stewart & Jon Heidar Runarsson

When I think back to the first moments that I felt the allure of adventure, it’s me at 7 years old, flipping through the Patagonia Catalogue. I was captivated by the immensity of the mountains and the unlikelihood of people dangling from their sheer faces. I never imagined I could possibly do what those climbers were doing, but it inspired me to go outside and seek my own challenges.

Growing up, my parents took my brother and I on trips that were focused on culture and arts. My parents initiated me into the world of travel, fostering a curiosity and openness for unfamiliar places. But it wasn’t until I moved to California in 2007 that I was initiated into outdoor challenges, pushing my strength and grit in my core areas of interest – rock climbing, trail running, skiing and road biking. 

My most memorable adventures since I’ve been in California are not marked by ease. I got caught in an electrical storm at the top of Eureka Dunes in Death Valley. I skied through a blizzard in Tahoe so intense that I couldn’t tell which way was up. I summited Mount Whitney as snow approached and winds whipped at 50 mph. I enjoyed the physical and mental demands of these objectives, and became enamored with the self awareness and quick problem solving they require. While I really don’t recommend standing on a high point during an electrical storm, I do believe that putting yourself in situations that stretch your comfort zone is how life-defining memories are made. 

I joined Stoke Broker (SB) because it was founded on a fundamental passion for experiences in untamed places. Creating unexpected adventures that give you a feeling of excitement, anticipation, and accomplishment is what we strive for on every SB trip. Pushing your comfort zone is a feeling anyone can have, and it doesn’t require doing anything extreme or life-threatening; it’s often much subtler than that. It’s based on the sum of your past experiences and being willing to try something new. From my years managing trips, I know that it’s not a one-size fit all approach, and at Stoke Broker we don’t treat it that way. 

Over my thirteen years in this profession, I’ve realized the most important aspect of adventure planning is cultivating a deep understanding of the person or group I’m planning for. We want to know where you’ve been and what you’ve done, so that we can find out where your comfort zone is and how you need to be supported. Every Stoke Broker adventure is designed to incorporate comfort, silliness and self-care alongside activities that will connect you with nature, yourself and your companions. We aim to create life-defining special moments that brand themselves into your memory.

How does this all coalesce into an experience for our guests? We’ve facilitated a wide variety of personal “firsts”. First time heli skiing in British Columbia. Hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. Skiing first descents on peaks in Patagonia. Tree climbing in Oregon. Camping for the first time in the Grand Canyon. Surfing waves on an undeveloped island in Alaska. Rock climbing with two kids under six years old in California. Snorkeling with jellyfish in Palau. Heli skiing five mountain ranges across British Columbia in seven days. To name just a few. 

Being faced with the unexpected creates tension – little micro-moments of doubt. When it’s 6AM, and you’re not sure if you can make it up the mountain you’ve been hiking since midnight. When you head out with your gear to sleep outdoors for the first time. When you paddle through a rapid churning ahead of you. These moments of  tension may not last for long, but they stretch the farthest in your memory. They are loaded with the emotion of overcoming, and the immense satisfaction of having done something you thought you were incapable of. I have the fortune of creating these experiences for our guests, ensuring that when those micro-moments of doubt arise, you’re not only supported, but delighted. 

It’s in the experience of overcoming doubt and achieving personal “firsts” that Stoke Broker and First Descents find our through-line. The trips that both organizations run allow participants and guests of all different backgrounds to define and articulate what adventure means to them. Carving out time for these trips is not easy to prioritize, whether that’s due to illness, lack of experience, or because you’re busy pursuing other goals in life. But the resounding feeling after going on a First Descents or Stoke Broker adventure is a sense of renewal and an immense gratitude for having made it happen.  

Plan Your Next Adventure or Corporate Retreat with StokeBroker!


One of the world’s first cause-corporations, Stoke Broker was founded by First Descents Founder Brad Ludden. Stoke Broker offers custom-curated adventure experiences for individuals, companies, and nonprofit organizations. All company profits support the mission of First Descents.

Adventure on your terms. StokeBroker handles the coordination and fine details. Their guides lead you to the best trails, powder lines, and waves. Your job is to experience the profound and breathtaking moments that only peak adventure offers.

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