Am I eligible for a program?
Oncology and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Participants must have been diagnosed between the ages of 15 to 39. All participants (Oncology, MS, Healthcare Workers, and Oncology/MS Caregivers) must currently be between the ages of 18-45.
Programs are limited to folks who have never attended an FD program before and are based out of the United States or Canada.
Caregiver Program Applicants must have cared for an individual who qualifies for our programs (young adults impacted by MS or Cancer between the ages of 18-45). Eligible individuals may only have ONE caregiver apply for our Programs.
How many programs am I eligible for?
Our goal is to have you embrace outdoor adventure and supportive relationships as part of your healing. Due to an overwhelming interest in FD programs and the current operating environment, we can guarantee one free-of-cost program per Participant. If you have already benefited from a FD program, please help us extend the healing power of adventure to another community member.
Community members can continue to adventure with their peers through the Out Living It Project. Check it out here: https://firstdescents.org/out-living-it-project/
How many participants will attend a program? What is the group size?
FD will aim to limit group size to 10-15 individuals, not including staff and volunteers.
Are COVID-19 vaccines required to attend a program?
In furtherance of First Descents’ (FD) commitment to health and safety, FD strongly recommends that all Parties (e.g., Participants, Visitors, Volunteers, and Partners) at a FD program are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Please adhere to CDC’s COVID-19 vaccination definitions (e.g., “fully vaccinated” and “up to date”) and recommendations for immunocompromised and non-immunocompromised persons. Please note that CDC’s vaccination recommendations may change as COVID-19 data evolves.
You can learn more about FD’s 2023 vaccination policy at
Do I need insurance to attend my First Descents program?
Yes. FD requires all Participants to provide their health insurance information to attend a program.
*If you do not have insurance, we strongly encourage you to obtain it. FD understands the reality of financial toxicity but insurance is essential to ensure your quality of life and access to medical care. FD wants to support you with information to obtain affordable healthcare and recommends the following resources:
Triage Cancer, a national, nonprofit organization that provides free education on the legal and practical issues that may impact individuals diagnosed with cancer and their caregivers, through events, materials, and resources. https://triagecancer.org/
Patient Advocacy Foundation provides direct services to patients with chronic, life-threatening, and debilitating diseases to help access care and treatment recommended by their doctors. https://www.patientadvocate.org/
What are First Descents’ pre-program procedures?
Every applicant will be required to complete a general medical questionnaire (consisting of background medical questions) and adhere to FD’s Vaccination and screening policies and practices. Please note that applicants with an underlying medical condition must obtain a Physician’s Authorization to be accepted.
What health and safety measures, including for COVID-19, are in place to ensure everyone’s health and wellbeing?
We ask that you do not attend a program if you are not feeling well (e.g., COVID-19 like symptoms, the flu, common cold, etc.). If this is the case, FD will find another program for you. You will not be admitted to a program if you are sick.
FD reserves the right to require masks, social distancing, testing, quarantining, and any health measures as needed. Willingness to comply with FD’s health measures is a condition for program participation.
On the program, FD works closely with our outfitters to understand the Emergency Response Plan in place for each day. We prepare these plans to make the program as safe as possible.
You can learn more about FD’s 2022 vaccination and health safety policy at https://firstdescents.org/vaccination-policy/.
What should I do if I'm nervous/anxious about committing to a program with people I don't know, doing an activity/sport I've never done, in a place where I've never been before?
All FD programs are challenge-by-choice and designed for beginners. FD staff and partners are experienced professionals who have worked in this space for many years with people from all walks of life. Most Participants have never climbed or paddled before so the majority of people are starting at the same level of experience. Everyone is nervous, everyone is wondering what to expect.
A FD program is about you and supports you to feel safe, connected, and adventurous. The staff will be with you every step of the way. All you have to do is show up, be you, and have fun. A FD program is a new experience on a lot of levels, but do it, it will change your life. We promise.
Will I be safe?
There is always a risk when adventuring outdoors but FD has strong policies and procedures in place to mitigate and manage risk as much as possible. FD Staff and partners are experienced in the outdoors and group management, trained in their particular discipline, and 100% committed to your safety. No one will be forced to do anything they do not feel comfortable doing. Participant safety is FD's #1 priority.
Additionally, on a majority of programs, there is a Medical Volunteer, who has at least an EMT certification and is there to provide general support and basic first aid if needed. If you're still concerned, please reach out to our Programs Team who will be happy to discuss this further with you.
What type of people am I going to meet?
You will meet people from all walks of life who will become an extension of your family.
One Alumni shared "The people I met [at FD] were some of the best people I've ever encountered in my life. They are like a second family. Seriously, we are so close and we communicate with each other all the time. They are some of the first people I tell about my doctor visits and successes in my life."
Am I even able to do these sports? Is everyone going to be super fit and strong except me?
Yes, you can do it!. Our programs are for folks of all shapes and sizes and there will be people with different levels of ability, health, fitness, comfortability, and experience at each program. We are here to support you and help you have the best experience possible!
Start by checking out our Adaptability Guide (firstdescents.org/program-adaptability-guide/) and reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can find the best program for you.
I got this packing list and can't figure out what some of the items are, let alone afford to buy them. I am embarrassed to say that I can't afford to buy most of what is on the list. What should I do?
You do not need to buy all of the stuff on the list- most folks won’t have all of it. FD’s program partners will provide the equipment essentials (e.g. paddles, boats, harnesses, climbing shoes, etc.) The packing list is a suggestion.
If you can just match up the best you can to what you have in your closet, that is all you need. Headquarters staff can help you figure it out. No one needs to know.
Are we going to spend a lot of time talking about our feelings, life, challenges and/or health conditions?
That is up to you, but it does come up naturally as people tend to get to know one another and feel more comfortable sharing aspects of their life.
One FD alum shared, “Sometimes we talk about our experiences, treatments, and the impact on our family and friends, etc. We all have an unwritten common bond, and many times things just go unsaid but are understood. That’s because there is a common understanding and knowing because we have all been through a similar experience. We spend much of our time just getting to know each other and really enjoying the challenge and new experience on so many levels. When you are around people that have gone through a similar lived experience, you naturally feel open. Your guard just drops…. We are just ourselves and there is a lot of freedom in that.”
What is FD’s stance on technology (e.g. cell phones, computers, etc.) use at a program?
FD Programs are a no-tech space and an opportunity to take a break from everyday life and stressors to connect with self and others in an intentional and meaningful way. When do we get the opportunity to do this?
An FD program is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we promise, you’ll want to be present for it. So please, leave your technology (e.g. phones and computers) at home or if you need to bring them, leave them in your lodge room.
What should I expect at programs for food/meals?
First Descents is dedicated and passionate about providing healthy meals and nutrition education at our programs. We believe in the healing properties of food and the benefits that can be gained from sharing amazing meals. There are professionally trained chefs at every program who are there to prepare fresh, nutritious, and delicious meals for you!
You can learn more about FD’s Program Nutrition mission at firstdescents.org/programs/program-nutrition/.
Is alcohol allowed at these programs?
FD programs are drug and alcohol-free. We feel that these experiences are fun enough without the need for additional substances.
May I bring friends and family to join me on my program? What about my Caregiver?
Our programs are designed to inspire and challenge. For the majority of our participants, that starts with leaving their typical support system at home. We encourage you to attend a FD program on your own. Given the nature of some of our programs (e.g. Healthcare Worker programs), some folks may end up attending a program with a colleague or family member in the same respective field. That’s fine in these one-off circumstances.
However, generally, we encourage you to try this out on your own. It helps create a space for connection and from our experience, it means a more impactful program experience for you.
May I bring my pet to a program?
Pets are not allowed at our programs. This includes the use of Emotional Support Animals - the ONLY exception is Guide Dogs (seeing-eye dogs) for blind participants.
This situation must have been pre-approved with the Programs team.
Are FD lodges American with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant?
Finding ADA compliant lodges to accommodate a group of our size can be challenging. We do our best to find suitable lodging, including comfortable bathrooms and sleeping arrangements. It is possible that lodges will include stairs, shared bathrooms, and/or bunk beds.
If you’re concerned about this, please discuss your needs and limitations with the Programs Team and we will work to find a program lodge that best suits your needs.
What will the sleeping arrangements be like?
Given the size of our group, the majority of people will share rooms at programs. There may be individual rooms available at some locations. If you have a specific concern about sharing a room with another person, please reach out to a member of the Programs Team.
What if I am sensitive to the sun and/or concerned about temperature regulation?
Prolonged exposure to the sun and/or changing temperatures may be expected on FD programs. It’s important that you share your concerns and/or medically-related symptoms with FD on your application so that we can work with you to mitigate and manage them as much as possible.
For example, FD can provide cooling devices (e.g. cooling vest) and/or shade apparatuses as needed. If this is something you would benefit from, please communicate this to a member of the Programs Team so we can make it happen for you!
Can I participate if I have seizures?
FD will do its best to accommodate applicants with a history of seizures, epilepsy, and/or syncope. We encourage you to discuss the appropriateness, risks, and benefits of your participation with your physician.
Generally, participants who have experienced seizures will be placed on a non-water-based program. FD will happily answer questions that you or your physician may have related to seizure response and management.
What if I am taking a blood thinner?
Generally, FD does not accept applicants undergoing anticoagulation therapy (blood thinner) at the time of their program.
Several options are available for those on short‐term anticoagulation therapy such as: delaying attendance until the anticoagulation therapy is complete or stopping anticoagulation therapy prior to the program In rare circumstances. Applicants in long‐term anticoagulation therapy may be accepted at a particular program if approved by their physician and a member of the FD Medical Review Team, typically the Medical Director.
Please discuss your options and the risks and benefits of your attendance with your physician in advance of a program.
What if I’m in active treatment and experiencing symptoms, such as fatigue?
Our goal is to get you out on a program when the time is right for you. Ultimately, you know your body best. At FD programs are “challenge by choice,” meaning you get to decide on your own without any pressure.
This means if you need to rest and take a break, cool! If you want to try another climbing route or another wave, awesome! You can push yourself as much or as little as you want and do what feels right to you and our staff and volunteer team will be there to help guide you.
What if I have a disability and/or strength/mobility restrictions?
We recognize that everybody and every body is different! We work with each person individually to understand their needs and to make adjustments as needed. Connect with the Programs Team so we can better understand your needs and we can work to find the right program option for you!
How much do FD programs cost for the Participant?
FD programs are free of cost, including lodging, instruction, equipment, and food. Participants are asked to cover their own travel to and from the program however Travel Scholarships are available to those demonstrating financial need and motivation.