Editor's note: The following article takes a look at a nonprofit organization, Sacred Rok, that works with troubled and disadvantaged youth in Yosemite National Park. It was written by Nancy Goodban, chairman of the board of directors for Sacred Rok.
“The first time I went to Yosemite, it was like Heaven” - An incarcerated teenager reflects on the impact of the trips to Yosemite National Park led by rock climber Ron Kauk.
Any visitor to Yosemite has seen rock climbers scrambling up the sheer granite walls that rise thousands of feet above the valley floor – without binoculars they may seem like tiny specks amid the magnificent rock faces as they seek toeholds and fingerholds, roped in for safety hundreds of feet up. Many of them have also seen veteran rock-climber Ron Kauk at the Yosemite Visitor Center showing his movie, Return to Balance: A Climber’s Journey.
What most don’t know is that seven years ago, Ron started a nonprofit organization called Sacred Rok to share the beauty and healing of nature with young people who had lost touch with the natural world. He has since led dozens of trips to Yosemite.
Ron Kauk’s Rock Climbing
Ron began climbing as a teenager in the 1970s. Among his iconic climbing accomplishments is Midnight Lightning, a boulder problem in the middle of Camp 4, the rock climber’s campground. Another well-known climb is Astroman, on the eastern face of Washington’s Column below North Dome. Yet another, Magic Line, is a very thin crack on the right side of Vernal Fall - Ron considers this to be one of his “lifetime accomplishment” climbs because of its difficulty. Ron’s career as a climber quickly reached international proportions, and he spent several years in Europe exploring its climbing areas and participating in climbing competitions. He also had roles in the movies Cliffhanger and Mission Impossible. Ron considers climbing as a way of life that furthers his education and commitment to respecting Yosemite, a place that powerfully evokes the reality of our connection to the natural world.
Ron recognizes that many young people do not have the opportunity to experience nature during their everyday lives. As a mature climber, he wants to provide the opportunity to connect with nature to other youth. So in 2009, Ron founded Sacred Rok with the mission to support youth in nature, helping youth to learn to respect nature and through that, to respect themselves.
Sitting by a river, hiking, camping, learning to climb a rock. The Sacred Rok approach is to slow down and focus on the basics - water, air, breathing, walking, again, learning to be human – what Ron calls "Education Nature's Way." Nature provides the curriculum and the structure – wind, weather, and water are the guides. Experience with nature serves as a source of energy for young people to discover their potential, to explore themselves, to develop relationships with caring adults, and to learn to mentor other youth.
A typical day trip in Yosemite Valley might include a stop at Fern Spring to fill water bottles and appreciate the ancient water flowing from the ground, a hike from Tunnel View up to Old Inspiration Point, or a walk to the base of El Capitan.
Camping trips are typically at Tuolumne Meadows Campground. At 8,000 feet elevation, Tuolumne Meadows is only open in the summer months. A camping trip might include a hike along the Tuolumne River past Pothole Dome, a walk to Parsons Lodge and Soda Springs, a dip in Tenaya Lake, or a hike up the back of Lembert Dome. Longer hikes include Cathedral Lakes, Elizabeth Lake, and Gaylor Lake.
Sacred Rok works with a variety of youth-serving organizations:
Incarcerated youth - Twice a month the Merced County Probation Department van brings incarcerated youth to Yosemite for a day trip with Ron. Many of them have never been to Yosemite or exposed to nature in a way that would bring a deeper consideration of what it means to be human. The day trips often include trail repair; under the auspices of the National Park Service and funded by the Yosemite Conservancy, Sacred Rok and the Probation youth are helping to remove old decaying asphalt on the Yosemite Valley trails near Camp 4. And Ron regularly goes to Merced County juvenile hall. He brings healthy organic food and they share lunch and talk about their experiences in Yosemite. In January, they jointly published Voices From the Inside Out, a book that tells the stories of 22 young men who have come to Yosemite with Sacred Rok, and the powerful impact it has had on them.
Boys & Girls Club - Besides being Sacred Rok’s camp manager and cook, Katie Lambert is an accomplished rock climber and Eddie Bauer Ambassador. Katie says, “The Boys & Girls Club has been a very special group to work with through the years. Some of our youngest participants have been from the club, and spending time with such youngsters brings about a certain lightness and mystery that is very fun to be around. During our Valley trip we did a day of trash cleanup where we walked from our campsite around the Valley loop trail picking up litter and talking with tourists. During our time in Tuolumne we enjoyed sharing stories, talking in Spanish, cooking meals together and swimming in the Tuolumne River. It has been a great experience to see the kids as they grow through the years.”
Foster youth - One foster teen graduated from high school and attended the local community college where she signed up to take classes in environmental education and participated in the outdoor club, both as a direct result of her experience with Sacred Rok. She is now pursuing her degree in Environmental Sciences at an out of state college.
American Indian youth - Yosemite has a powerful resonance for the California Indian community. The Miwok, Paiute, Mono, and Chukchansi tribes have lived in the Sierras for centuries. The Miwok People were evicted from their homes in Yosemite Valley as late as the 1960s, when the last homes were burned, and many young people in these tribes no longer have the connection to their history and culture in the park, nor the opportunity to connect with its granite rocks, rushing waters, and healing power. With a grant from the National Parks Foundation, Yosemite and Sacred Rok partnered with the Yosemite area Indian tribes to reconnect young people to their rich cultural heritage and their roots, culminating in the minute video Unifying Spirit - Honoring Indigenous.
Patagonia Ambassador Ron Kauk has lived and climbed in Yosemite National Park for more than 40 years and is a Yosemite Centennial Ambassador in honor of the 100th anniversary of the park in 2016.
For more information see www.SacredRok.org. You can also follow Sacred Rok on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SacredRok. Information on Yosemite National Park’s Centennial Ambassadors can be found at http://www.nps.gov/featurecontent/yose/anniversary/ambassadors/index.html and http://www.nps.gov/featurecontent/yose/anniversary/ambassador/ron-kauk/i...