The Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund is in its 25th year of changing the lives of Colorado College students.

Just ask those who have taken part.

“It showed me that I was capable of surmounting challenges far larger than myself,” Chris Dickson ’13 says of his wilderness expedition experience. “It taught me to accept failure, when weather or conditions prevented us from climbing a specific peak. These experiences provided transferable lessons that I was able to apply to my life at CC, whether it was in the classroom, in my social sphere, or even just in the ways in which I understood myself and my place in the world.”

The fund’s 25th anniversary was celebrated during the 2017 Family & Friends Weekend. Alumni and current students made presentations about their experiences and what receiving funding for a two-week wilderness expedition meant to them — including how a lengthy, detailed application process led by an advisory board challenges students well before they begin their expedition into the wilds of Canada or the United States.

“It will have a positive impact on your life, but you have to earn it,” says fund co-founder Colby Coombs ’89. “Everyone [on the advisory board] wants to make this a trip that is meaningful, not just hopping into a car for a block-break weekend.”

Meeting the challenge of planning and executing a safe, professional-caliber expedition convinced Dickson and many others to become outdoors professionals. Those lessons apply in other careers as well.

“For me, the Ritt Fund process was a springboard not only as a climber but also in my professional life,” says Kishen Mangat ’96, a CC Board of Trustees member and former grant recipient. “The unstructured, self-directed opportunity for elective hardship has informed my career journey as a technology entrepreneur and executive. Risk-taking and taking the leap is something that has become normal for me.”

The Kelloggs set up the fund in memory of their son Ritt Kellogg ’90, in honor of his lifestyle of dreaming big and going for it. The family wanted to help CC students do the same in a safe manner, advisory board member Dan Crossey ’74 says.

Kellogg died in an avalanche on Alaska’s Mt. Foraker in June 1992 along with another climber.

The fund, created a year later, awards two types of grants: 1) education-focused to help applicants develop technical skills in planning and executing responsible expeditions, and 2) expedition-focused, to fund trips.

Other ways the fund enhances CC’s active outdoor culture is by donating wilderness-related resources to Tutt Library and supporting the Ritt Kellogg Climbing Gym in El Pomar Sports Center. 

The application process helps the board decide if 30-35 students a year are ready to challenge themselves, both physically and mentally, without overextending themselves.

It’s one of the reasons participants have avoided serious injury and successfully completed 80 percent of the planned expeditions, Crossey says.

The challenge of a two-week expedition forces students to adjust to changing conditions and make wise, safe decisions without an experienced leader.

That personal development is why so many alumni give back as advisors. The experience often becomes the basis of lifelong friendships.

“At the close of my freshman year I hopped in a car with three new friends and headed north to the Bridger Teton Wilderness,” Fiona Haslett ’15 says. “None of us had ever headed into the backcountry without expert leaders or someone else who was in charge. Over the course of the trip as we navigated treacherous river crossings, navigational confusion, and food rations, our friendship blossomed and these three girls have become my closest friends to this day.”

The life-changing nature of the experience is evident when the students return, Crossey says. It reminds alumni of their own growth and motivates them to remain involved.

“After being involved with the Ritt Fund for more than 20 years, the passion still burns bright,” Mangat says. “I enjoy seeing the new crop of students each year, learning about their adventures, and seeing how these experiences impact their lives.”