By Katie (Paxson) Hammaker ’93
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2014 was a great adventure for Michelle Deller ’96, but the biggest thrill was knowing that her efforts would provide clean drinking water for nearby villages.
That trip inspired Deller to develop Steep Adventures, a Lancaster-based company that organizes adventure challenge trips throughout the United States and around the world.
Deller is not a typical travel agent. Her trips combine adventure with the opportunity to raise money for various humanitarian organizations and projects. “I’ve always been an explorer by nature, always wanted to try new things. All of our participants have a love for adventure. But the idea of tying something good to it, that’s what gives the trip purpose.”
Deller and a group of twenty-four men and women raised $100,000 through the Kilimanjaro climb. The money was donated to Compassion International, which enabled the organization to build two wells and sanitation facilities in two villages in Tanzania. From that trip, she launched Steep Adventures in January 2017.
A sociology major at Ship, she previously worked as an administrative director for a start-up company. The job prepared her to start her own business.
Deller’s close connection to other Ship alumni also has helped grow her business. Deller was a member of the campus Christian Fellowship group. Several former members have provided encouragement and financial contributions toward her fundraising projects.
Steep Adventures’ pilot trip was a six-day, 334-mile bike ride from Washington, DC, to Pittsburgh in July 2016. The trip raised $2,200 for Humankind’s efforts to provide clean drinking water around the world.
In October 2017, Deller took a group of nine adventurers from Lancaster-based Eastern Mennonite Missions to Peru, where they hiked for sixty-one miles around Ausangate Mountain. At 20,945 feet, it is the highest peak in that region of Peru. The hikers crossed four mountain passes of over 16,000 feet. A highlight of the trek came on day three, when the hikers reached the Rainbow Mountains. Its peaks are naturally covered in beautiful bands of color.
Several participants described the climb as one of the hardest things they had ever done. Altitude sickness and unpredictable weather made the trek even more challenging.
“We saw snow, sleet, hail, rain, sun, and clouds, sometimes all in one day.”
According to Deller, for most trekkers the best part of the trip came at the end when they visited PROMESA, the Peruvian school they had worked to support.
“When possible, I try to arrange interaction with the people who will benefit from the money raised. This creates a connection and makes the trip more personal,” she said. “The students were so grateful. They held an assembly to honor and thank us.”
The adventurers raised $58,000 for PROMESA. The funds will help finance the construction of a new road and bridge to the rural, mountainside village where construction of the new, larger school will begin.
Steep Adventures treks range from mild to more challenging. A low challenge trip, according to Steep Adventures, could include hikes of up to six miles on rolling hills instead of mountains. A high challenge trip might include bike rides of up to seventy miles daily for multiple days, over mountains with elevations of up to 14,000 feet. Some adventures combine multiple sports, like kayaking and hiking.
Deller will customize challenges based on a client’s request. She’s up for just about anything. “Trekking a volcano in Guatemala, or biking the villages of Vietnam, I’m willing to try it.”
Due to the physically-challenging nature and potential risk, adventure trips are for adults only. Deller maintains an intense training regimen to keep physically prepared for trips, and highly encourages clients to do the same.
“It depends on the grade of challenge as to the physical training required,” she said. “For Peru, I suggested a twelve-week calendar of running, weights, swimming, and cardio activity such as hiking and biking.”
Once the trip and fundraising project are planned, both team and individual fundraising goals are set. Participants then raise the funds from friends, family, coworkers, and others.
Plans are underway for a return trip to Peru as well as trips to Chile and Nepal, each raising funds for a different cause.
“It is my hope that Steep Adventures will connect adventure and mission in a way that changes lives forever,” she said.
For more information, visit steepadventures.com.
Katie (Paxson) Hammaker ’93 is the director of development and marketing for the Susquehanna Chorale and is a freelance writer based in Mechanicsburg.