MAINE, Maine — The great conservationist John Muir is famous for saying, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” This summer the mountains of New England were calling a man from Colorado. Chase Harr heard the call and went with a purpose.
Twenty-three-year-old Chase Harr is sore and his legs are tired but despite the 329 miles, he has just hiked he can't stop smiling.
"I also feel really good. I'm probably in the peak shape of my life," said Harr who has just finished climbing all of New Englands 67 mountains that are at least 4,000 feet tall. On each climb, chase carried on his back a large, teal box.
"Everyone is like you are crazy. You have a box on your back!"
But he didn't do it just to turns heads, though calling attention to the cause is an important part of what he's doing. Harr is also trying to raise 100,000 for the charity Shelterbox. Since 2000, Shelterbox has been providing emergency shelters around the world for people and communities that have been displaced by major disasters or conflicts. Each box contains a tent, water filtration system, cooking equipment, sleeping materials, and basic tools to restart and rebuild communities. Each box costs around $1,000 to stock and get to those in need.
A year ago, Harr had never even heard of the charity that he has devoted most of his summer to. Last year while hiking in Colorado, where Harr now lives, a hiker carrying a Shelterbox caught Harr's eye.
"I just remember thinking, 'why on earth would you hike with a box?'" Harr remembers.
Her name was Brittany Woodrum. She was climbing all of Colorado's 58 peaks over 14,000 feet to raise money for Shelterbox. Harr and Woodrum hit it off, finding common ground as they covered ground: both are originally from Kentucky and both love the mountains.
At the end of Woodrum's project, she challenged Harr to carry the torch she had started. At first, Harr admits it was almost a joke but things got serious the more Harr learned about the NGO.
"We're responding every single day around the world to help displaced families and it's one of the biggest issues facing our planet. There are 112 million people are displaced by disaster and conflict, more than in any other time in recorded history. The majority of our work is quiet work that we're doing day in and day out but it's really life-saving for these families," said Shelterbox employee Kerry Murray.
The organization that has been twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize only has 130 employees and relies heavily on volunteers around the world to reach the hard-to-reach.
Hiking 67 4,000 footers
"It's the underdog story. They're helping people that everyone else is looking over," said Harr. "For me growing up, always bullied, always the underdog. being able to see someone stick up for the people that aren't being helped, that's big, that's big to me," said Harr.
Chase quit his job and used his saving to pay for his journey. But he hasn't done it alone. On 45 of his summits, his trusty pup Keetna was by his side.
(Harr's journey also attracted attention from an independent documentary crew who traveled with him on some of his hikes.)
The journey on Harr's shoestring budget hasn't been easy and there have been many discouraging and lonely moments along the way.
Katadhin, Harr admits was the most physically and technically challenging hike with 60 mph wind gusts that made his Shelterbox feel more like a parasail. High humidity and high heat on Mount Whiteface in New Hampshire, pushed Harr to almost throw in the towel but a call to a friend got him back on track.
The mountains and expenses haven't been the only obstacles. Only last week, on his way to his last few hikes in Maine, Harr got into a car accident totaling his car. Yet he says the highs have outweighed the lows.
New Englanders have opened their home to him, fed him, given him a bed, and let him do laundry. They've also donated to his cause. So far, Harr has raised $15,000 for Shelterbox. It's still a long way from his goal but he is motivated to reach his goal as he speaks to different organizations and schools about his journey.
"It's incredible when we meet people like Chase who are so compelled to help people around the world that they will never meet but whose lives they can impact," said Murray.
For Harr, it wasn't really a choice. There was a call and he simply answered.
"It's the mountains that speak to me. They're quiet. They never say a word but they speak loudly to me," said Harr.
To learn more and donate, go here.