Reflections on Pichincha

Posted in Dispatches from the Field,News,Photos

I’ll never forget how excited I was 10 months ago when I received the email from Charley Mace congratulating me for being accepted to be one of the members of the 2012 Cotopaxi Team.  The correspondent told me of their mission to help me reclaim my life.

It promised me new tools to innovate through barriers, build strong support systems and strengthen my approach to adversity.  It offered me the opportunity to serve and lead others.  The email informed me that by putting me through a rigorous transformational journey, they hoped I’d learn life skills to help achieve my dreams and become a “No Barriers” leader.  And while all that sounded wonderful, I doubt that I’m alone in saying what excited me most was the opportunity to travel to South America and experience the adrenaline rush that accompanies scaling a 19,000 foot mountain in Ecuador!

Over the course of the following  months myself and the other participants had multiple training sessions, where we built team cohesion and learned the basics of mountaineering.  While every one of these assemblies was an adventure and accomplishment in and of itself, my inner monologue still impatiently droned, “Can we please climb an Andean Peak already?!”  Well yesterday my voracious spirit was finally appeased.  After months of training, expectancy and excitement, The 2012 Soldiers to Summits Team at long last climbed our first mountain here in beautiful, sunny Ecuador!  The journey up Guagua Pichincha, a 15,500 ft active stratovolcano, was every bit as fulfilling as I could have hoped.  Gratifying is a gross understatement for the experience of finally banding together with this group to put all our training and preparation to use.

The feeling of adventure was undeniable as we trekked in the cool morning air through the foreign landscape to the Lloa Refuge at the base of the mountain, where we would begin our ascent up to the summit of this colossal peak.  While the ventures up James Peak and Mount Sherman in Colorado, during our training sessions were fun, they mainly consisted of… well.. basically just walking.  The appeal and allure of Soldiers to Summits was that they boasted “Mountain CLIMBING” not “Mountain WALKING,”  and that’s what made yesterday so exciting.  In addition to the hiking required to reach the top, it was also essential to perform more challenging actions, calling upon our athletic ability and technical knowledge to maintain safety.  We had to scale jagged rock faces.  We traversed ledges with hundreds of feet of exposure at our backs.  We were belayed over cliff ledges.  The whole day was one adventure after another culminating in a scramble up hardened lava to the crater rim of the active volcano.   Indiana Jones eat your heart out!  The experience was amazing, unforgettable and only the beginning.  As incredible as the climb was, it was merely a precursor of the challenges to come.  We still have over a week in this exotic land, miles and miles to hike, obstacles to confront and…  oh yeah…  one HUGE mountain to climb.

With everyday bring us closer to the 19,347 ft peak of Cotopaxi, the team’s excitement continues to rise, our friendships continue to solidify, and this journey continues to present personal accomplishments and rewards that will be remembered for the rest of our lives.  And oh yeah…  I’m learning life skills to help achieve my dreams and become a “No Barriers” leader.

John Masters

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