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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First Impressions of Quito

Posted in Dispatches from the Field,News,Photos

We have arrived In Quito! What a journey. After about a year of curriculum development, participant selection, training sessions in breathtaking Colorado, WE HAVE ARRIVED! Travel to Quito was a bit of an adventure in and of itself. The airline was less than helpful with our numerous overweight bags as well as having a couple of hour delay in our travel. In No Barriers fashion we plowed through as a team and all of us along with our baggage arrived in Quito around 10pm Saturday night.

It did not take long for us to realize that we were no longer in the United States. We arrived during Fiestas de Quito (Founders Day, Quito). This festival features parades, street dancing, Chives (open air party buses), and bull fights. The streets of Quito were alive and bustling. As will celebrations like this we also witnessed our share of nefarious activities. The area we are staying in appears to have its fair share of crime. It is always striking to me as I have traveled to other countries the similarities and differences between the United States and the country I am visiting. People are people no matter where they live. (Isn’t there a song about that or something?) The good and bad parts of our humanity crosses boarders and cultures.

There are a lot of conveniences for a traveler from the United States here in Ecuador. First, they use the US dollar as currency. Paper money is exactly the same here, however, their coins can be confusing. They have an amalgamation of US and Ecuadorian coins. One might receive three nickels back in change that would all be struck differently even though they are minted in the US. It can be confusing. It also appears that unlike the US, Ecuador has the common sense to do away with the paper one dollar bill. Their coins are similar to ours. The one I currently have possession of looks like any Sacagawea dollar one could obtain in the US on the face of the coin. The back is very different. I am really interested to see if I can use one of these coins back in the US. I wonder if anyone will notice. They also use a .50 cent piece which I LOVE!

Electricity delivery is the same in Ecuador as it is in the US. No adapters or special plugs needed! For those of you who have traveled from the US you know that is HUGE!

The program is progressing well in our first few days here. We had a very successful classroom day yesterday.  One of the lessons was discussing our fears. I was truly surprised that most of the collective group fears landed in 5 or 6 categories. We all share the same fears. As that discussion fleshed itself out, I felt a common bond with the group. It is nice knowing that despite having different military experiences, different cultural experience, and living in very different parts of the United States we are really not that different from each other.

Transformative programs like Soldiers to Summits change lives. That is our mission to help veterans overcome barriers and reclaim their lives. Having said that, transformative programs like Soldiers to Summits cost a lot of money. I want to thank two of the MANY sponsors of this program: Kevin and Linda Noe and Polartec for your generous support of this program. This doesn’t happen without you and I can not say thanks enough for extending your resources to Soldiers to Summits.

Until next time, Peace and Love!

-Chad Stone.

Please help us raise $1 for every foot climbed on this expedition so that we can continue to transform lives with future S2S programs.  Every dollar helps the cause! Support the Dollar for Every Step Campaign here!

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