The following is an open letter written December 14 to the team from Luis Benitez, S2S Guide:
I am so very happy and proud of each and every one of you. I have been closely following your whole journey and it does my heart good to know BOTH that some of you made it, and some of you didn’t. Let me explain why. The guides have probably shared with you all the technical reasons for turning around. Not even being there I know I would agree. After a storm cycle like that, and winds like you had, followed by high temperatures, the avalanche potential is usually huge. You know the story, “ If I had a nickel for everytime I have had to turn around on that hill, I would have lots of nickels”. Having grown up with Rene and other Ecuadorian guides on your trip, I trust their judgment was sound.
I would however like to offer a different approach, one that you can sadly find on the internet today. Today a hero of mine died; Maurice Herzog. Any of you that have researched the history of mountaineering know the name. If you don’t, allow me to share. Maurice along with two close friends climbed the first 8,000M (26,000ft) mountain ever climbed by humans, Annapurna in 1950. This was three years before Everest was first climbed. He lived a full life and died today at 93 years old.
He and his two summit partners had an epic descent, which ended in all of them losing most of their fingers and toes to frostbite. He, much like all of you at that point after returning from war, had a choice; lay down and take it, or find a way to move on. Maurice wrote a book when he came back, telling large tales about the adventure just GETTING to the peak, the climb, and the aftermath as doctors slowly cut off much of his hands and feet. He ended this book (Conquistadors of the Useless) and his story with a very simple sentence, which I think applies whether you are a man or woman; “There are other Annapurna’s in the lives of men”.
After writing the book he went on to become Minister of Youth and Sport in France, as well as the Mayor of Chamonix, France. All this from a simple farmer. When I reflect on how much of an influence he was on me growing up, the older I get, the more I understand that last sentence. To me it means summit or not, there are other things, other things we can’t see yet, can’t understand; but the journey towards these things teaches us how to keep putting one foot in front of the other. When asked if the summit was worth his hands and feet, he always had the same answer; “No”. He would then go on to explain that losing his hands and feet became important when he started educating youth in climbing, then educating politicians while he was Mayor. He said, only then did the lessons apply because the “days in the valley doing these things were much harder and more complicated than the days on the high slopes”.
So I would offer in closing that thought. Whatever you went thru on Cotopaxi will serve you well, summit or not. Don’t let this one event define you. Let it offer a place to start from, which as always, is the greatest hope of Soldiers To Summits.
Come visit me anytime. My door is always open.