I'm still traveling in Ecuador with my family but I wanted to give you a quick update on our Soldiers To Summits Cotopaxi expedition. This was indeed a very demanding peak attempted in very adverse conditions. Not all of us, myself included, reached the top. But standing on the summit was never what this program was all about. By any measure, this expedition was a great success!
I'll give you a more detailed account of our trip when I return. In the meantime, here is a summary written by our Program Director, Charley Mace. If you are in the Denver area, I hope you'll join us this Friday at the Bass Pro Shop where I'll be helping with the Bagging For Tips to raise money for the next Soldiers program (more details to follow)!
We have just returned from an amazing, inspirational, and demanding two weeks in Ecuador. The experience was nothing short of powerful, with many challenges embraced and overcome. We climbed four physical summits along the way to acclimate and to prepare our bodies for Cotopaxi. We led discussions, participated in hours of technical training, engaged in team building exercises, and spent quiet time in personal goal setting.
As with many of the mountains I have tried to climb around the world, summit day in Ecuador was a bittersweet experience. Although nine climbers summited Cotopaxi, our entire team did not make it. As a tribute to the quality of our team, the group had decided ahead of time to opt for balanced rope teams in the hope that we would all summit this very difficult peak together. Sadly, that was not to be. Four team members turned around voluntarily early on, and six other team members had to turn back because our guides decided that there were safety concerns related to weather and the time of day.
Over the years, I’ve summited and not summited many peaks. I often learn as much, if not more, from not making the summit as I do from reaching one. I also know that Soldiers to Summits has never really been about reaching the top of a mountain peak. The program is about understanding our personal heroic journeys, embracing our challenges, building allies, being vulnerable together, and sharing a step of our lifelong journey with a team.
During this experience, for those who summited and those who did not, the most commonly listed highlights included a service project and a horseback ride. The service day took place in Quito at Fundación Hermano Miguel, which serves children and adults in need of physical and cognitive rehabilitation services. While at the Fundación we passed out Christmas presents to about 100 children and their families, painted a mural in the rehabilitation center, presented them with two pet hamsters, and serviced the prosthetic leg of one of our climbers. The two-hour horseback ride took place at sunset on the wide-open high plains below Cotopaxi. The riders returned from visiting an outpost of Incan ruins just after dark, with faces tired from smiling so much and streaked with tears of joy.
Experiences like these remind us all of those things that we value most in life. For me, the joy and spontaneity of the experience made me feel alive. Serving others at the Fundación Hermano Miguel emphasized the value and power of giving back. Watching the riders faces after returning from their sunset ride, surrounded by stunning beauty, I was overjoyed to be present in that moment, and honored to be in the presence of an incredible team of strong, unique, and caring individuals.
Summit or not, we went through a lot on our team’s journey to Ecuador. I, for one, am proud of our ability to tackle the barriers we faced, whether physical, emotional, or psychological. Poco a poco, se va lejos (little by little, you go far). With one step in front of the other, together we can move mountains. We are all very grateful for your support. Thank you.
Soldiers to Summits