As many of you have probably seen, this weekend I climbed a 19,000 ft. volcano with a bunch of amputees. I did this as part of Climbing for ROMP, ROMP’s largest annual fundraiser. C4ROMP is a worldwide affair with supporters raising money and completing solidarity climbs all over the world, but I was blessed with the opportunity to be a part of the main expedition in Ecuador. Our incredible team featured four amputee climbers (one who lost her leg in the Boston Marathon bombing) and eight members in total.
Our adventure began on Friday as we made our way up to the Cayambe Coca refuge. This turned out to be no easy task as the road was in terrible condition and the four wheel drive wouldn’t engage on one of our vehicles. After being stranded half way to the refuge for a little while, the refuge-keeper picked us up in his pickup and we rode in the back the rest of the way up the mountain. By this time, the sun was beginning to set so we saw some incredible views on our way up that we would have missed had the four wheel drive been working!
Friday night we had dinner at the refuge and went around the table discussing what we were excited about and thankful for in regards to our weekend. After dinner, we enjoyed some tea around the fire and went to bed. Saturday morning we woke up promptly and donned our mountain gear so that we could practice glacier climbing techniques. Our guide, Nico, did a fantastic job helping us practice walking with crampons and self-arrest with our ice picks. After our short glacier hike, we relaxed for the afternoon, ate dinner and went to bed early at 6:00.
The real fun began around 10:30 later that night when we re-awoke and geared up to climb the mountain. Everyone met outside the refuge at midnight and we began our climb after an inspirational speech from Karl Egloff, one of our guides and the speed climbing record holder for Kilimanjaro. The first four hours of the climb went relatively smoothly. It was a beautiful night with clear skies and little wind, so climbing our way through rocky areas up to the glacier wasn’t too much of a problem. However, about four hours in, things became difficult. The trail became much steeper, the air got colder, we started feeling the altitude, and the wind picked up. The next two and a half hours to the summit were brutal. After we got back we realized the only reason we kept going was because the other team members kept going and we were too exhausted to talk to realize we were all struggling. We reached the summit of Cayambe around 6:15, right as the sun was rising and it was breathtaking. Seeing the view and knowing the incredible feat we just accomplished made the pain of the climb so worth it. We took a few pictures at the summit then began our uneventful descent.
This was hands-down one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had here in Ecuador. First, the mountain itself was incredible. We truly were blessed to have a day with perfect weather. Standing at the summit and watching the sun rise over almost all of the country of Ecuador was a breathtakingly beautiful moment. Second, the strength, both physically and mentally that I found within myself while climbing the mountain surprised me. It’s amazing what we are able to accomplish when we are motivated by causes and people outside of ourselves. Finally, climbing with the team that we had was such a pleasure. Jaime, an amputee climber that I was tethered to a guide with for the whole hike blew me away with his strength and friendliness. Kathy, another amputee who lost her leg to cancer climbed on despite being sick the day before and made mind-blowing progress up the mountain. Adrianne, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, also made it shockingly high up the mountain with very limited acclimation time. Finally, Dave, Pat, Greg, and Collin contributed their previous mountain experience and lots of fun times. I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to celebrate mobility with these people. I can’t think of a better way to have spent my last weekend in Ecuador.
This week, I’m wrapping up my official Duke Engage project. Overall, it’s been a great success. Between Collin and I, we successfully built and tested three different hands, set up a cloud print system (still working out the bugs), designed a dressing device for a guy our age who lost both of his arms, and designed a process to make cheap prosthetic liners here in Ecuador. It is my hope and prayer that our work has been valuable and that it will make a lasting difference for lots of patients.