Cotopaxi Summit Bid
September 26 & 27, 2019
Climb For ROMP
The room was abuzz with excitement. Everyone was ready to go and wondering if we could just dodge the alpine start and head out earlier in the day. Of course, it was just wishful thinking. After breakfast, the team split up in to two groups — those who needed a glacier travel lesson outside, and those who needed a quick refresher course inside. The six of us who took the refresher course were also the same people who played the card game, Oh Shit!, for four hours. We indulged in nothing, but the finest climbing fuel: Doritos and gummy bears.
Karl left around 6 AM to run up to the summit to check conditions for our night’s summit attempt. Danny, from our group, decided that he was going to accept Karl’s offer to join him. A little after 8 AM, Danny showed back up in the refuge with a bit of a broken ego and no Karl. Karl is an absolute animal, and Danny got to experience it first hand. He explained that the speed and altitude was too much, and that he was off to bed. Around 930 AM, Karl showed back up, covered in sweat and wearing a massive smile. Karl let us know that the conditions were perfect and even better than last year.
Once the team was reunited, and the lodge was cleared of most of the day trip visitors, we sat down for another delicious lunch. With full bellies and minds, we all scattered upstairs to get our rest in before the summit bid. At 430 PM, we came back down for a team meeting and for us to individually give the group some words of encouragement. Dinner was served, then the Mayor of the city surrounding us had some words for us. His chat was lovely, as were the darling scarves that they gave us afterward as they said, “So you don’t die of cold.” I love language barriers. 7 PM rolled around and our faces all screamed that we just wanted to go to bed. We did the dog and pony show, snapped some photos, and interacted for a short time before a few of us snuck off to our bunks.
Over the course of the training hikes, Karl and his team had been pacing us to see what times they should turn us loose. The goal was for us all to arrive at the summit around the same time. At 930 PM, Estefania would be out the door, followed by Pam and Julie at 10 PM. At 1030 PM, Kionte and I would leave, followed by the other teams at 11 PM, 1130 PM, and 1230 AM. My mid day nap was phenomenal, however my post dinner nap was nearly nonexistent. My mind raced with everything unrelated to Cotopaxi and mountaineering.
At 9 PM, I shifted around only to see Kionte already awake too. He let me know that I had another 20 minutes to rest before we needed to get ready. I laid back with my arms crossed behind my head only to day dream a little more. When I heard Kionte mess with his prosthetic, I knew it was time. I double checked that my crampon foot, crampon, helmet, harness, ice axe, and extra poles and layers were all in my bag before heading downstairs. I was wide awake. Guess it was a good thing that I didn’t sleep. We allotted an hour to get ready, but I was ready in 15 minutes. I shoved some bread with jelly and butter in my mouth, and smeared my face with sunscreen.
When I finally saw Lenin ready to go, I shook the sand out of my prosthetic foot and backed the Allen screws out so I could swap feet. My crampon foot makes me feel invincible — like there’s nothing out there that I can’t tackle. Lenin insisted that we take my foot and spare crampon just in case. Honestly, it was the right call — I just wasn’t looking forward to carrying more weight. We started off in to the night right on time.
For nearly two hours, Lenin and I, followed by Kionte and his guide Christian, hiked along the switchbacks on the volcanic rock and semi frozen ground up to the crampon point at the glacier. I haven’t been able to pin point why just yet, but everything about this climb up to the refuge and Cotopaxi has been easier than my last attempt. My first guess is that I have learned how to use my prosthetic knee the right way, and my sweet self-made crampon foot keeping me stable along with plenty of other small tips and tricks.
We passed Pam and Julie about a third of the way up to the glacier, and took our first break about an hour in. I didn’t want to stop long, so it was a quick water and snack break and we were on the move again. Shortly after, we passed Estefania. I was so proud of her. She’s got a will power that is unmatched by most. She exerts so much energy, but manages to wear a smile regardless of the situation at hand. Lenin and I found a pretty solid rhythm and cruised right on up to crampon point. Since I only had half the work of putting on a crampon, I was ready to move within minutes. I started to catch a chill and noticed my frustration rising with the lack of urgency surrounding me. I had an internal battle, luckily the good side won or else it would have been a long rest of the day.
For my peace of mind, I asked Lenin to check my harness before we roped up and we were off. I love being on a two man rope team. Sure, its not the most ideal should there be a crevasse fall, but it is so nice for rope management and pace consistency. We waddled along, the ice mixed with gravel crunching below our feet. My calf, quad, and glute were on fire, burning from overuse. The steep sections made me wine. At every corner of the switchbacks, I stopped to take a 15 second break to regulate my breathing and shake out my leg. Ill be just fine if I never see another switchback.
Some sections seemed to go up at 40 degree angles making me thankful for the obnoxious neon pink rope that tethered me to Lenin. We moved for another couple of hours, with us leading the pack of ROMPers to the traverse — the point where I was turned around on my last Cotopaxi attempt. I knew I had a shit eating grin when Micah asked me how it felt to have made it to the traverse. I replied, “Well, I still have a long ways to the summit before I get too emotional, but I am glad I am here.” Deep down though, I was overwhelmed with emotions. Some of it was pride for how strong I felt and how quickly I moved, and some of it was an insane motivation to make it to the summit as fast as possible. This was my redemption, and it was going to be sweet.
Because I ditched my SideStix at crampon point and opted to use trekking poles to maneuver the narrow trails, the traverse went by faster than I ever expected. I shortened my grip on my left pole and drove it down in to the frozen snow giving me the same confidence that my SideStix give me. We shimmied along since I didn’t have my knee in free swing mode (it stays locked out on ascents with my crampon foot). On the other side of the traverse, I gave myself a mental pat on the back before fighting with my harness to try and pop a squat. The worst feeling is having to pee, and not being able to undo a harness or find your balance. I am sure I was a sight for sore eyes and would’ve given those in need of a laugh a solid mood boost.
After the longest pee preparation known to man, I went to the bathroom and readjusted while cursing up a storm in my head. I made it back down to my bag and was getting ready to make our next move, when Micah decided it was a good time to take a few group photos. I love him and his creativity (in this case the random variations of head lamp light implementation), but the moment he asked me to move along the rocky section for a photo, I just stared at him. One day I will figure out how to control the mountain sass from my body language — at least for now I have mastered biting my tongue… for the most part.
Photos were done, and we were back on trail. The last hour and a half was painfully steep. I could feel myself slowing down, and hear the other teams gaining on us. I enjoyed the love and excitement that the others had for the climb, but I have to focus on so much that I have to block it out and avoid letting the noise get to me. Lenin was surprisingly on the same page as me and questioned why the guides were talking so much. We were thirty minutes out from the summit when my legs wanted to quit. I took 20 steps and would stop to relieve the pain. My right side was fatigued, but my left was swelling inside the socket making it ache with every step. I turned to the groups behind me telling them to pass, but most were thankful for my pace.
Fifteen minutes out from the summit, I stopped at a junction and stepped off of the trail. The chatter from the radios, random conversation, and intermittent hooting and hollering were throwing me off of my rhythm and interrupting my giving thanks to the mountain. On the way up, I asked the mountain for solid conditions and clear skies. Prior to the summit, I always give thanks for what the mountain has provided us — and for protecting us. Dave questioned what I was doing as he passed me, and I said, “People making noise behind me was stressing me, so I am just letting you pass.” Really wasn’t the most eloquent or sugar coated way of saying move along, but at least I got the point across.
Tears rolled down my face as I took my final steps on to the summit. Lenin was right, we would summit at 6 AM and enjoy one of the prettiest sunrises I have ever seen. I was so grateful — for the ROMP crew for cheering me on and for their faith in me, my strength to make it to the top, my prosthetic for staying sound, and for my past that hardened me in to the person I am today. I embraced Lenin and expressed my appreciation for all that he has done over the last week to make sure I stayed safe on the mountain. Then, sobbed as I embraced everyone. I snapped at Danny for calling me his hero, and told Sandy to not say she loved me — the nicer people are when I am already crying makes my tears never ending. How did I get so lucky?
I have made mistakes. I have lost people I care about. I have been through Hell and high water. I have regrets and I’ve been hurt. Every single less than positive part of my past has been worth it in this moment. My past has lead me right here. I was on cloud nine and surrounded by some of the most amazing people I have ever encountered. I am not sure that I will ever feel like I deserve their friendship, but I promise to always do right by them and to make them proud. These new relationships and sharing this experience with them will forever stay near and dear to my heart.
We hugged, cried, and snapped endless photos on the summit and of the mountains, skyline, and craters around us for 45 minutes. The sulphuric gas stung my throat and lungs. It’s wild to think of the things that are brewing inside of that volcano. Lenin urged me to wrap things up so we could move. The warmer it got, the softer the snow would be, the ground would shift, and the sun would reflect off of the snow and ice to wreck us. I shoved my gear back down in to my bag and tethered myself back to Lenin so I could struggle back down.
Photo Credit: Micah Ness, Silverline Films
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