What Cotopaxi was like for me:
Here was what I wrote when I returned from the mountain.
It’s 3:03 pm, and we just got back to the hotel after climbing Cotopaxi. First of all, this team of nature lovers and athletes made the climb memorable. I’m so proud of every single one of them, not only for making the summit but for being role models and examples of how we should exist. I had the privilege to listen in on bits of their stories, they’re reasons for climbing and ultimately every single member of the team is a leader in their spaces, not only because of their knowledge but also because of their desire to serve. I’ve never sat at a table with a group of strangers where I could genuinely see that light shine through.
Now about the climb.
We stayed the night at the refuge or base camp which is slightly up Cotopaxi. It’s a fun, rocky hike up to the camp where you can start getting acclimated to the extremely high elevation and challenging terrain. We started the climb in the early afternoon and while we were climbing some of us started to get attacked by static electricity and omg yall, we were afraid of getting struck by lightning. No seriously, all of our hairs were standing straight up, our team leader and ROMP Events Director touched her radio and got a buzz shock from the static in the air. I felt fine, up until I literally heard a buzzing in my ears and felt the static from the top of my head. Naturally I freaked out, threw my hiking poles down, and I amputee “ran” out of there. At that moment all I could think of were my girls. Thinking you’re going to die really reminds you where your heart is. Thankfully everyone made it to the base camp in one, non electrocuted piece, but it turns out 10 people have died by lighting on Cotopaxi this year.
Once we are at base camp, it’s about 4pm and I’m soaking wet from the storm we were climbing in. So I went upstairs to warm up. Love this part for me, turns out there’s no real heat in the building so it is cold as ice all day and night. I once again thought I was going to die but this time hypothermia… I was starting to think I am not made for winter sports (lol). I finally got warm, went back outside and learned to walk in crampons, then went off to dinner for the best chicken and rice I was incapable of eating. Extreme altitude makes it very hard to eat.
After pretending to eat dinner I went straight to bed. It was a hostel style bunk house which is my favorite thing ever. It’s like summer camp but for adults! I brought noise canceling earbuds and a beanie to cover my eyes to sleep. The earbuds helped. I couldn’t hear anything, not even the 38 farts another climber counted. Why am I including this? haha!
I slept from 6pm until my climb time. My climb time was 11pm. I actually got decent sleep for the climb and felt very well rested. My strategy was to listen to EMDR music, focus on my breathing, and stay in meditation. It worked wonders and then my brain decided now was the perfect time to give my self love and body love affirmations:
My lungs are healthy.
My body is a badass.
I can do hard things.
I’ve been through worse.
I have the tools to get through this.
I am prepared.
I am ready.
This practice erased all anxieties on whether or not I was good enough, I then finished the practice by visualizing the climb as best I could, then let the whole climb go. Finally, I was full of mindfulness in the moment of being cold in my bed with a hot plastic water bottle keeping me warm. I slept with my wet gloves and neckie and my leg liner in my sleeping bag in hopes it would be dry and warm up before the climb. FYI it sorta kinda works.
At 10 pm it was time to wake up. When you head down stairs there’s bread, butter, and jam on the table next to instant coffee. It’s time to choke down that bread because that’s the only sustenance I will actually have until I return to the hotel from the climb.
Once you finish eating it’s time to gear up. You wear warmish layers, a harness, helmet, mountaineering boots, and trekking poles. You start the climb at 11:10 feeling ready, confident, empowered, and excited for what’s to come. Outside it’s completely still, there’s cloud coverage so no stars; just you, your rope team, and the few headlamps ahead of you. For hours we walked left foot in front, then left foot again all the way up. My prosthetic leg made it very difficult to step uphill, so I only used my sound leg.
By the time 3 am hit everyone that left the refuge had passed me. My guide turned to the last group of climbers and said to LP (my climbing teammate) that if she wanted to summit she needed to go on a different rope because he didn’t think I would make it up. We said excuse me? HEEEELLLL no. If there is anything that motivates me is someone doubting what I can accomplish. I told my guide to go faster and I will figure out how to sustain it. We are making that summit.
I turned the speed up and got to work. I felt one with the mountain. I passed a few other climb teams and I was in the flow and making great time. Then we got to the cliff section. It’s light outside now, we are 45 minutes away from the top and there is a blue rope there for safety. There’s only ice, possible death, and your dignity on the ground. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t move forward. I’d take a step forward and slide down 2 extra feet, then step and slide over and over again. I was crying. Begging for help or a better way to climb up but I never ever gave up. I just kept fu*king going and I made it up with help from my guide Darwin and teammate LP.
Darwin’s words of affirmation and confidence in my ability and LPs patience and support got me through that part of the climb. While we can be the heroes of our stories, we can never forget the other members of the super power team.
Once I was out of the cliff section the terrain was still incredibly steep. It was less than 30 minutes to the summit and it was deep, soft, beautiful pow (fresh snow) perfect for going down, hell for going up. One step up 7 steps down is how it felt. I was miserable. I was sad, and I didnt think I would make it but I just wanted to keep going because I had 3 climbing teams behind me, relying on me. If I didn’t make it neither did they. So I dug deep inside my abilities, and got after it. I pushed, swallowed my fear, and I made it up with only a few tears shed. I want to pause here to remember how amazing it is that we can accomplish massive feats when we put the motivation outside of ourselves. When we are focused on a greater good. I knew that if I gave up, the other teams did not have a place to pass, and I couldn’t do that to them. We all made it to the summit.
The summit was magical, but I felt like death. I kept asking if I was alive because holy sh*t I was miserable. The pictures prove it! This was the hardest thing I have ever accomplished.
However, this was a beautiful reminder of how hard we’ve all had to work in life to get where we are and sometimes the top isn’t the best feeling place in the world. It’s the climb. It’s the steps to get there. It’s the people. It’s the experience and the journey because while that was hard for me that will be something I cherish more than the summit. I’m so honored to have had the opportunity to climb.
One step at a time. One small freaking step over the long run will get you to where you want to go. You have to trust it, be in it, and be okay with where you are now. Some moments got easier but keeping pace to conserve was the best strategy to stay consistent and when it got hard? Just keep fu*king going. As Darwin would say when I would stop and try to give up, “okay continue”. From now on, I’ll keep fu*king continuing.
I wasn’t the fastest climber. But for the first time in my life I didn’t freaking care. I don’t freaking care. I feel so free.
For the first time in history, every member of the ROMP climb team made it to the summit. We set out on a mission to reach the top to be voices, examples, and role models for what can happen when you have access to mobility and accessible spaces. Together we can bring mobility to the corners of the world that desperately need it. Thank you to the Range of Motion Project for the chance to uplift and create a better future for amputees in Ecuador, Guatemala, the Amazon, and more.