Ever go after something so profound yet get rattled every step of the way?

Eleven years ago, I embarked on an epic expedition. One evening while hanging out with friends after an evening of rock climbing, a fellow climber started talking about how two of his teammates for his Ecuador expedition could no longer go. One was deployed and the other was severely injured.

He scanned the table of climbers and locked eyes with me. Lora, do you want to join the team? With a sense of honor, yet already committed to climbing Mt. Rainer, I looked over at Bill whom I already committed to. Bill tilted his head gently, smiled, and said, “That’s an awesome opportunity. You should take it.”

In a few minutes, my life changed. I told Dave, I had to see if I could get two weeks off work instead of 3 days.

Ecuador was no joke. This was climbing a 19,000ft mountain, and if successful another attempt of a 20,000ft mountain days later. Mt. Rainer was only 14,000+ feet. Luckily, I had an extra 6 weeks to prepare.

Touchdown, The Ecuador team landed in Quito to prepare for our altitude acclimation. Meeting with our guide, we had a series of 3 hikes at increasing altitude and length to prepare us for the big alpine day before the big alpine day on Mt. Cotopaxi.

With delight, glee, and silliness, the first two hikes seemed relatively easy. Whoever thought saying hiking 16,000ft would be easy? Yes, long days yet we worked as a team and recovered swiftly.

The following day we were scheduled to go to leave our base in Quito and head higher into the mountains for our 3rd and final alliteration hike.

Gurgle, gurgle gurgle. Then, multiple trips to the bathroom.

Two of the three of us, got food poisoning from dinner the night before. Luckily, as an international traveler, I was prepared for such things. Yet, this was a bit different in that I was preparing for my biggest physical challenge to date.

Neither of us had the strength for the 3rd climatization hike. Our fellow teammate did go, while I took my friend to a clinic for IV fluids.

In two more days, we were to attempt Mt. Cotopaxi.

As we dropped off, it was a 2000ft ascent to the base lodge. We took our time yet we all made it. With nervous jitters, we barely slept in the room that held 30+ climbers ready and eager for their summit bid.

At midnight, our team headed out for the summit. With only headlights to guide our way, one foot in front of the other. Soon, all 3 of us were very far apart. We were not on technical terrain yet. Sam collapsed to his feet, and could not continue further. I kept going yet my speed was slower than a snail. Weird weather conditions were coming in. I realized that my pace would put me in a dangerous zone upon descent. Melting snow conditions after sunrise are extremely dangerous for crevasses and what may fall on you. With deep acceptance, I knew that coming home alive and with all my body parts was the most important. I called off my attempt and returned to base camp. While disappointed, acceptance became my fast reality.

Dave continued with a guide and made the summit. We rejoiced in his success.

With a few more days to spare on our trip, we realized attempting a 20,000-foot mountain seemed completely unviable.

Then our guide blurted out, we can go for Ilinizia Sur a 17,000-foot technical mountain. We gazed into each other’s eyes, and exclaimed a big yes!

Slowly Sam and I’s health was returning to normal with our glucose levels rising. After a day of frolicking through rose gardens, our hopes for another summit bid returned full force. (Who knew most Valentine’s Day roses come from Ecuador?)

The team geared up yet again. This terrain was steeper. More complex. We were on snowpack quickly, roped up.

Suddenly I fell. Immediately went into self-arrest mode as did the rest of the team. Luckily, I only slipped about a foot and didn’t go flying down the mountain.

With a deep breath, I needed something new. I started internally chanting 3 words to myself. Syncing my breath with each word. Faith came in very strong. This is possible. You can make it. You’ve got this. One foot in front of the other. One more step.

This internal inspiration, self-belief, and faith kept me going until we reached the summit shortly after sunrise. With a big smile, feeling a sense of awe and wonderment at this great feat, I relished in the beauty of the mountains that allowed from sunrise. How few people get to experience sunrise above the clouds and high amongst the peaks?

There comes a point in life where the options forward are unknown. You can only imagine the great exhilaration it will be to reach the destination. Yet, with each step confidence, and clarity lead the way. With this self-belief coupled with faith, anything is possible.

First, accept where you are. Then take responsibility to change the path forward. With self-belief and faith, the path to get there will be illuminated one step at a time.

© 2023. Lora Polowczuk. All Rights Reserved.