5 Things I Learned at 19,347 Feet

On Wednesday, I made a successful attempt to climb Cotopaxi  - a snow covered, active volcano in the Andes mountain range of Ecuador. It was the most difficult thing I have ever attempted in my life.

I learned five really valuable lessons I'll never forget. I hope they help you.

1. Seize The Moment  - I went to Ecuador with my wife to visit my daughter and her new husband with no intention of climbing a mountain. Cotopaxi had been closed by the government for 2 years due to volcanic activity and had just re-opened October 4. My daughter and her husband climbed it the week prior (Beasts!) and said "Dad, you're here. There is a window of opportunity to climb. You can do it. If you're successful, it'll be one of the highlights of your life. You have to go for it." After staring at this intimadating behemoth 18 miles from my hotel window for 3 days, I finally decided to go for it and am so glad I did. Little decisons are easy. All big decisions require risk, trade offs and faith.

2. Stay in Shape - The ascent requires hiking to a base camp on Day 1 and sleeping at 15,577 feet. On Day 2, you start climbing at midnight with the goal of summitting at 6 a.m. That level of physical exertion would be crazy at sea level, but the effects of oxygen deprivation on my leg strength and lung capacity shocked me. 5 of the 9 people who attempted to summit that day (I was the oldest at 53 - the next youngest was 44) made it. There is no way I could have done it if I wasn't disciplined about working out 4-5 times every week. You may say that you have no intention of climbing a big mountain, but a friend of mine whose 20 year old son became a quadrapelegic told me he was so glad he had stayed in shape all these years so that he had the physical strength to care for his son. We can't be at our best to love and serve others if we aren't consistently taking care of our temples. (Shout out to my wife Michelle for spurring me on daily. www.faithfulworkouts.com)

3. Get A Guide - There is no way I could have done this without a guide.  They provided the gear, the food and hydration, the training, how to use crampons, how to dress properly, how to use an icepick as a walking stick and for self-arresting a fall, and, of course, he guided my way. Life is too short to be bumbling around making rookie mistakes. Get wisdom no matter what endeavor you're embarking on.

4. Don't waste time worrying about the past - The night before we made the inital ascent, I got very little sleep. I woke up at 1:30 a.m. with what I believed was a God-inspired idea (a topic for a later blog) and couldn't get back to sleep.  Then, I got no sleep at base camp (due to the elevation and excitement/fear).  When we started our final ascent, I found myself worried about being sleep deprived two nights in a row and how it would effect my stamina. This bothered me for the first 45 minutes until I realized I just needed to forget about it, climb on, and see what happens. Worry, distraction, regret, and preoccupation with the past is useless.

5. Be a Savvy Friend, Parent, Spouse, co-Worker - I was amazed at and grateful for how intuitive my guide (Jorge) was at knowing when to push me and when to back off. The last hour of my climb I was literally stopping and gasping for air every 10 steps. Jorge could sense when I had rested enough and he would tell me so or give just the slightest tug on the rope that tethered us. When I reached the top, I was spent and my legs were just rubber. I stopped and sat down often on the descent. I could tell Jorge had my best interests at heart by the way he would push me one moment and then gave me grace and space moments later. I want to be a friend/parent/spouse/co-worker and coach who has that kind of loving intuition for helping others achieve their goals.

Which of these nuggets of wisdom can you start putting to use in your life right now?

Jeff Spadafora17 Comments