A New Experience: Rock-climbing in Cojitambo, Ecuador

From the thriving city of Cuenca to the rolling hills of Cojitambo, we walked into a world of possibility

After several weeks traveling throughout Ecuador, Steven and I were on our way to Cojitambo, Ecuador, a small, rural town 30 miles from Cuenca. Elevated high in the Andes Mountains, the village and the dewy chill of the mountain air greeted us as we arrived.

From the comforts of home, to carrying everything we owned on our backs, I became aware that every moment, every thought, and every choice is a product of my own choosing.

Trekking into the vast landscape and misty mountain air was a completely new experience.An area known for traditional and sport rock-climbing, this local gem hosts an amazing bakery, plus a fresh market.

Here, we found an assortment of vegetables, meat, eggs, cheese, and seasonings to gift the tired traveler with the ingredients necessary to fulfill the longing for a home-cooked meal.

This was a precious moment for me. 

From the town center, we walked to meet our gracious host, Juan Gabriel and his lounging golden Labrador, as he welcomed us into his home.

I knew that the days ahead would be challenging and difficult, yet I wanted to breathe in every moment and welcome the journey. 

The next day, we rose with the rising heat of the day and ventured toward the ancient mountain. Carrying a 30 lb. pack of rock-climbing equipment, I followed Steven as he forged a path beyond the city dwellings, past roaming chickens and piglets, and through thickets of brush and thorns up the mountain.

Much like life, the painful and sometimes uncomfortable parts of the journey are unavoidable, but I’ve found that they offer the most challenge and the greatest amount of progress if you’re willing to accept them.  

We reached the bottom of the cliff and began to unload our packs. After careful preparation, he began to lead climb.
I held his life with the rope in my hands, patiently feeding him rope as he ascended the slated saw-tooth crag.

Slowly, step by step, he moved with the careful grace of a climbing panther, his body growing smaller with every step up.

I craned my neck to watch his patient, arduous movements while he preserved his strength and agility for the remaining 2 hours of the multi-pitch rock-climb up the charcoal cliff. Once he reached a safe place and had officially built an anchor, I began to climb. 

To fear is to be human. I welcomed the danger in the climb, knowing it would test the limits of my mind’s ability to accept what it feels to be completely and utterly out of control.

Cooled by the crisp altitude, condensation left my mouth as I breathed through the slowly creeping fear rising in my chest like a fountain of lead weighing down my body.

Gazing at the route above and the ground below, the vertical heights stretched into the sky like an expanding elevator. 

There have been few times in my life that I have felt suspended in time; but on that cliff, climbing higher than the mountains around us, time slowed as each moment rolled into the next, interwoven in an interconnected and continuous moment of pure, purposeful existence.

Similar to flying in a plane, there comes a point when you accept that you are thousands of feet in the sky, with nothing but clouds and vapor beneath you. Since I’m terrified of falling and flying (ironically), I choose to compare the two.

In these moments, I chose to situate myself in a space where anything that happens is beyond my control. I believe we often forget that this happens every day.

Beyond those extreme moments of fear and adrenaline, like rock-climbing or flying in a plane, exist smaller more minuscule moments that led us to those larger instances of realization based on the choices made along the way.  

Gripping the cliff behind me, I felt the mountain’s power. A sense of confidence and assurance in my mental strength and physical body gave me certainty in my own will-power. As I peered at the open sky, I was suddenly unafraid. 

As noon approached, the vapor that clung to the clouds lifted and the sun emerged for a short moment. While I hung on the rope, I embraced the idea of danger and death as a part of life and understood that fear can lead to a tremendous amount of self-doubt. 

But I also embraced the idea that acceptance of fear can lead to self-confidence and happiness; these are the everyday challenges that is the experience of life.

As I gazed around me, suspended on an anchor that was saving my life, I looked at the little yellow houses and evergreen slopes and foggy peaks in the distance.

As we came upon the ruins on the top of the mountain, I understood why the technical, vertical mountain in Cojitambo has captivated climbers in Ecuador for decades and why this valley is home to a beautiful people.

The serenity of the mountain and the adrenaline of the climb has imbued my journey in Ecuador with wonder and appreciation for the gift of a challenging, unforgettably rewarding experience.

The beauty in rock-climbing several thousands of feet in the air, whether close to home or in a foreign country, is that it reveals revelations and discoveries about the self.

As I stood on that mountain, I discovered that I can never conquer my fear, but I can acknowledge its ability to change my current perception of life and celebrate the challenge that is accepting it. 

I hope you take the chance to join us on our next adventure across the ocean and into Ecuador in the near future!! 


7 Nights Backpacking in the Grand Canyon

Although I was new to the backcountry world, I told myself, “Just do it.”
I packed what I thought was necessary, brought one too many sweaters (which actually came in handy as pillows) and forgot to leave my ego behind. One ankle-bandage and 6 miles later, we had descended into the canyon and there was no going back.
Yeah, I probably should have asked more questions. Like, “how many snacks should I really bring?” Or “is my travel coffee mug really necessary?”
But I was comfortable in the naivety of my youth and satisfied with my sense of direction up until I realized I had committed to a week-long backpacking trek with 7 strangers into the largest canyon known to man.
A deep, mysterious divinity carved from billions of years of erosion by our Mother Earth’s natural elements of water, ice, and wind had created a place of majesty. And I was walking straight into it with 60 lbs. on my back, carrying a load of uncertainty, too much trail mix, and not enough insanity.



Two years ago, I had not considered that scaling canyon walls and voyaging into unpredictable weather was more about self-perseverance and motivation than physical strength.
Every single one of my preconceived notions about backpacking was ultimately transformed.
While I once thought these activities to be too strenuous or even dangerous, I realized this is actually a perceived fear, a myth, that I convinced myself because I was nervous about taking the risk.
I remember walking along the edge of a rigid cliff in single-line formation, terrified I would fall 335 ft. to my death and never live to tell about my frybread addiction.
In actuality, this part of the trail was also the most rewarding. After two miles of climbing down fallen boulders, where lemon-colored water pooled in the crevices of ivory rock, we came to a sandy beach abundant with the narrow-leaved paintbrush and Blue Grosbeak flirting with the undergrowth.
It was serene. 
The water rolled by in slow, turquoise waves and we rested for a moment in time, the sun warming our beaten skin as we cooled from miles of perspiration.
After returning home, I appreciated the little things so much more… like pizza, and shampoo.
Months after, I still remembered how the Milky Way visited us, emerging from within the universe, gently tilted against the black horizon. And the rustle of all the canyon creatures that rose with the night, awakened by the lunar fluorescence of the moon.
During these nights, I was reminded by the serenity of my mother’s homeland on the Navajo Nation, and I was grateful for the desert sea of coral sand where her hogan rests at the base of the mountain.



This experience ultimately changed my perspective about “outdoor recreation.”
It brought me to understand that there’s more to hiking and navigating canyonlands than learning how to boil water or pack your bag efficiently. While these are both pretty practical skills, I learned more about self-perseverance and how to navigate my own fear than how much trail mix keeps the belly full.
I was challenged to descend 1,500 ft. into my most transformative state-of-mind while learning that there’s more to life than that delicious slice of cake I so desperately couldn’t wait to devour. 
It was a life experience waiting to happen, and it was all up to me to begin the journey.

Once a month, I will share stories with you about personal experiences and the future plans we have for our program. Feedback and comments are encouraged. See you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest!

If you’re interested in sharing YOUR story as a blogger on our website, please email me at kristen@nativeadventures.org. 
Feedback and comments are encouraged. See you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest!
Thank you for your time!
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