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!! 

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