Category: Ecuador’s Volcanoes

Why Climb Mountains

Why Climb Mountains

SMI Founder Kurt Wedberg shares some thoughts on why he’s so passionate about climbing mountains

Why climb mountains? Amid all the hardships COVID brought to our lives, the pandemic of 2020 offered the opportunity for many folks to discover mountaineering.  For the first time people are learning benefits that generations of outdoor lovers have known for decades.  A few of those priceless lessons include invaluable benefits for physical, mental, and spiritual health.  It’s also a great way to make meaningful friendships, and see first hand the importance of protecting our environment. Furthermore, it teaches lessons that can be applied to everyday life.

Mountaineering for physical health

Mountaineering requires a general level of endurance and strength.  The cardiovascular and muscular systems are strengthened over time.  Getting into a regular routine increases energy and stamina.  This in turn adds to the enjoyment and expands opportunities for new and bigger adventures; all while gaining improved health!

Kurt Wedberg on the crater rim of El Pico de Orizaba (18410’/5611m), Mexico. The reward for training is experiencing remote and stunning views such as this one high above the Mexican countryside on top of the highest volcano in North America.

Why Climb Mountains: Healthy Diet

There’s nothing like partaking in endurance activities to motivate a good diet.  The human body needs food full of nutrients to function well.  Meal planning is critical.  Unhealthy food will not provide the fuel necessary for long summit days.  Mountaineering creates a great opportunity to explore new foods and develop habits that can be used in everyday life.

Fresh food for fuel. The author’s fuel for a typical Sierra summit day.
Bottom row: dried mango, spicy seeds, cheese, and oranges.
Middle row: assorted nuts, smoked oysters, and avocado.
Top row: jerky, hard boiled eggs, organic energy blocks, and vials of salt & vinaigrette.

Mountaineering for Mental Health

Mental health goes hand in hand with physical health.  As you increase endurance and strength you’re also gaining many benefits for mental health.  Studies show exercising leads to increased energy during the day, better sleep, and sharper memories.  It can have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, can help to relive stress, and boost your overall mood.  It releases endorphins in the brain that energize spirits and promote feelings of calm and well-being.  All of this is happening while you’re enjoying majestic and stunning views in the great outdoors!

Mt. Whitney Summit!
SMI founder Kurt Wedberg experiencing the euphoria of topping out with another satisfied guest on Mt. Whitney’s famous Mountaineers Route at sunrise!

Mountaineering for Spiritual Health

As a professional mountain guide for 34 years I’m asked why climb mountains all the time.  There are many reasons such as those mentioned in this article.  But, there are others that are difficult to express in words, but are also some of the most powerful.  There is something deeply spiritual about removing yourself from the daily routine of life and immersing in the beauty of nature.  You provide yourself the opportunity to view life from a different perspective.  Situations that may have appeared as big problems transform into smaller issues amid the majesty of the mountains.  When returning to your normal routine this spiritual cleansing helps make everything else more manageable.

Mountaineering for Spiritual Health
Kurt Wedberg on the summit of Kilimanjaro seeing the sunrise high over the African plains.

Along with the positive health gains, mountaineering provides several other benefits that enhance your life in remarkably purposeful and worthwhile ways.

Meaningful Lifelong Friendships

For climbers the mountains are an endless supply of pleasure and satisfaction.  Mountaineers retain vitality and an enthusiastic elation for life.  They’re keenly aware their experiences can never be replicated in a man-made setting.  When climbers tie into a rope together something symbolic occurs that runs far deeper than the practicality of immediate safety.  They are trusting each other with their lives and well-being. This creates a bond of friendship that cannot be duplicated in any other way.  Sharing these rich adventures leads to unique lasting friendships.

Tristan & Kurt summit Devils Crag
Tristan Sieleman & Kurt Wedberg on the summit of Devils Crag deep in the Sierra Nevada.

Why climb mountains? It gives new appreciation for our environment

There is nothing like seeing firsthand a pristine vista to bring a new appreciation for our wild remote lands.  John Muir founded the Sierra Club for this very reason.  He knew if he could offer outings that create opportunities for people to see our wilderness they’ll actively help to preserve it.  Today professional guide services offer expanded resources to experience high and remote places and to learn new skills that help broaden the possibilities available.

High on Crystal Crag
Climbing high in remote places offers a profound and unique perspective on the importance of protecting our environment.

Mountaineering teaches patience and persistence while building self esteem

Summit days are long stretching anywhere from 8 – 16 hours.  Mountaineering builds patience and persistence because it requires mental and physical stamina.  When looking at a big mountain it can appear overwhelming thinking about how to climb it.  However, it’s important to divide a mountain into small manageable chunks that can be ticked off one at a time in succession.  As an analogy, when you’re served a large plate of food you don’t eat it in one bite. It is consumed in manageable bite sized mouthfuls.  In the same way, when climbing a mountain, maintaining patience and persistence are essential. Climbs are successful by taking one step at a time and one section at a time.  Accomplishing this task is a huge boost to confidence and self-esteem.

Mountaineering teaches patience and persistence while building self esteem
The experiences shared on climbs, such as this well earned summit photo from a winter ascent of Mt. Whitney (14505’/4421m), with like minded people can lead to many life long friendships.

Kurt Wedberg has been a professional mountain guide for 34 years and is the founder of Sierra Mountaineering International, Inc. Based in Bishop, CA they offer mountaineering guiding and instruction in the Sierra and on high peaks worldwide.

Cotopaxi (5897m/19348′), Ecuador November 20, 2011- Perfect Snow Conditions, Big Crevasses, and Cool Views

Cotopaxi (5897m/19,348') is the 2nd highest active volcano in the world.

After a great climb of Illiniza Norte our team was ready to head to Cotopaxi.  Upon finishing our descent from Illiniza we spent a night close to Cotopaxi National Park in one of the beautiful haciendas Ecuador is famous for.  Showers, comfortable beds, and a couple good meals were welcomed by the entire team.  The food in Ecuador is always a delight.  From a wide variety of fresh fruit to their ají salsa made with a red pepper that goes by the same name there is something to tempt every part of the palate.

Following a restful evening the team drove over dirt roads to Cotopaxi National Park.  The road takes us to 4600m/15,091′ dropping us off within a 40 minute walk to the José Ribas Refugio at 4810m/15,780′.  Reaching the hut at lunchtime gave us plenty of time to hydrate, snack, and get settled in preparation for our summit attempt the following morning.  An early dinner of pizza with fresh vegetables was followed by one last hot drink then to sleep.  We woke in the middle of the night to begin our ascent in anticipation of a 7+ hour climb to the summit.  Weather was cool and calm.  Under a blanket of stars we strapped crampons to our mountaineering boots and left the refugio with headlamps on to aid in navigating the terrain.  60 minutes of climbing brought us to the entrance of an unnamed glacier.  Here we divided into rope teams and began carrying ice axes.  The heavily glaciated terrain normally has large crevasses that require careful navigation.  Snow conditions under foot were as good as we could ask for offering solid purchase for our crampons.  Picking our route through the glacier made for fun and exciting climbing.  Taking breaks at regular intervals to hydrate and refuel we found ourselves well over 18,000’/5500m as the stars above gave way to the approaching sunrise.  We put our headlamps in our packs, put on sunscreen, and continued picking our way through the icy glaciated terrain.  We crossed over large crevasses with depths of over 100’/30m and surmounted steep ice walls that reached 45+ degrees.  The upper reached of the route had us climbing on the west side of the peak keeping us in shade.  As we climbed atop Cotopaxi’s crater rim we were treated to the warming rays of direct sunlight for our final steps to the summit.

With a warm calm morning we took time to relax for a few minutes before taking pictures, hydrating, eating some food, and enjoying the incredible views that Cotopaxi offers from its summit.

A few pictures from our climb are below.  The entire photo gallery from our Ecuador trip can be found here:  Ecuador’s Volcanoes November 14-24, 2011

Hacienda in the foothills near Cotopaxi National Park.

Llamas grazing near Cotopaxi National Park

The team at the entrance to Cotopaxi National Park.

The team en route to the José Ribas Refugio.

Team members arriving at the refugio.

Sunset from the refugio.

The team geared up and ready to climb Cotopaxi.

Climbing at 18,000+ feet as it became light enough to not need headlamps.

SMI guide April Mayhew high on the route.

Gary Maxwell surrounded by big crevasses and cool views!

Jairo and April climbing around a crevasse on the route.

Gary Maxwell topping out on Cotopaxi.

Jairo taking the last steps towards the summit of Cotopaxi.

April topping out on Cotopaxi with Jairo close behind.

Kurt, Gary, Jairo, and April on the summit of Cotopaxi.

Cotopaxi's double crater as seen from the summit.

Inspiring views and fun climbing on Illiniza Norte (5126m/16,817′), Ecuador November 18, 2011

From left to right: April Mayhew, Gary Maxwell, Kelly Tucker, Kurt Wedberg, and Jairo Marin pause for a photo on the foothills below Illiniza Norte, Ecuador.

After finishing a great trip to Mexico’s Volcanoes SMI guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg flew from Mexico City to Quito, Ecuador to guide climbs on the volcanoes located within this beautiful equatorial country.  Gary Maxwell, Jairo Marin, and Kelly Tucker rendezvoused in Quito, which is at an elevation of 2800m/9186 ‘.  Acclimatization was the first order of business.  The team took a couple of hikes on peaks outside of Quito where we were treated to beautiful vistas of the Ecuadorian countryside.  We also attended an intense soccer game between the national teams of Peru and Ecuador.  After a couple good days of acclimatization we then headed to Illiniza Norte.

The climbing on Illiniza Norte is mainly scrambling over rocky terrain.  Ropes are used for safety.  Negotiating the upper reaches of the mountain required picking our way up excellent hand and foot holds on steep terrain with moderate exposure in spots.  The route was fun and offered a great sense of accomplishment.  After this climb the team would be well set up for climbing Cotopaxi in a couple days!

A few pictures are below.  The entire Ecuador photo gallery can be found here:  Ecuador’s Volcanoes November 14-24, 2011

It's always nice to stretch the legs after international flights. The team enjoys their first day hike in the hills above Quito, Ecuador

The team hiking towards Rucu Pichincha (4698m/15,413').

The Chuquirahua flower grows between approximately 3000-4000m in Ecuador. This beautiful wildflower is the symbol of mountaineering to the Ecuadorian "alpinistas".

The team on an acclimatization day hike to Pasochoa (4200m/13,779').

The team traversing along the crest of Pasochoa where the dramatic difference in vegetation is proudly displayed between opposing exposure to the elements.

The team starting up the rock scrambling on Illiniza Norte.

Gary, Jairo, and Kelly enjoying the climb of Illiniza Norte.

Gary, April and our good friend Romulo from Ecuador high on Illiniza Norte.

Gary, Jairo, and Kelly on the summit of Illiniza Norte with Illiniza Sur behind to the left.

April and Romulo on the summit of Illiniza Norte.