19,000 Feet
Guido Alvarez


Wife, kids and myself traveled two and a half hours south to a hut in the middle of a paramo right by the Cotopaxi Volcano which is a gigantic, snow-capped mountain in Ecuador that stands at 19,000 feet above sea level. I went there with a couple of gringo friends who are passionate about mountain climbing. The first day we drove all the way up to the refuge, a hut high above the ground, and then walked up some hundred meters to touch snow. I remembered portraits by Mark Sanders, and thought "let's make this a nice remembering entry for GUTSY." So to honor Mark's "Seeing Self, Showing Others" thesis portraits I decided to throw my two cents in.

Today we hiked for about 6 hours up to Ruminahui's peak at 16,000 feet. I shot a couple more Sanders-style portraits but then the questioning began. What is the whole point of climbing a mountain? Getting to the peak and three minutes later descending to where you began?!? I am trying to make sense out of this experience. Why is it that humans climb mountains? What is the whole purpose of it?

I have become lost, defeated and weary of trying to find an answer to this riddle. Last night I tried to pick the guide's brain by asking him, "What does the mountain get from you? I think you, as a climber get a lot, accomplish a lot, defy nature, defy yourself, find many ways to unlock your own self mysteries. Yet the mountain suffers a lot with garbage left over, tire tracks on roads and pollution; prostitution of the mountain. So what is there for the mountain?"