19,000 Feet


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?"



sandie, Mar 13 2006 9:47AM

Just being itself, the mountain gets the satisfaction of making you feel out of shape, breathless, tired, sick, and possibly scared. I believe it is in cahoots with the weather too, so if necessary, it can make the conditions even more dangerous. It is very powerful.

Beautiful photos! Thanks for posting.

mark, Mar 14 2006 9:25AM

from the looks of the photos, the mountain exacted revenge on you. perhaps it's just happy being an obstacle and always having the best view.

thanks for the walk down memory lane. i've shot a scant few face-down portraits since the original set. dirty floors kind of make me cringe.