“As in climbing a mountain, sanctification requires a systematic effort to reach the summit one step at a time. . . . The important thing is to go up little by little, savoring the view, enjoying the scents of flowers, the width of the sky, the freshness of the breezes. It is also useful to have moments of rest and recuperation. The climb takes a little effort, but its beauties are compensation. And, in the case of Christian life, at the summit one contemplates not just a marvelous landscape but God himself.”
- Juan Luis Lorda, “The Virtues of Holiness”
I’ve heard that all Heights boys can be classified into one of three categories: diggers, builders, climbers. In my opinion, all boys—and all men, for that matter—are, fundamentally, climbers. This nearly-insatiable instinct may reside deep in our psyches, but we all have it—or should—and it’s a good thing, too. Life is filled with literal and figurative summits, and God knew what He was doing when He gave us the urge to conquer them. As our headmaster reminds us, we want our boys to be dangerously good, and what better place to cultivate one’s dangerousness (and the corollary ability to manage and mitigate risk) than controlling, conquering, and, ultimately, enjoying the great heights.
The many pictures of smiling valley boys hanging upside down from (well-supervised) boughs remind us that our school’s freedom allows, and even encourages, boys to scale the summits that grace our campus: namely, trees. Middle Schoolers, however, enter a climbing limbo created by their new-found coolness, and Upper Schoolers are, for the most part, for better or for worse, “over it.” Upper Schoolers still need a good dose of climb, though, and it was for this reason that Dan Sushinsky and I took a group of eight freshmen to the Ecuadorian Andes.
During our eight-day stay in Ecuador, we hiked 4 peaks. From our Quito basecamp in my grandparents’ home, we summited Pichincha, at roughly 15,000 ft., and Pasochoa, at 13,000. The highlight of the trip was a 4-day trek over and around glacier-capped Cotopaxi and it’s satellite peak, Morurco. Standing at around 20,000 feet, Cotopaxi is the world’s tallest active volcano and the expedition took us to a point on our planet higher than both the Alps and the Pyrenees. Our four hired guides were stellar, and my father, our fifth guide, was indispensible to the trip.
In addition to learning that one need not remove a retainer to pass through airport security, the boys grew on this trip—both as a group and as individuals—in ways they could not have at sea level. A full exegesis on the lessons learned is beyond the scope of this post, but I must mention at least two. First, we bear responsibility not only for our own well-being, but for that of our team-mates as well. The motley and individualistic crew that proudly stepped onto the foothills of the first mountain was humbled, and they descended with greater respect for nature and a heightened sense of their obligations to each other. By our final climb up Cotopaxi, the boys were reminding each other to put on sun block, to bring at least two quarts of water, to pack their emergency layer, etc. “Do you have your gloves?” “Are you sure you have your extra batteries?” “Is our group tech gear in your pack? Let me see it.” Second, the boys learned prudence (well, they learned about prudence). On Cotopaxi, we reached a point that was roughly 100 vertical feet below the summit. We were there! Conditions were not favorable to finishing the climb, though, and we had to descend. This was an obvious but difficult decision and I’m grateful that we had to make it. The Heights gives us freedom to teach decision-making, and this was a real-life, consequence-laden decision.