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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Burns

Power Up: Learning to Balance the Business Woman & Climber Lifestyle

“A true entrepreneur has wide capacity in her heart for adventure and learning but none for regret.”

-Magdalena Yesil, Power Up

(Cotopaxi Volcano, 19,347 ft)

Training at High Elevation: Climbing Volcanos

(Approaching Refugio Nuevos Horizontes between the Ilinizas)

The alarm sounds at 3:30 am. Drowsy, my eyes open and I slowly start to make my way off the bunk bed. I have only secured a couple hours of sleep as the altitude has kept me restless throughout the night. I feel both lethargic and nauseous. Unexcited, I lace up my mountaineering boots and make my way downstairs to eat a light breakfast of bread and jam before beginning the slog up Cotopaxi.

As we stepped out of the refugio and started up the dirt trail leading towards the glacier, the wind felt cold against my face and I felt nauseous. The week before I had voiced my reservations about my underlying desire to climb this mountain while we were training on lower elevation peaks. Now, it was pretty apparent within the first five minutes of the climb that I wasn’t excited about the next 6 hours ahead of me. The lights of the hut were barely out of sight when Genis looked back and said “we can turn around if you want. I know you don’t like this. You talk about rock climbing with such passion and it is very obvious that you are not motivated by this climb. It is okay. You don’t need to put pressure on yourself about it.”

(Approaching the refugio on Cotopaxi)

(Breakfast at the Cotopaxi Refugio)

Lessons Learned

The conversation on Cotopaxi was a moment of truth for me. Genis was right. I wasn’t motivated by the climb and I wanted to turn around. The day before, Genis and Juan Jose had climbed Cotopaxi and I stayed behind to acclimatize and rest. My intention was to summit early the next morning. While I waited for them I enjoyed the small bouldering wall in the refugio, listened to Magdelena Yesil’s inspirational book PowerUp on audible, and talked with some local Ecuadorian climbing guides. I was super happy. That morning as we approached the glacier it was cold, I felt sick, and I found the experience quite unpleasant. It was great relief to recognize that it just wasn't for me and that it was okay.

(Chimborazo Volcano, 20,564ft)

(Ernesto's Airbnb on the Trout Farm near Chimborazo)

Fast forward one week and I am writing this post I am sitting in a rustic mountain cabin at the base of the Chimborazo volcano in rural Ecuador. My friends are attempting to summit the 6200m peak while I work on a presentation on estate planning that I am giving to my Pipeline Angel peers next week. A year ago I would have been disappointed in myself that I wasn’t alongside my friends on the mountain. Likely I would have felt insecure admitting that high altitude mountain climbing just doesn’t inspire me like rock climbing does. Today, however, I feel content. Even though I didn’t summit all the 5000+ meter peaks I planned to climb in Ecuador, the trip was a wild success full of adventure, self exploration, and friendship. I spoke Spanish for two straight weeks, lived with an Ecuadorian friend and his family, traveled around the country with locals, and still ascended plenty of high peaks. Most importantly though, I learned many lessons regarding both my physical and mental motivations and limitations. At altitude I feel sick; thus, I need more time to acclimatize and that I am inspired by large vertical rock faces instead of climbing large mountains.

(Iliniza Norte Summit 17,218ft , Iliniza Sur in the backdrop)

(Camping between the Ilinizas at 16.404 ft)

Climbing and Work Life Balance

As I continue to progress in life as a business woman and a climber, I am consistently reminded that I am driven by the balance of both. It took me a while to reconcile this truth. I climb with individuals who are elite athletes, incredibly bold climbers, and professional alpinists and mountain guides. The commitment it takes to climb at their level is all consuming. They have dedicated their life to the mountains. For some time I felt that unless I climbed “at their level” I would be an outsider or they wouldn’t want to climb with me. However, as I progress in my climbing life, I recognize that I don’t actually have the same drive as many of them. In contrast, I am driven by my trifecta of climbing, business, and investing. I am equally content with the days I spend 6 hours on networking calls in my office as I am challenging myself on the side of a big wall. The experiences are very different; yet both complete me and that is totally okay.

(Approaching Ruco Pichincha Summit)

(Ruco Pichincha Summit, 15406 ft)

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