In the Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, there is an arête (A narrow mountainous ridge that was sculpted between two glaciers) separating Sky Pond and Andrew’s Glacier.  On the Sky Pond link, you can see a number of spires jutting into the sky to approximately 12,000 feet.  Standing at Sky Pond, the arête and spires give the appearance of a grand outdoor cathedral.  The area on the other side of the spires from Sky Pond leads to Andrew’s Glacier.  The spires can be reached by deviating from the trail to the glacier and climbing through large boulder fields.  My life-long friend, Bryan Bornholdt, a go-big-or-go-home-kind-of-guy (the third person described on this website), took me to the base of one of the spires on the day I was to do my first rappel.

Harnesses, ropes, and climbing gear were fixed into place and the climb began.  As an expert climber, Bryan made his way up the first section.  As a novice climber, I did my best to follow.  After 50 feet, I found myself in a semi-contorted position with the belief that I did not have the skill to make the next move.  A number of thoughts went through my head at that moment, not the least of which was failure.  Not wanting to test if the rope would catch my fall, the next move seemed impossible.  Bryan made a few suggestions, but the impossible feeling persisted.

After a few more minutes, I willed the next move from a part of myself I did not know existed; it was a decisive, life-changing moment that allowed me to keep climbing.  Once at the summit, we were rewarded with an incredible view. Sky Pond was about 800 feet below and the peaks of other spires punctuated the area around us (click on the picture for a better view).

Petit Grepon is a spire in the foreground of Sky Pond  in this picture taken by Bryan when we were on the summit of a nearby spire – note climbers on the summit.

After reflecting on the climb and enjoying the view, it was time to rappel.  The rock ledge we were rappelling to was about 80 feet below (or 800 if missed).   I had never rappelled before, so I spent a long time examining the anchors on the rock from which I would hang.  I also looked into the eyes of my best friend for reassurance of my questioning trust (if this was the first rappel, what would our next trip involving a rappel be like?  I have a story for that one too!).  With a “feel the fear and do it anyway” approach, I slowly edged over the safety of the summit and felt my weight transferred to the rope as I looked down at Sky Pond (yes, my hands are sweating as I recall this).

About 40 feet down I became more comfortable with the fact that the rope was holding.  With my new-found confidence, I stopped and pushed off the side of the spire to swing to a different location before pushing off and swinging back.  I did this several times because it was incredible to take flight off of the spire.  I then paused to commit as much of the moment to memory as possible and then finished the decent.  Bryan followed and we made our way up Andrew’s glacier to the top of the Continental Divide.

Climbing and rappelling from the spire that day transformed me.  There have been many times since when I felt myself in a strange position without knowing how to make the next move.  Thankfully, I have had great mentors higher on the mountains over the years who have recommended next moves.  Climbing and rappelling the spire 21 years ago taught me that there is always a deeper level of trust and determination inside that allows the next move.  It also taught me that taking calculated risks can pay off in unimaginable ways.

What transformational moments guide your leadership?