Dr. Mike Davis and Erik Weihenmayer go climbing

At Colorado Academy, we’ve been thinking a lot about mission statements this past year. Coincident with our reaccreditation work that is undertaken by most independent schools, we’re taking this exercise of self-evaluation to re-craft the wording of our mission statement into something that is pithy but substantial, lofty but memorable, and long lasting yet relevant.

Early this summer, I was lucky enough to witness a single individual who has a mission statement that he lives every day. I’m talking about CA parent and athlete, adventurer, author, activist and motivational speaker, and the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, Erik Weihenmayer.

Through his support for Colorado Academy, Erik joined me in putting up for auction a mountain hike to raise money for Financial Aid at CA. What an experience for several recent CA graduates and one Sophomore, who got to climb a still-snow-covered “14er,” Quandary Peak, the highest summit of the Tenmile Range in the Rocky Mountains.

‘No Barriers’

There’s nothing like the anticipation of climbing a big peak. Since an early morning start is required, I sort through my gear the night before. Even when I know I need to get to bed early, I am usually so psyched that I have a hard time falling asleep. Then, the alarm goes off, I grab a burrito, and hit the road. I love driving in the mountains before sunrise and watching the colors emerge from the darkness.

It’s always great to get out, but to hike with such an accomplished mountaineer and outdoor expert like Erik is especially meaningful. Erik is giving of his time and energy, but also of his presence and conversation. And since he is blind, he relies on a bell and on voices to guide him as he hikes. He and the students were engaged in conversation all the way up and down the mountain.

With record snowfall this winter, the trail was still covered in snow all the way down to the parking lot. That meant some “post holing,” and sometimes our feet would crush through two feet of snow. Walking in front of Erik and holding a bell, I was just blown away by his ability to take on these challenges in the outdoors, undaunted and unfazed, and with such incredible positivity. (Not only has he climbed Everest, but he’s also completed the seven highest peaks on each continent, El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, Losar, a 2700-foot vertical ice face in the Himalayas, and he’s kayaked the entire 277 miles of the Grand Canyon, considered one of the most formidable whitewater challenges in the world.)

His “No Barriers” mission is to “fully unleash the potential of the human spirit,” and there is no doubt that is how Erik lives each day of his life. I always try to take something away from every outdoor experience I have, and this time it was the power of an unfaltering, unyielding, and intrepid spirit and mission that makes the impossible a reality.