Amputees climbing Cotopaxi, one of South America’s toughest peaks

team members, with Cotopaxi in the background.

Silverline Film

  • A group of amputee-athletes are attempting to climb Cotopaxi,
    one of South America’s toughest peaks.
  • They’re traveling with the Range of Motion Project, a
    nonprofit that helps amputees climb mountains around the world.
  • The nonprofit is hoping to raise $100,000 to provide 100
    prosthetic limbs to those need.

On Saturday, a group of
amputee-athletes are hoping to summit Cotopaxi, a 19,347-foot
tall, heavily glaciated stratovolcano that’s also Ecuador’s
second highest mountain.

It’s one of the most famous — and
challenging — peaks in the South American climbing

The expedition is part of
the Range of Motion
(ROMP), a nonprofit organization that aims to improve
the lives of amputees by outfitting those in need with the
highest quality prosthetic limbs — and help them climb some of
the world’s toughest peaks.

The Cotopaxi expedition is
seeking to raise $100,000, which will provide 100 prosthetics to
those who lack access to quality healthcare.  

The team is comprised of expert
climbers, like Jukes and David Krupa — ROMP’s executive director
and an amputee mountaineer — as well as non-amputee
experts and a host of local guides.

“Cotopaxi is big enough, bad
enough, and intimidating enough to be a serious goal to train
for,” Krupa said. “But it’s also reachable enough to be
attainable, provided the team puts in the work.”

The expedition includes amputee
climbers from Ecuador, many of whom have never put on crampons or
scaled big peaks before.

“This team has been a year in the
making,” Krupa told Business Insider. “It’s by far the most
physically and mentally strong team we’ve had.”

ROMP expedition members in front of Cotopaxi.

Silverline Film

‘I was going to climb come hell or high water after the

In 2006, Chad Jukes suffered a life-changing accident. 

At the time, he was deployed in Northern Iraq. The truck he was
driving ran over a buried mine, and the explosion destroyed his

When he returned home, doctors told him he had a decision. Jukes
could either have reconstructive surgery to repair his foot or
get it amputated.

“They said if I opted for the surgery I’d be on pain medications
for the rest of my life and could probably never run again,”
Jukes told Business Insider in an interview from Ecuador’s
Cotopaxi National Park, where he is serving as one of the
expedition’s leaders. 

To Jukes — who hails from Colorado and was an avid climber — that
wasn’t an option. He went for the amputation.

“I was going to climb come hell or high water after the
amputation,” Jukes said. “I was really excited to overcome those

The amputation didn’t slow him down. Since the accident, Jukes
has summitted some of the most challenging peaks around the
globe, including Mt. Everest. He recently led a group of veterans
up Nepal’s Lobuche peak.

“Climbing big peaks is all about adapting to a hostile
environment,” Jukes said. “For me, I just have to take that adaption one
step further.”

The ROMP team on the
summit of Rumiñahui.


‘People aren’t disabled by a missing limb, but by a
missing prosthetic’

Jukes said he’d rather have a team member who has a positive
attitude and is ready to push a little bit harder than someone
who is stronger.

“Tenacity is crucial,” Jukes said. “Everyone in this group has
had to overcome significant obstacles. Where people are usually complaining when
things are hard, this group is smiling and laughing and pushing
through that pain. That’s beyond important in the

Climbing Cotopaxi is no small
feat. It’s an active volcano that’s far taller than any peak in
the continental US.

The team will have full
mountaineering gear, and they’ll have to do an “alpine start” to
attain the summit — that is, waking up around 11 p.m., climbing
through the night, summiting at dawn, and returning to high camp
in the afternoon.

Prepping for an expedition like
Cotopaxi takes a lot of careful planning, and climbing with a
group of amputee-athletes only adds to that challenge.

Krupa said part of his role will
be repairing and adjusting team member’s prosthetic limbs as the
climb progresses. He’ll have to carry a full pack of tools with
him on the mountain to do so, and help coach team members modify
their gait to cover steep terrain and negotiate tricky glacial
features like crevasses. 

“Many of the amputee climbers
have told me their injury pushed them to explore new limits of
their capacity,” Krupa said. “When we’re prohibited from
something, we want to do it more.” 

The team is hoping to summit the peak on Saturday, after training
on a number of smaller peaks in the region , including summiting
the 15,489-foot Rumiñahui

Along the way, they’re hoping to show that amputees — given the
right prosthetic — are capable of anything.

“People aren’t disabled by a missing limb,” Jukes said, “but by a
missing prosthetic.”

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