Meet Our Climbers: Mike Phipps


Meet Our Climbers: Mike Phipps
We’re excited to introduce you to some of the climbers who’ve made Embark expeditions so memorable. Today, we’re sharing the inspiring story of Mike Phipps.

Mike Phipps has been hiking all over the United States for more than 50 years. He’s summited high peaks up and down the East Coast, hiked all over the Grand Canyon, and has seen some of the country’s most treasured national parks – including Yosemite, Zion, and Bryce Canyon national parks. And, not for nothing, he’s hiked Mount Kilimanjaro and to Everest Base Camp in Nepal.

Mike Phipps and his climbing team on Cotopaxi
Mike Phipps and his climbing team on Cotopaxi

And, newly retired, Mike was looking for a new challenge. That’s when he learned about Cotopaxi, the second-tallest peak in Ecuador and among the tallest in South America. After learning more about the climb, Mike tackled Cotopaxi in early 2019.

Mike talked with us about his third adventure with Embark Exploration Co. – and what made it so memorable.

What inspired you to climb Cotopaxi?

Truth be told, I most recently became aware of Cotopaxi, and pushing myself to rise to the challenge was my driving force. I most recently retired and am learning that age is just a number.

Why Cotopaxi, of all places? 

After experiencing Tanzania and Nepal, South America seemed like it would be a great fit and a wonderful adventure! Plus, at least in my circles, Cotopaxi was a relatively unknown hiking destination – I have to keep my climbing buddies guessing!

Was this your first trip with Embark Exploration Co.?

Cotopaxi was actually my third trip with Embark Exploration Co.; I’d previously done Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp with Embark, and I’ve always been impressed with how the company structures their treks.

From high quality accommodations, delicious meals, and outstanding support, Embark is the only company I will use now and in the future

I am so impressed with how Embark structures its treks. Embark is in constant contact from the moment you sign up – answering questions, addressing concerns, and assisting you with preparation. And then on the trek itself, they always build a cultural experience into their climbs and employ local, knowledgeable guides and support staff, as well as having excellent equipment. It comes down to trust, and I trust Embark.

What inspired you to tackle such a monumental trek?

I do a lot of volunteer work with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, so I see firsthand the devastating effects of  blood cancer. Witnessing the strength and courage of those in treatment, I have come to understand that challenges (and your ability to raise to them) defines who you are as a person. I take strength from that! 

Were there any specific moments or memories that stuck out during the climb?

Besides the obvious, it’s a comfort zone thing. It’s been said that your comfort zone is a wonderful place, but nothing grows there – so pushing the limits of what you can endure helps you grow as a person. You learn a lot about yourself through adversity, so specifically, for me, I’d say facing  those moments of doubt – when you’re not sure if you can go on or complete your goal – always stick with me the most.

How did it feel to reach the summit?

I always feel humbled when I make it to the top, but it wasn’t me – it was us. We got to the summit together. But getting to the top is only half the trek; getting safely back down is the true goal.  It’s amazing how exhausted you are when you finally reach it, but that all goes away and is replaced by relief, wonder, and amazement.

 It wasn’t just the climb that got you to the top, but everything in your life coming together in that one moment. Family, friends, the life you built for yourself … allowing you this small moment of triumph.  When I reach the summit, I am grateful, grateful for it all!

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