“Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

About three years ago I read the book The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. In it, the author describes the life of Alexander von Humboldt, the Prussian scientist and explorer who strongly influenced a young Charles Darwin. During this time, I was seriously contemplating pursuing geology for my life’s work but had yet to delve into the subject fully. I found solace in the storied history of Humboldt, a man I viewed to possess traits of being that I someday wished to emulate.

A master of myriad disciplines, Humboldt characterized what I believe was the paragon life of the natural scientist unbound. Not only did he engineer his own instruments and culminate varied and complex – yet complete – datasets on some of the most magnificent but previously undocumented features of the natural world, he also excelled at public relations and scientific policy. Humboldt’s arduous push to explore the Americas and connect with its peoples inspired generations of civil development and social and environmental progress which to this day continues to be colorful and complex.

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Alexander von Humboldt Monument, El Ejido, Quito, Ecuador

I came to regard Humboldt as a being by which I felt inspired. I’ve recognized my tendency to identify esteemed individuals after which to model my actions as a trend which has followed me through my life. In fact, in my earlier years of self-reflection, I often deemed myself too impressionable: a quality I didn’t always embrace as beneficial to my development. I have since learned that seeking role models to guide me through first absorbing desirable traits and then incorporating habits into my own identity has helped me grow into a better scientist.

One of the journeys of Humboldt that I found particularly striking was when he climbed Chimborazo, a volcano in Ecuador. The volcano’s great height historically placed its peak as the highest in the world; however, modern instrumentation and exploration led to the discontinuation of that idea. Chimborazo is unique; though, in that its summit is the farthest point from the center of the Earth. Interestingly, our home planet takes the shape of an oblate spheroid: not a perfect sphere. The equator is slightly “fatter” and because of that, features on the surface near the so-called equatorial bulge extend to greater distances from the center. Thus, the summit of Chimborazo – which is at the equator – juts out from the center even farther than that of the majestic Mount Everest.

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Chimborazo

It is for this reason I seek to one day climb to the top of Chimborazo. With this goal in mind, a little over one year ago I journeyed to Ecuador to set my sights on the volcano. I’m still learning the techniques of climbing big mountains, so I did not attempt to summit on this trip. I did wish to get a “feel” for the environment; however, which I achieved. I took a trip to climb to what was at the time the highest accessible point on neighboring Cotopaxi. On my way, I saw Chimborazo in-person for the time and was overwhelmed with awe. From that moment I knew that my actions going forward would be in pursuit of the ultimate goal of standing atop that peak.

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Cotopaxi at dawn from Parque Metropolitano, Quito, Ecuador

I now leave you with a short poem I wrote to culminate the themes of my story here. I also hope that you too can find something worth “[looking] well to each step; and from the beginning [thinking] what may be the end”.

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Note: quote (and title) are by Edward Whymper, the English mountaineer who is credited with the first ascent of Chimborazo.

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