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Zack Martin Breaking Barriers Grant Helps Bring Water to Needy Village in Ecuador

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Zack Martin bouldering. Courtesy of John Parsons.

A recent announcement that Ben Mapes would be the 2008 recipient of the AAC (American Alpine Club) Zack Martin Breaking Barriers Grant (ZMBB) hit a little close to home. You see, I attended high school with Zack Martin in Snellville, GA. We were 1995 graduates of South Gwinnett High School. Zack was killed in a tragic car accident on Thanksgiving Day in 2005, just before turning 25, but not before accomplishing more than most do in a lifetime.

Zack loved to climb mountains and he conquered several in his short time here on earth, including climbs in Mexico, Spain, Peru, Canada, Kazakhstan and the U.S.

Zack left behind a legacy. He not only sought to conquer the mountain tops, he sought to conquer the barriers between climbers and the villagers who live on those mountains.

The ZMBB Grant is the epitome of what Zack stood for. “Breaking Barriers.”

The grant is a dual-purpose grant fund with the primary objective of humanitarian efforts and the secondary purpose involving climbing and alpinism.

The announcement that Mapes would receive the grant was made on May 19 and the $1,750 would be applied towards his expedition to the village of Malingua, Pamba in the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador. Following his work to bring portable, clean water to the homes and schools of the village, he and his partner, Drew Lockman, climbed the 19,347 foot volcano, Cotopaxi.

Mapes, who originally thought the small scale climb might hinder his application for the grant, was pleasantly surprised when he was awarded the funds.

“One of the previous recipients [of the ZMBB Grant] climbed K2 (the second highest mountain on earth located in the Karakoram region of the Himalaya). Applying seemed like a longshot,” said Mapes. “I can’t exactly say why this project was chosen … the weight of volunteer work probably played a roll in my favor,” he said. “but this [ZMBB Grant] is within reach of a lot of people. … If people look at my project, my climb, you don’t have to be the pinnacle of mountaineer achievement … If this is inspiring to anyone, it’s certainly possible to get involved,” said Mapes.

Mapes has been climbing for more than 20 years. Some of his accomplishments include the Colorado Fourteeners, Mount Rainier, and the 20,300 foot Island Peak in Nepal.

Mapes also helped to start a chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) in Denver. EWB is a non-profit humanitarian organization established to partner with developing communities around the world to help improve their quality of life through engineering projects and training.

Mapes’ involvement with EWB is also what brought him to Malingua Pamba.

After applying for the ZMBB Grant, Mapes and Lockman traveled to Ecuador and worked in Malingua Pamba to bring the village a clean portable water system. The pair worked in the village about a week and then spent several days climbing Cotopaxi.

“When we returned, I received a request for more information on our expedition … it really seemed to fit the spirit and intent of the Zack Martin Breaking Barriers Grant,” Mapes said. “A lot of our work was educating and training the locals.”

After being awarded the grant money, Mapes turned around and donated the full amount to EWB.

The AAC ZMBB Grant was founded by John Parsons. Parsons met Zack in Alaska where they climbed the Tusk in Lake Clark National Park.

“I got caught in an avalanche,” Parsons said. “Zack jumps on top of the avalanche to rescue me while my climbing partner of many years does nothing,” he said. “Zack and I bonded like battle tested soldiers. We were instant life-long friends … my other climbing partner and I have never climbed again,” Parsons said.

Zack eventually moved to Boulder, Colo. and moved in with Parsons and his wife.

“We climbed together all over the planet and Zack always said to me ‘the only thing keeping you from breaking a barrier (climbing barrier) is yourself,’ he had a unique talent to get people around him to perform at their best or better,” Parsons said. “I have never seen this type of talent in any other person.”

Zack was a photojournalism student at Colorado University and was going to work for National Geographic as a photographer and for North Face as a professional climber.

“Zack received several climbing grants,” Parsons said. “He stated to me before his tragic car accident that he was never going to go to another country and climb unless he could ‘give back’ to the community,” Parsons said. “Zack was infectious in his love of life and the potential to do … this was epidemic for everyone that was around him.”

To make a donation to AAC ZMBB Grant or to read more about it visit To learn more about EWB visit

Click Here to see photos from the village of Malingua, Pamba in the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador