But for the Cienskis, the risks are worth the reward. "We want to encourage other people to do things," says Sandi. "We're 47, and it's not too late for us. We still get passionate and involved."
For Alicia McDowell at Araminta and Lil Gurney, who runs GraceCity's after-school program, SHARPKids, the Cienskis are an inspiration.
"As the Cienskis' friend, I couldn't be more proud," says McDowell. "They see the need, know their gifting and are bringing the two together to stand for justice."
Gurney agrees, noting that the glamorous nature of Mission 14's trip will inspire both kids and adults. "Being able to journey alongside Nick on these adventures will open kids' worlds to opportunities to use their gifts and talents for something bigger than themselves." For the children she works with, many of whom rarely leave their Baltimore neighborhoods, that example will be invaluable.
Though he'll spend much of the next two years miles above sea level, Nick Cienski's relationships with people like McDowell and Gurney — and the kids they help — keep him grounded. "Traveling and spending time in different places is exciting," he says. "There are so many interesting stories and images. But I'm most looking forward to building an audience that wants to help and get involved."
The Plan: What he's climbing next
Between 2014 and 2015, Nick Cienski and a team of climbers will scale 14 of the world's highest mountains. He and his team are currently focused on the first leg of his trip: the six mountains they will climb during 2014. This is their schedule for the next year:
April: Makalu (27,776 feet, Nepal)
May: Kanchenjunga (28,169 feet, Nepal)
May: Mount Everest (29,029 feet, Nepal)
May: Lhotse (27,940 feet, Nepal)
October: Shishapangma (26,289 feet, Tibet)
October/November: Cho Oyu (26,906 feet, Tibet)
In 2015, Cienski will travel to Nepal and Pakistan to climb eight more mountains, ranging between 26,360 feet and 28,250 feet.
Nick Cienski's Mountain Climbing Tips
Nick Cienski stresses that mountain climbing is a hobby that cannot be adopted lightly. His advice for novice climbers is psychological, rather than physical.
Love the adventure: "Climbing is so hard," says Cienski. "You travel far from home and you're in a situation that's very fluid and dangerous. The degree of passion for the activity has to be very high because of the amount of dedication necessary." He says that no matter what the climb, commitment, energy, dedication and passion are necessary to a successful journey.
Embrace the journey: The summit should not be the sole driver of a climb, warns Cienski. "Chances are you won't summit as much as you hope to," he says. He suggests looking for the beauty and satisfaction in every element of the climb. "When you're climbing at night and see that sunrise, that should be as uplifting as standing on top of a mountain."
Team up: Cienski enjoys getting to know his teammates during climbs — he values the camaraderie and team effort required to scale a mountain. "You have to trust them with your life and vice versa. The group of people you're with make up the adventure."
Keeping up with Cienski: Read more about Mission 14 and keep up with the adventures through mission14.org.