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Monkton mountain climber trying to raise awareness about human trafficking through 6 Summits Challenge

Nick Cienski at Everest Base Camp in April 2015.
Nick Cienski at Everest Base Camp in April 2015.(Elia Saikaly, Baltimore Sun)

In the summer of 2010, Nick Cienski took a life-changing trip to Nicaragua. Since then, he has been determined to change lives.

During his time in Nicaragua, Cienski and his wife, Sandi, saw and heard harrowing accounts about human trafficking.

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The 48-year-old Monkton resident, who is the senior director of innovation at Under Armour, didn't want to write a check to help address the issue. If he was a golfer, he said, he would have considered putting together a charity tournament.

But Cienski's passion has always been climbing mountains, so he came up with a much higher goal to raise awareness for the growing epidemic.

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The idea of the 6 Summits Challenge expedition — climbs of six mountains higher than 26,000 feet —- came to Cienski when he was in bed one night shortly after his trip to Nicaragua. Five years in the works, he has a six-person team as well as the backing of Under Armour and other major corporations to raise money and awareness.

"The passion for me comes from my faith in that I believe we are here to do God's will and that's to help others who need help. So, for me, that's always been there, but I never had a way to show it until this happened," said Cienski, who founded Mission 14 to raise awareness of human trafficking. "And so for me, going to Nicaragua — seeing what I saw and hearing what I heard — and then launching this whole thing has really become a fulfillment of that."

The expedition, which would break the world climbing record, was supposed to begin in the spring, but was delayed when a devastating earthquake and avalanches struck Nepal in late April. Cienski was there, along with Sandi, preparing to climb Mount Everest in the first leg. They survived and instead of climbing they ended up serving those in need. The 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed thousands and injured and displaced many others. It also allows traffickers to prey that much more on the people of Nepal.

The three Nepal-based spring expeditions were canceled. But Cienski will continue in July in Pakistan. His team will attempt to summit Gasherbrum, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum II, which are the 11th-, 12th- and 13th-highest peaks in the world, respectively. In late August, Cienski will travel to Tibet and attempt to summit Shishapangma (14th-highest peak) and from there climb Cho Oyu (sixth) in September before returning to Nepal to climb Manslu (eighth) later in the month. Sandi will join him for the last expedition.

On Thursday, Cienski was back at Under Armour headquarters sharing his experience with company employees, also encouraging them to take action to help the cause.

"He's just a dedicated man," Cienski's wife said. "When he gets his teeth into something, that's it. It's just all heart and inspiring."

Cienski looks forward to the upcoming challenge, and all the awareness it will raise.

"The task at hand is monumental, but it's one of these things that you can't think of it that way. You have to sort of take it in bite-size chunks," Cienski said. "So that's always been the way we've approached it. Some of these mountains are massive, so they do bring their own sort of reputation and history along with them where they are dangerous. And so you sort of have to approach it carefully."

Visit 6summithcallenge.com and mission14.org to learn more.

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