Aconcagua Speed Run
Aconcagua (6,961 meters, or 22,838 ft), located in the Andes mountain range, Argentina, is the highest point in both the Western Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. It remains a much sought-after and formidable challenge for modern-day mountaineers. adidas Outdoor athletes Elizabeth "Libby" Sauter and Suzanne "Sunny" Stroeer are currently (Jan. 23, 2017) on the mountain, training for an attempt on the team speed record, from the park entrance to the top. On Saturday, Jan. 21, Libby left Camp Nido (Camp 2) and summited in a quick 7:45, typically a 12 hour trek. Monday, the 23nd, as Libby rested, partner Sunny threw down a training run from basecamp to the summit, taking 8:47 and breaking the existing female base camp to summit ascent speed record by 29 minutes The ladies subsequently launched two attempts on the long speed attempt from the trailhead to the summit and back(~40 miles roundtrip and 16,000ft of climbing), but were forced to turn around short of the summit both times.
Aconcagua 2017: Final Updates from the Mountain
Aconcagua 2017: Updates from the Mountain
Feb 12, 2017
It's Sunday afternoon, and Libby and I are sitting in Penitentes yet again; I have lost count of how many days we've spent in this sleepy little ski station at the foot of the mountain since the start of our Aconcagua adventures over six weeks ago.
Well. This is bound to be one of the last times, because tomorrow afternoon we shall be on our way again to attempt the big bush from the Horcones trailhead to the summit and back - the same mission that we failed on just over two weeks ago. We're hoping that this time will be different: Libby and I are both healthy now, and we have an incredibly lean setup on the mountain. The last go-around was designed as a supported push with photographer and ultarunner John Evans in position to assist us on the upper mountain, and fully equipped aid/sleeping station tents in place both at 14,500ft as well as at 18,300ft. This time it's just Libby and me with a bit of coordination help from our local friend Juli who will ensure that we have potable water waiting for us at Camp II, where the only way to find drinking water is to melt snow. We stashed warm clothes and extra food on the mountain, and we do have emergency sleeping bags... but no tents, and no pacer support for the upper mountain.
You may wonder - why do we believe that we can pull off the 70km roundtrip climb now when we didn't manage to do it with higher levels of support the last time? Here are the lessons that we internalized from the last attempt:
- This is a team effort. We will support each other, encourage each other, not split up, and get it done together or not at all. On the last go we knew from the start that I had very little chances of getting high on the mountain (due to my lingering respiratory infection) so it was going to be up to Libby to push through solo for big stretches of the run.
- Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Our pace up to basecamp was stiff last time - likely a bit too stiff for the two of us. We're planning to slow down the approach and save steam, our breath and strong legs for the upper mountain where they're needed most!
- PowerBar, Trail Butter and HalfPops have been awesome in keeping us fueled on the go, but we squarely did not take in enough calories early on the last go. Yet another reason for us slow things down and make sure we're fueling frequently and sufficiently.
- We've got very little incentive to stop since we don't have tents set up on the mountain, and lots of incentive to keep going - there is a frenzy of record and big push activity on the mountain right now, which makes everything more exciting! Ecuadorian Nicolas Miranda just set a new speed record on the 360 route (which traverses both the Vacas Valley and the Horcones Valley) yesterday, and his fifteen year old team mate Daniela Calapiña is vying to best my recent basecamp-summit women's FKT on the same day that Libby and are planning to summit during the big push.
The weather is looking good, we are rested and anxious to get moving, and now all there is to do is show up at the trailhead and get 'er done. Let's do this!!
PS - we'll have live GPS again if you want to see how we're faring this time, and Paul will keep my Instagram up-to-date on go day. Thank you all for the amazing support and encouragement you've been giving us along the way!
By Libby Sauter on Feb 4, 2017
"International Flight Number 8244 from Mendoza to Los Angeles, FINAL BOARDING. Paging customers Elizabeth Sauter and Suzanne Stroeer. We are now closing the boarding door.”
At least, I imagine that’s what they said when Sunny and I didn’t show up for our flights back home this morning.
The last few days in Mendoza have been tumultuous. Should we stay and give the mountain another go? The weather has been terrible up there. I (Libby) have a cold and cough. We’ve already spent so much time, money, sweat, tears and effort up there. But on the flip side, we’ve already spent weeks getting acclimated and familiar with the trails. The locals on the mountain have encouraged us to give it another go with their logistical help. Coming back next year would be even more expensive…
We agonized. We debated. One minute we were packing to go home. The next, we were definitely staying. Our decision flip flopped like a fish in a dried up stream.
But in the end, with the generous and unwavering support of adidas Outdoor, we realized the regret and the unexplored outcome of a team attempt would torment us more than the ensuing dent to our bank accounts.
So, there it is. We are going back in. Tomorrow (Sunday), we head back to the trailhead and will hike into Confluencia. Monday will have us at Base Camp. Tuesday and Wednesday will be spent setting up our aid station at Camp Two, Nido. From there, we come back out of the park to rest at the trailhead for a few days until we see a good weather window.
The #cardiocrawl effort continues!
By Sunny Stroeer on Feb 2, 2017
Boy oh boy. It is 6:30am on a Thursday morning, and I am tossing and turning on the top bunk in our $20/night hostel room in Mendoza. Libby and John are still asleep, and I should be too - I only just went to bed a couple hours ago - but there is too much on my mind. We're supposed to fly home in two days, but Libby and I have unfinished business.
While we both tagged the summit - and pretty fast, too! he :) - we did not complete our main objective: the 70km roundtrip run from the Horcones trailhead to the summit and back. We knew from the start that I probably wasn't going to be in shape for the long one, seeing how my lungs were still acting up after the quickie ascent from basecamp to the summit; our plan was to stick together for as long as possible, and for Libby to continue on and get it done once I had to tap out.
We hit the trail at the park entrance right around 6pm, as the sun was starting to be low in the sky and the temperatures in the Lower Horcones valley were turning from scorching to tolerable. Everything went according to plan: we made it to Confluencia in just around 90 minutes, refueled on the go, and breezed through towards the long sandy slog from the confluence towards basecamp. As day turned to night the wind picked up; we buttoned up and continued straight into the sandy blasts. Shortly after nightfall and roughly 20km into the run, my energy ran out and I signaled to Libby that I wasn't going to be able to keep pace with her any longer. I sat down by a rock and started munching on a PowerBar as Libby's headlamp trailed off into the moonless night.
And that was the end of the story for me: I got myself to basecamp, checked Libby's position on GPS and fell into bed hoping for the best for Libby who now was facing a big, cold climb through the night - solo.
By Sunny Stroeer on Jan 28, 2017
This is it: the weather is looking decent, our legs are semi recovered from the hike out, supplies are in position on the mountain, and Libby's stoke for getting the in-a-push done is high. In other words, it's GAME ON.
We'll be starting from the Horcones trailhead around 6pm this evening (Sat Jan 28), and I'll be doing what I can to pace and support Libby as she's pushing onwards and upwards to 22,838ft. Libby is hoping to summit mid-day Sunday and be back down and out by early Monday morning. My assumption at this point is that I'll be able to keep her company for the 50km roundtrip to and from Plaza de Mulas, but then leave her to her own devices for the crux 20km on the upper mountain.
One way or the other - stoke is high, as is both our uncertainty about what the next 48 hours are going to bring. The live GPS is set up to be showing close to real-time updates (in 10 minute intervals) on the big push and my favorite boyfriend and expedition manager Paul will be keeping my Instagram current while we're off, as it were. Wish us luck, and send lots of strength and psych to Libby!
By Sunny Stroeer on Jan 26, 2017 03:25 pm
Whew. It's been just about eight days since Libby and I hiked back into Plaza de Mulas after our better half of Team Asquerosa left (hey Teresa, Kristina - we miss you!), and SO much has happened since then.
After a slow start and some difficulty acclimatizing in the first weeks of January Libby tagged her first Aconcagua summit this past Saturday; she was moving at an excellent clip for it, too: the trek from Nido (18,300) to the summit took Libby 7h45, where most regular climbers take around 12 hours.
I accompanied Libby to Nido in advance of her summit push but decided to wait and acclimatize for a while longer since I was flirting with the thought of trying for the women's speed record from basecamp to the summit. The existing speed record was set by the local guide and strong woman Chabela Farias in March 2016, who summited in a blazing 9h16 from basecamp and managed the subsequent descent in a mere 3h24 for the roundtrip record of 12h40. My and Libby’s main focus has always been on the “long” speed ascent from the Horcones Valley trailhead to the summit and back, but when I saw how fast I was climbing during the early weeks in January despite a lingering respiratory infection I started hatch plans for a “quickie” from basecamp to the summit.
Monday Jan 23 was my go day: I left Plaza de Mulas at 5:05am under perfectly calm and starry skies with mild temperatures and started the 8,400ft climb towards the top of the Americas, feeling strong. I only had a rough idea of the splits I’d need to hit in order to have a chance at Chabela’s 9h16 record, but when I reached Nido (18,300ft) just 2 hours and 44 minutes after leaving basecamp and then hit Camp Cholera another hour later I was starting to feel optimistic. I kept climbing briskly - interspersed by a few short breaks to refuel and transition to crampons - and stood on the summit 8 hours and 47 minutes after leaving Plaza de Mulas.
Even while taking summit photos and initiating radio contact with basecamp to confirm my ascent, I had already decided that I wasn’t going to try to break Chabela’s roundtrip record since I wanted to save my legs for Libby and my big trailhead - summit - trailhead speed attempt later in the week. That said, as soon as I started descending it became very clear that I couldn’t have matched Chabela’s descent time even if I had wanted to: while I felt strong on the way up, on the way down my lungs decided to acutely remind me that I wasn’t fully healed from my chest infection yet. Thankfully I had plenty of daylight left, as well as support along the way - first John Evans greeted me with coffee and a much appreciated hot meal at Nido, and later in the evening Libby trekked up to Conway Rocks to escort me back to basecamp at the end of a long day.
At this point, Libby and I are back down in Penitentes (just outside the park) and resting up for the long attempt. While I feel a lot better now than I did right after my summit push, chances are I won’t be in shape to go high on the mountain again in the next few days - so now the two key questions are: what is the best weather window for Libby to launch the big one, and how far will I be able to run with her for support and company?