Tyler Andrews, an American pro runner, climbed from the trailhead to the summit in 7h 35’, and from Plaza de Mulas to the top in 3h 32’, setting new ascent records.
by Nicolás García
The 2021-22 Aconcagua climbing season was reduced to a half, due to Covid restrictions. But it was all American ultrarunner Tyler Andrews needed, to set two new speed records in the Normal Route. In January and with a few days between both features, Andrews achieved the Ascent FKT (Fastest Known Time) from both Plaza de Mulas base camp to the summit and from the trailhead to the summit (13,838’ of vertical gain).
Ph Courtesy Tyler Andrews – www.chaski.run
Andrews (31) registered very impressive times running uphill, but he wasn’t able to keep his pace in the descent. He mentioned problems with a crampon and too many climbers in the trail. As a result, he broke both ascent marks, but not the round trip records (for now: he plans to try again next February).
An accomplished pro marathon runner (he held the 50 km World record), Tyler is making a name for himself in the mountains. He spends part of the year in Ecuador, where he trains in the Andes and has set speed records on Cotopaxi and other peaks.
Plaza de Mulas – Summit in 3:32
Andrews registered the first record on January 15. He turned on the crono at the ranger’s post in Plaza de Mulas, and a mere 3h 32m 13s later he stood at the summit of Aconcagua. More than 8,530 ft of vertical gain…in three and a half hours.
The speed ascent from base camp to the summit (14,300’ to 22,837’) is an iconic challenge. In the 80s and 90s, local mountaineers used to compete to improve the mark, taking advantage of the fitness and acclimatisation they gained by working in the mountain all summer long. They’d climb to the summit in 6 to 8 hours. It was more about bragging between friends than about titles, though.
But then the end of the 20th century brought a new, astonishing mark. In February of the year 2000 a trio of “skyrunning” legends, the Italians Bruno Brunod, Favio Meraldi and Jean Pellissier, donned running gear to stride up the slopes. Starting from the old Plaza de Mulas hotel -farther from the summit than the current base camp-, all three of them reached the summit in 3h 40m 20s.
The Italians’ speed climb was a breakthrough, an advancement of the ‘light and fast’ climbing style that would mark the years to come.
Over the next decades many climbers turned their attention to rapid, light ascents, while at the same time many road runners began tackling big mountains. Improved training methods and equipment, as well as new knowledge about the effects of altitude, helped them push the boundaries and reap unthinkable times in peaks around the World.
But years -and climbers- went by and the Italians’ feat in Aconcagua kept unsurpassed. It wasn’t until 2019 that Martin Zhor, a Czech athlete, was able to break the Plaza de Mulas – summit FKT, by 2 minutes. And that only in the way up; the round trip record still remains in Brunod, Meraldi and Pellissier’s hands (feet), thanks to an astonishing 1h 11m descent to base camp.
Zhor, a Chamonix-based mountain runner, climbed to the summit in 3h 38’ 17’’. He had to “crawl in all fours” the last 50 metres, according to his own account (www.martinzhor.com/aconcaqua). And afterwards he spent 20 minutes at the summit, exhausted.
The new FKT, however, didn’t last much. Aconcagua remained closed to visitors in 201-21, due to Covid restrictions. As soon as the mountain opened again (2021-22), Tyler Andrews showed up in Plaza de Mulas, and trimmed six minutes from Zhor’s speed mark… during a training session!
Ph Courtesy Tyler Andrews – www.chaski.run
Aconcagua in the day
Up and down Aconcagua in one single push, from the road. That is, climbing close to 4,000m of vertical gain along 40km, going from the hot, dry air of the Playa Ancha to the rarefied, cold atmosphere of the seven thousand metres in a few hours, to stand in the highest place in the planet excluding the Asian ranges. And going all the way down, down the endless slopes and back to the starting point at the trailhead. As a reference, regular guided expeditions take 13 to 15 days to climb the mountain (taking acclimatization into account).
The Argentine-American guide Willie Benegas was the first person to claim the Horcones – summit – Horcones climb, in the year 2000. He stopped the clock at 23h 30m, adding the “in one day” badge to the challenge.
With fast ascents booming everywhere, the Normal route of Aconcagua attracted some of the world’s best mountain runners. Famed athletes such as Killian Jornet (12h 49m, in 2014) and Karl Egloff (11h 52m, in 2015) flew up and down the mountain. Strong mountaineers with a lower profile, such as Holmes Pantoja and Jaime Quiróz, from Perú, also held the FKT.
And then Tyler Andrews found his lucky weather window in Aconcagua this past January. It was 6 AM on the 24th when he set the clock and strode from the rangers’ post in Horcones. After a 7h 35’ 21’’ climb, the former “flatlander” reached the summit, and his second Aconcagua record: 20 minutes less than Karl Egloff’s reigning time.
Karl Egloff on an Andean summit – www.acelerando.com.ec
But a broken grampon -and arguably Egloff’s advantage in technical descents- kept Andrews from taking home the main trophy: the round trip record. This coveted FKT remains in Egloff’s resume… at least until next season, when Andrews plans to come back to finish the job.
Will next season bring a new female record?
So far, Aconcagua’s female records have seen far less competition than its male counterpart. But this could change next season, when at least two athletes plan to give it a try.
The first female athlete to run up and down Aconcagua was Fernanda Maciel, who in 2016 completed the round trip from the trailhead in one day (22h 52m). The Ecuadorian runner Dani Sandoval holds the tough FKT currently, with a 20h 17m time.
Fernanda Maciel – www.huckmag.com
The round trip Plaza de Mulas -Summit- Plaza de Mulas female FKT still belongs to local guide Chabela Farías (12h 40m).
Sunny Stroeer, an amateur German-American athlete, holds female records in both the shortest segment, Plaza de Mulas to the summit, (ascent only), with 8h 47m, and the longest: the so-called circumnavigation of Aconcagua, climbing to the summit by the Vacas Valley and descending by the Horcones valley. It took Stroeer two days (47h 30m) to finish this ultra-endurance challenge.
Here’s a link to Andrews’ own account: https://www.chaski.run/post/a-quarter-inch-of-metal-broke-my-heart-and-nearly-killed-me-aconcagua