If the definition of cosmopolitan is “someone who has a lot of knowledge and experience of many different countries and cultures”, we could coin the term mountainpolitan to refer to Weny Sánchez. One of our strongest altitude guides, Weny feels at ease in the big mountains, the steepest Patagonian environment or the granite crags. At 32, she’s climbed Aconcagua 15 times, opened routes in the Fitz Roy and Torre massifs and she’s a 5.13b (8a) sport climber.
As a new Aconcagua season is approaching, we sat down with Weny to talk mountains. Here are some of her thoughts on Aconcagua, climbing and being a female guide.
How and why did you choose a career in the mountains?
I grew up in Barreal, San Juan, where there are mountains around you at the four points of the compass. It is hard not to notice them, they are there and they are huge! I used to play field hockey, but at 15 I broke a wrist. I wasn’t able to play but I could walk, and my coach enrolled me in a mountain skills course he was teaching. By the end of my high school I had spent the last two summers in the hills, and I decided to attend the guiding school in Mendoza.
Which is your favorite activity, and what climbs have been special for you?
In the last 15 years I have been climbing and mountaineering. I have had times where I only climb long, expedition-style big mountains in the Central Andes or the North of Argentina, Chile and Peru; or only 3 or 4 days alpine climbs in Patagonia. Or I just get fanatical about sport climbing, or even bouldering, living in a van for months, in Europe. I am not one of those lucky persons that can achieve their full potential at one thing while practicing other three or four activities at the same time. So when I get motivated with one activity, I put all my time and effort into it. Right now, that discipline is sport climbing.
And for special climbs, most of them have been special! Every mountain, every pitch, all the learning, the emotions and the landscapes, to remember forever. And all the persons with whom I shared those moments. Maybe for other people the climbs in Patagonia were the “specials”. For me, it has been special since the first time I shouldered a big backpack, or that I tied to the end of a rope and got 1.000 meters above the ground, in a vertical world of rock and ice.
What does Aconcagua mean to you?
A big mountain! And still beautiful in every way you look at it, in spite of the crowds or the human impact. I am lucky to be able to work doing what I love, and in such a special place. It’s rewarding to be a part of the personal challenge of someone trying to climb this mountain -and it’s a big challenge-.
I believe that mountains, and specially at altitude, reveal the best and the worst in people. And when the better part shows up, it’s just awesome!
What it is like to be a female guide in an environment where male guides are predominant?
I received my degree in 2008, and became a High Mountain Guide at 21. I had my share of luck, since I’ve always worked with colleagues who didn’t make any gender difference. To me, in that first season the “crux” was meeting the clients for the first time, at the Airport or the hotel. They wouldn’t express it verbally, but their faces were like “Oh, is this girl going to take me to Aconcagua?” Anyway, it wasn’t that bad, the funny faces went away in the first day in the mountain.
All in all, being a girl was never a big issue, in Aconcagua and in other mountains where I’ve guided.
Nowadays there are more women in the scene, either climbing or mountaineering. There are more girls in Aconcagua than 10 years ago. And the girls are going strong! You don’t need to look far to see girls pushing the boundaries. It’s inspiring.
I think that as female guides, we bring in important stuff to an expedition. Different group leadership, a different kind of contact with people. We have another way of caring and we are able to perceive different details, we can relate to people from another perspective. But on the other hand, the boys do their share too. So I prefer to see it in terms of “working groups,” rather than as men and women, where everyone contributes with different attitudes and skills. That adds up to get the job done as efficiently as possible, and above all to provide a great experience.
You are one of the few guides who is sponsored (by the Argentinian mountain gear brand Ansilta), what are the benefits and responsibilities?
Ansilta makes the best technical clothing in the country -or even in Latin America. The brand has been growing steadily, there are a lot of people working and they are really committed with improvement. I have garments so good that even using them for years they look new. They are always with me!
I use Ansilta garments for my adventures or for testing purposes since 2012. The Design Team guys are super open and always take our ideas into account. The obvious benefit is to be able to use great quality gear, that make a huge difference in any climb or expedition. As for responsibilities, my job is to provide opinions and ideas, and also photographs of the climbs.
Weny Sánchez was born and raised in Barreal, San Juan. Her hometown is close to the Ansilta range and Mount Mercedario, that can be seen from the high slopes of Aconcagua, to the North. Her impressive CV includes:
- 15 Aconcagua (6.960m) ascents (14 guiding, one ascent in the day, from Plaza Argentina).
- 2 Mercedario (6.770m) ascents, guiding.
- Almost all the Ansilta range peaks, and sixthousands in the Argentinean Puna, in Perú and in Bolivia including difficult, technical routes, new routes and winter ascents.
- Patagonia climbs: cerro Fitz Roy (Franco-Argentinian route); North Pillar of Fitz Roy (new route, Huasos on de Rock); Saint Exupery, Aguja de la S, Aguja Rafael Juárez (new route). Cerro Torre (new route, Directa Huarpe, on the West Face).
- Rock climbing: Weny has climbed up to 5.13b (8a) routes in sport climbing, 5.12c/5.12d (7b+/ 7c) in alpine climbing, and V6 (7A) routes in bouldering.
- Weny has been guiding in Aconcagua for the last 8 seasons. She is currently a lead guide at Grajales Expeditions.
[ Interview by: Nicolás García / Photos: Weny Sánchez’ personal archive]