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AWE started with a simple climb

It started with a solo, unsupported ascent of 22,838ft Aconcagua’s Normal Route. That type of ascent is not a big deal on Aconcagua since the normal route is heavily frequented and not technically difficult; the mountain sees numerous solo ascents each season. But for some reason… this climb was different.

Why? Because the climber was a woman, and that seemed to upset the normal order of things.

Sunny Stroeer was a management consultant and weekend warrior when she decided to climb Aconcagua solo and without support in the austral summer of 2014 – not to make a statement, but because Aconcagua seemed like the perfect, i.e. approachable and not overly hazardous, mountain to attempt solo as a relatively new but very motivated high altitude mountaineer. She wanted to push her personal mountaineering limits in a comparatively safe environment.

Which is why she was taken aback by the common reaction she encountered on the mountain:

“Where is your guide? Or are you here with your husband? Wait – you’re all by yourself?”

What shouldn’t have been a big deal — a solo ascent of Aconcagua — suddenly became a big deal, for no other reason that that it was done by a woman. Sunny’s experience drove home the fact that many still do not consider the mountains a women’s place. Sure, there are many inspiring examples of women pushing hard in the mountains and going after breathtaking objectives – and yet there seems to be a lingering assumption that, on average, the mountains are for men.

Sunny running down low on Aconcagua’s 360 route, on a return trip to the mountain that involved a speed record.

After a successful climb of Aconcagua, Sunny returned home with a newfound appreciation for both high altitude climbing and the gender gap in mountaineering. Having been deeply involved in efforts to address gender bias and women empowerment both in graduate school and throughout her corporate career, Sunny decided to take a step beyond simply lamenting the gender gap in the mountains and instead actively do something about it; the seed for AWE was planted.

Today, AWE runs all-women’s high mountain trips across four continents, with more destinations in the works.

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