For weeks, they abandoned sleep and lived in a van, as they drove 19,000 miles across the country and hiked on snow, desert and scree in a race against time. The two women were tackling the 50 Peaks Challenge, an effort to climb the highest points in 50 states in 50 days, in a journey marked by storms, wildfire, exhaustion — and resolve.
On Sunday atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, climber Maddie Miller not only completed the grueling test, she set a new record by finishing it in the fastest time ever: 41 days, 16 hours and 10 minutes. Miller finished 50 Peaks with help of renowned climber and professional guide Melissa Arnot, who hiked with Miller for 49 of the peaks.
“Everything Melissa has achieved has really inspired me to go above and beyond and achieve something for myself as well,” says Miller, a college student from Colorado.
Arnot skipped the first climb, Mount Denali in Alaska, after setting a record herself in May as the first woman to successfully climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. She did it with the help of a strong support network — especially her business partner Christine Hass — and she relished the chance to help and mentor someone else.
“I had the opportunity to help Maddie achieve one of her biggest dreams and goals,” says Arnot. But she had sustained a frostbite injury on Everest and needed to skip Denali to recover, so knew that her role in 50 Peaks was solely to support Miller, her longtime protégé.
“I immediately saw that this is my opportunity to give back the gift I was given — of helping someone achieve their goals,” she says.
Successful in a male-dominated sport, the women have become inspirational figures for their record accomplishments, which they reached with the help of Microsoft technologies. During 50 Peaks, they used Bing Maps to pilot the trip, OneNote and OneDrive to plan logistics, and Microsoft Band to monitor their heart rate, mileage, elevation gain and hiking paths.
The Band also helped the women traverse unfamiliar terrain. The demanding pace meant long stretches of driving, sometimes 15 hours, and several hikes in a single day. They often slept only an hour or two at a time and hiked at night.
In Wyoming, while Miller was navigating the way down Gannett Peak — part of a strenuous 40-mile round trip — they got the feeling they were lost. They were hiking in a single push, moving continuously for what would be 27 hours by the time they were done. It was 2 a.m. They were exhausted.
Finally, Arnot looked at the GPS track the Band had created of their hike. It confirmed they were off-course and showed them the trail. “It was a great way to teach Maddie what she was doing with navigating,” says Arnot. “We had done a full, complete circle.”
Other problems included a major forest fire, limited trail hours, a broken van and getting lost on back roads. In their sleep deprivation, they entered wrong info in their map and ended up in someone’s backyard in Virginia. Another time, they had to drive an extra 140 miles on a Pennsylvania turnpike to correct their course.
Through it all, Arnot used Microsoft tools to stay efficient and agile, re-routing when needed. Every morning, she wrote the day’s itinerary in OneNote on her Surface and shared it in OneDrive. She often used Skype to talk to Hass in Seattle about work details like upcoming climbs, new clients and speaking engagements.
“The tools really just maximized our efficiency,” Arnot says.
Miller now plans to return to Colorado and Arnot will head back to Nepal, where she’ll keep running her small business with Hass.
“That’s the biggest way Microsoft will continue to be a part of my business,” she says. “Especially with OneDrive and OneNote, they’ve created a virtual desk that Christine and I both sit at, no matter where in the world I am.”
Some people are surprised that Arnot, a petite woman, is an accomplished guide who has summited Everest six times and Mount Rainier more than a hundred.
But as she grows her business with the help of technology, Arnot is breaking boundaries and inspiring others to achieve their goals.
“I never doubt what I’m capable of, but sometimes people on the outside looking in doubt what I’m capable of,” she says.
“Anytime you do something unexpected that people didn’t think was possible, it changes the landscape of how people view things as possible.”
Follow Arnot’s story at Microsoft’s Tumblr page, a celebration of people who go above and beyond, reach their dreams and inspire us every day.
Lead image: Melissa Arnot, left, and Maddie Miller, right, climb Mount Hood as part of the 50 Peaks Challenge.