In May, Melissa Arnot became the first American woman to successfully climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. A month earlier, her good friend and business manager in Seattle, Christine Hass, had a baby.
After such life-changing feats, you might think the two of them would want a leisurely summer. Maybe hang out at the pool and do a little less after summiting 29,028 feet in brutal conditions on dangerously thin mountain air, or caring for a newborn day and night after giving birth.
But you’d be wrong. Instead, the women are now helping Arnot’s climbing protégé, Maddie Miller, tackle a new adventure called the 50 Peaks Challenge, which involves climbing the highest point in all 50 U.S. states in 50 days.
With Microsoft Band, Skype, Office and Surface empowering their journey, Arnot and Miller are now on a cross-country race against the clock in a camper van named “Tiffany,” with Hass providing support from her home office in Seattle. The epic road trip and expedition kicked off on June 27 when Miller summited 20,308-foot Denali in Alaska. She then flew to Florida to join Arnot, who sustained a cold-related foot injury on Everest and skipped Denali to recover and finalize logistics.
After quickly reworking their plans – part of their nimble nature in the business — the pair is now heading north and west, before flying to Hawaii for a final hike up Mauna Kea in Hawaii. If they’re successful, Miller will be the first woman to complete the challenge.
For the trio, 50 Peaks is less about mountaineering and more about a powerful team working together to achieve goals, share a joy for adventure, and inspire others to accomplish great things. It’s a chance for Arnot, a renowned professional climbing guide, to mentor a younger athlete and share her vast mountaineering experience, which began at 19. She had quit an ad-writing job in Iowa, drove west and lived out of her truck to climb mountains.
“This year is really a year of mentorship, and it’s pretty special. It’s the most responsibility I’ve ever had in terms of teaching and caring for people,” says Arnot, who started her climbing business seven years ago. Earning success in a male-dominated industry, Arnot has summited Everest six times, led expeditions on three continents and climbed to the top of Mount Rainier more than a hundred times.
She has also supported others. This year, she guided a 13-year-old girl on climbs in Nepal for six weeks. She worked on her non-profit organization, The Juniper Fund, which helps families of Sherpas killed on Everest. And she’s been preparing Miller for 50 Peaks, on everything from gear to workouts to mental stamina. The two met in 2013, when Arnot guided Miller on a climb up Rainier as part of Miller’s high school graduation gift from her dad.
“It’s been teaching her the skills to be technically ready, but also the skills to have the confidence in herself that she can do this,” Arnot says of 50 Peaks, which includes technical climbs, shorter hikes and six summits in a single day.
For Miller, the challenge is an opportunity to learn mountaineering and life skills from a thriving entrepreneur and world-class climber.
“Melissa is a really important person in my life, not just for guiding me up mountains,” says Miller, a 21-year-old Colorado College senior majoring in mathematical economics. “She’s taught me that women can achieve so much, and do so much, and there’s no limitation.”
The essential, behind-the-scenes glue and magic of Arnot’s business, Infinity Expeditions, belongs to Hass, the group’s go-to, get-it-done executor. As an efficiency expert and administrative director of another company that specializes in wilderness medical care, Hass manages details and logistics. She deals with sponsors, clients, insurance, flights, budgets, media and Arnot’s many speaking engagements. She’s the doer to Arnot’s thinker and climber; when Arnot suggests a raffle to sell the van after 50 Peaks, Hass is thinking of three ways to accomplish it.
“I love being able to support [Arnot] and find success in making the business successful,” says Hass. “It is efficiency, the making things happen, the completion of a project.”
The pair has developed a winning formula for running a business, with Microsoft technology playing a major role. To train for Everest and other climbs — and encourage clients on their workouts — Arnot uses Microsoft Band, which tracks heart rate, mileage and elevation.
Because she works remotely much of the time, she and Hass need seamless tools to keep in touch, scale the business and collaborate efficiently from different parts of the world. For that, they turned to Microsoft’s cloud and Skype for Business, which enables dial-in access (handy for calling in from a big mountain). They save, share and edit emergency plans, the 50 Peaks schedule and other important content in OneNote. And they use Office Lens to scan receipts and avoid the end-of-trip headache of paper piles.
Everything is done on the light-weight, high-performance Surface Pro 4 — particularly useful when Arnot is 17,600 feet in the air at Everest’s base camp, where every ounce counts.
“Using a lot of different pieces of technology to keep us all connected is probably one of the biggest things that’s helpful for me,” Hass says of 50 Peaks.
The adventure is the latest in a series of expeditions marked by both elation and tragedy, including the 2010 death of one of Arnot’s climbing partners, the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal and two years of deadly avalanches on Everest.
Through it all, the women have supported each other in an extreme sport that’s often nomadic, isolating and tough on friendships. After the deaths, Arnot returned to the U.S. each time to grieve in Hass’ home. After Hass became a new mom this year, she Skyped Arnot in Nepal to introduce her newborn daughter. They’ve been able to bridge distance and time zones through technology.
“When we were both 20-something-years-old and started this friendship and business together, I never could have imagined that this would be our lives,” says Arnot. As she reviewed her itinerary and massive amounts of gear with Hass in the final days before 50 Peaks, she was grateful for the support.
“Getting ready for this huge challenge of climbing 50 peaks in 50 days, I know that there’s no way I could have done that without Christine,” Arnot says. “We’re stronger together.”
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: The first of the 50 peaks is the most challenging. Denali at 20,310 above sea level it is the highest peak in North America.