Brazilian ultrarunner Fernanda Maciel made history on Christmas Eve, 2022, when she scaled one of the legendary ‘Seven Summits’ in world-record time in the hostile environment of Antarctica – outpacing all known previous climbers with what is believed to be the summit’s first running ascent – then launched the dicey descent with barely moments to catch her breath.
Mount Vinson normally requires a minimum of five to seven days to climb via mountaineering or ski mountaineering, but Maciel was determined to ascend by running – an unprecedented attempt.
A native of Minas Gerais, the 42-year-old Brazilian previously set women’s world records for running up and down the likes of Argentina’s Mt. Aconcagua (6,962m, 2016) and Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro (5,895m, 2017), but her new achievement marks her first record spanning both male and female.
Located less than 1,200km from the South Pole and rising 4,892m above sea level, Mt. Vinson is the most isolated of the Seven Summits – the highest mountains of the seven traditionally defined continents.
Devoid of wildlife, it lies so far south that it has just two seasons: summer, when the sun never sets, and winter when it never rises.
Mt. Vinson’s dangers include brutal temperatures and extremely strong winds, and no part of the body can be exposed to the elements.
When Maciel departed from the Vinson base camp at 11:30am local time together with local mountain guide and runner Sam Hennessey, the temperature was -25 degrees Celsius, and she was carrying all of her food and water as well as extra clothing.
After 9km, she exchanged her running shoes for boots and grabbed her climbing gear. The remaining route included long fixed-rope sections with slopes up to 55 degrees, including stretches categorised at the D+ (D being “difficult”) climbing grade.
With temperatures plunging to -35 Celsius, Maciel had to fix a broken crampon, and on the final, exposed mountain ridge, she not only endured altitude sickness but struggled to see through frozen goggles.
Nevertheless, she not only made it to the top in the record Fastest Known Time of 6h 40min, but completed the return to base camp in less than half the time, for a total round trip of 9h 41m. Both the summit and round-trip times also qualify as world records. (Times were documented via GPS and have been officially verified by SkyRunning World Records.)
Maciel said: “I knew that I couldn’t stop for a minute during my run to the top of Mount Vinson. It’s a pretty crazy and difficult running experience, but Antarctica is an environment of exquisite isolation, and the mountains are super powerful. I love the feeling of achievement and contemplation that only mountains so high can give me.”
Header image: Fernanda Maciel is seen during the project 7 Summits in the Antarctica on December 20, 2022. Credit: Jordan Manoukian / Red Bull Content Pool