June 17, 2024


sights and trips

Meet the woman behind Colorado’s new 100-mountain record | Lifestyle

On her drive home after another ascent of 14,005-foot Mount of the Holy Cross, Andrea Sansone got a call from her boyfriend, Andrew Hamilton, who said a reporter was looking to interview her.

“I was like, Why?” Sansone recalls. “Like, no one ever wants to talk to me!”

Hamilton is often the focus of the couple’s mind-bending mountain pursuits. Sansone has remained in the background. She was among the support crew in 2015 that drove Hamilton from trailhead to trailhead while feeding him and tending to his gear and injuries en route to him scaling Colorado’s 54 fourteeners in less than 10 days, a record.

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Andrea Sansone looks out to the sunset on Mount Bierstadt.

Hamilton’s legend recently grew with an even more audacious claim.

The climbing world is abuzz with the Golden man recording the state’s 100 highest summits in one relentless push over 22 days, 16 hours and 54 minutes, believed to be another fastest known time. The journey included 471 miles on foot and more than 249,000 feet of vertical gain through the state’s most rugged terrain.

This time, it was difficult rallying a support crew of people with jobs and families and other commitments. On the forums of 14ers.com, where his “centennials” record was tracked, Hamilton thanked a friend, his sister and his brother-in-law for some days and nights on the road.

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Andrea Sansone and her boyfriend, Andrew Hamilton, take a summit photo during his 100-mountain record in Colorado last month. Photo courtesy Andrea Sansone

He gave extra kudos to Sansone. She was with him the entire three weeks, taking time off as a nurse at Children’s Hospital in Aurora.

“I consider this record as much Andrea’s as mine,” Hamilton wrote on 14ers.com. “Just like I never stopped, she never stopped, and there was just no way I could have finished this without her.”

Sansone says she doesn’t expect any credit.

Never mind her driving the Toyota 4Runner over perilous mountain passes in the middle of the night. Never mind her constantly checking maps and weather forecasts. Never mind her pushing a bike for miles up mountainsides so that her boyfriend could efficiently descend. Never mind the many other miles she hoofed to bring him food or other supplies or set up camp. Never mind the 21 peaks she climbed alongside him.

No, she doesn’t expect her name to go down with this record — just as her name was quickly lost in a flurry of best times claimed last year for Nolan’s 14, a cult classic that Hamilton has ruled.

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Andrea Sansone hikes up Silverheels, with sun rays beaming down on Montgomery Reservoir. Her boyfriend, Andrew Hamilton, called her “critical” to his record climb of Colorado’s 100 highest peaks. Photo courtesy Andrea Sansone

One woman after another claimed marks along the Sawatch Range line covering fourteen 14,000-foot peaks in one push. On fastestknowntime.com, Sansone’s name and time of two days, five hours and 14 minutes was logged alongside Hamilton’s in a “mixed-gender team” category, added to categories of male and female supported and unsupported.

That was Hamilton’s best Nolan’s time. He credits Sansone for it, her physical and mental might motivating him.

More remarkable, the duo continued to Mount of the Holy Cross, completing “Holy Nolan’s” in three days, 13 hours and three minutes. Again, the feat was catalogued under “mixed-gender.” The gate-keeping FKT website has yet to list a female record for Holy Nolan’s.

Hamilton also credits Sansone for the 2017 FKT across California’s 15 fourteeners that the site listed as another “mixed-gender team” accomplishment: seven days, 11 hours and 22 minutes. That otherwise might have counted as second-best in the supported female category.

“Andrea is the most underappreciated female endurance athlete I’ve ever seen,” Hamilton says.

He adds: “It’s like, because she’s with Andrew Hamilton, he must’ve been doing everything, and any girl could’ve gone with him or whatever. I feel like there’s that mentality.”

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Andrea Sansone breaks along Trinity Peak during a climb with her boyfriend, Andrew Hamilton, whom she supported along his record climb of Colorado’s 100 highest peaks. Photo courtesy Andrea Sansone

Sansone says she isn’t one “to focus on movements” — such as the one for equal gender representation in the mountains. But the FKTs are “a bitter topic for me,” she admits, “and I don’t actually like to think or talk about it.”

Besides, “what I do in the mountains is for me and my relationship with Andrew,” she insists, “and how we’re building our relationship together and how we’re building our life together.”

They met atop South Maroon Peak in 2012. A Pennsylvania native, she had been regularly visiting and falling in love with the Rockies at the time. She moved to the state the next year, partly inspired by Hamilton and his high- elevation goals.

A partnership was born, one that emotionally deepened the more they climbed.

“Everything is just amplified in the mountains,” Sansone says. “We just really click out there.”

For the past five years, for as long as they’ve lived together, Hamilton scouted the centennial peaks alongside Sansone, plotting clusters of summits and ridge links to achieve his ultimate dream.

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Andrew Hamilton and Andrea Sansone discuss their route up Grizzly Peak during Hamilton’s record push to climb Colorado’s 100 highest peaks. Photo courtesy Andrea Sanstone

So imagine Sansone’s surprise last month when, after only his fifth summit of the 100, Hamilton suggested aborting the mission. He had feared death in the San Juans, suddenly caught in a storm in the dark.

“I was just completely wiped out,” he recalls. “But basically, Andrea wasn’t hearing it.”

It was far from the last time he needed her encouragement. On day 16, she endured the slog with him up Pikes Peak, having the night before aided him through his “rock bottom” in a Westcliffe hotel.

Sansone had pushed his bike 2 1/2 miles in the Sangre de Cristos — she did this two other times elsewhere — and he proceeded to crash on the way down, injuring his calf. He limped into the hotel, where pickle juice seemed like a good idea to heal.

That didn’t settle well. He vomited. “And vomited and vomited and vomited,” Sansone says.

There she was trying to bathe him and also trying to get him to eat and drink something for his tortured body. “Like dealing with an infant,” she says.

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Andrea Sansone breaks along Trinity Peak during a climb with her boyfriend, Andrew Hamilton, whom she supported along his record climb of Colorado’s 100 highest peaks. Photo courtesy Andrea Sansone

Another time, back in the San Juans, Sansone embarked after sundown toward Chicago Basin, having learned from a satellite message that Hamilton ran out of food.

“I was picturing myself on ‘Naked and Afraid,’ eating pikas and moths,” Hamilton says. “So she ended up hiking all the way from Purgatory to Chicago Basin, 28 miles round trip, basically to bring me a burrito.”

His mood swung in constant fatigue, including on 13,000-foot Vermilion Peak. A deep, vast snow drift caught him by surprise. He and Sansone navigated the steep, loose slopes around it.

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Andrea Sansone descends La Plata Peak, soaked from a storm that caught her and her boyfriend, Andrew Hamilton, during his record push to climb Colorado’s 100 highest summits. Photo courtesy Andrea Sansone

“He was terrified,” Sansone says. “I was like, it’s OK, it’s gonna be fine. And he was like, ‘You’re not taking this seriously enough!’”

They balance each other out this way, they say: neither panicked at the same time, never both miserable, or at least never both showing signs of it.

The centennials were “a really big practice in positivity,” Sansone says.

She did her best to smile all the way.

“Andrew doesn’t want to come back from hiking like 24 hours and find me grumpy, too,” she says.

Those were indeed the best moments, Hamilton says — returning to find Sansone in the 4Runner.

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Andrea Sansone snaps a selfie with her boyfriend, Andrew Hamilton, during his record 100-mountain climb in Colorado. Photo courtesy Andrea Sansone

“You’d be surprised how many times I’ll get really emotional out there,” he says. “Any sort of thought might make me emotional. I’ll almost tear up. That happened to me a lot.

“But then I come down, and it’s like the most amazing feeling when I see the car up ahead. I just know she’s gonna be there to take care of me.”