One need only glance at Chantel Astorga’s list of accomplishments to appreciate why she is described as one of the best female alpinists in the world. Her ascents of committing and technically demanding routes in Alaska and the Himalaya, and her achievements on Yosemite’s big walls, have pushed the standards of both alpinism and rock climbing in recent years.
With a background as a ski patroller, Denali mountain guide and a member of the Yosemite Search and Rescue Team, Idaho-based Chantel is completely at ease on rock and in the mountains and knew from a young age it was where her future lay.
“I was introduced to the outdoors at a really young age,” says Chantel. “I grew up with parents that were super into backpacking, camping, fishing and hunting. When I was a teenager I decided I wanted to be an Alpinist, but I’m not really sure if it was a book, a dream, or an image that inspired me. My first step in the process to become an Alpinist was getting a job as ski patroller.”
From her job with ski patrol Chantel was introduced to ski mountaineering, rock climbing and ice climbing and developed both her alpinism and rock climbing skills simultaneously, being increasingly drawn to beautiful and challenging alpine lines and to speed climbing big walls.
In 2010 she became the first woman to solo climb the 26-pitch Mescalito (A3, 5.8) on El Capitan in Yosemite. Since then she has climbed El Cap a total of 19 times, all solo. In September 2014 she set a new female solo speed record on The Nose (31 pitches, 5.9 C2) with a time of 24:39—despite dropping an aider and a jumar and having to pass 18 people—beating the previous record by 2 hours and 41 minutes, but just 39 minutes shy of the 24-hour mark. She returned the following month for another attempt at a one-day ascent but due to warmer, windless conditions she ran out of water and had to dig deep to even make it up the route safely.
At various times in her career Chantel has also held the women’s speed record on The Nose: with Libby Sauter in 2011, with a time of 10:40 and with Mayan Smith-Gobat in 2012 with times of 10:10 and then, a week later, 7:26, after which the team linked into the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome (5.9, C1, 23 pitches), completing the link-up—and being the first female team to do so—in 20:09.
Chantel’s achievements in the high mountains are equally impressive and include inspiring ski descents in Alaska, Patagonia and France alongside her notable alpine ascents. Inspired by beautiful lines, her style is simple, light and fast and she says that a climb “has to be fun”.
In 2014 Chantel and fellow alpinist Jewell Lund climbed two routes on Mount Huntingdon in the Alaska Range, including the first all-free ascent—and second ever ascent—of Polarchrome (5.9+ WI5+, 1000m). The team went light and fast, forgoing tents and sleeping bags to complete the climb in a single 24-hour push.
Later, in July 2014 the pair spent an unexpected night on the North East Buttress of Howse Peak in the Canadian Rockies, their ascent slowed by exceptionally poor rock quality. They ran out of food and survived the night on half a Nalgene of whisky brought up by Jewell to celebrate Chantel’s birthday. The women made it out two days overdue and Chantel considers this challenging event to be one of her greatest climbing achievements. It was also important training and preparation for an ascent the women planned for the following year.
The beautiful and committing Denali Diamond (Alaska Grade VI, 5.9 A3/M6 A1 WI5+, 2377m) caught Chantel’s attention after she met the Giri Giri Boys—Japan’s top alpinists—at Denali’s 14,000-foot camp in June 2010. She was guiding on the mountain’s North West Buttress and the Japanese team had just made what was likely the first all-free ascent of the Diamond. The men only spent a few hours sleeping at the camp before continuing with their descent but Chantel was profoundly inspired by the team and their ethics and decided there and then that she wanted to climb Denali via the Diamond.
Five years later, in June 2015, over a five-day push with minimal kit and rations, Chantel and Jewell made history as the first all-female team to climb the Denali Diamond. This was only the seventh ascent of the route and, in all likelihood, the first all-female ascent of an Alaska Grade VI (a route with sustained hard climbing and a high level of commitment above 4000m).
Two years later, in May 2017, again on Denali, Chantel partnered with Anne Gilbert Chase, who she had met while guiding on the mountain back in 2010, to attempt Slovak Direct (5.9 X M6 WI6+, 2740m) on the South Face. Starting at around 3450m the route involves sustained technical climbing until it joins the Cassin Ridge around 5000m. Chantel and Anne were unsuccessful, but Chantel was okay with that, viewing failure not as a fruitless summit bid but not learning anything and not growing. She knows that success cannot be assured. In fact, she likes it that way.
Later that summer Anne and her husband, Jason Thompson, invited Chantel on a trip to the Central Garwhal Himalaya region of India. The trio made the first ascent of the South West Face of Mount Nilkantha via a route they named Obscured Perception (VI WI5 M6 A0, 1400m). It was then that Chantel and Anne decided to try Slovak Direct again.
In June of the following year, in one of the highlights of Chantel’s career, she and Anne successfully climbed Slovak Direct, making the first female ascent, and only the ninth ascent ever, of the notoriously challenging line, over a four-day push.
Chantel’s life in the mountains doesn’t end with her alpine trips. She currently works in her “dream job” as an avalanche forecaster in Lowman, Idaho, working with remote weather data, weather forecasts and evaluating the snowpack on skis.
When she’s not working, climbing or skiing Chantel enjoys listening to Jazz, HipHop and Funk, drawing, Olympic lifting, cooking brilliant meals and drinking good wine. In twenty years she’d like to be racing Moto GP and in the meantime she plans to “keep breathing and find the perfect bottle of Bandol.”