The Austrian climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner is the first woman to climb all fourteen mountains more than 8000 meters above sea level without supplemental oxygen. She began climbing as a young girl with her church group and youth leader in the mountains near her home in Austria. She studied to become a nurse, but her passion for the mountains never subsided. Although she didn’t reach the summit on her first climb above 8000 meters on Broad Peak, it was then that she decided her goal was to climb all fourteen of the “eight-thousanders”. She worked long hours as a nurse and rode her bike 25 miles each way as a way to train for climbing. She also lived a very humble life, saving every last cent for her climbing trips.
Gerlinde climbs “alpine style” which means that she does not climb with large expedition groups that require a lot of resources. She is self sufficient and carries all of her own gear and food. She also does not use supplemental oxygen and doesn’t rely on the fixed ropes that aid climbers. Instead she relies on and trusts her body to tell her what it needs. She acclimatizes slowly and takes her time all while having a deep respect for the mountain she is climbing.
“Up here, I am free; I can leave all responsibilities behind. I don’t have to please anyone else. Far away from everything down there, I can be at one with myself. Whenever I succumb to the world of the high mountains I feel content, even-keeled, and filled with joy. When I climb, I am determined; I feel independent and competent. I make my own clear decisions. In the mountains, I feel very differently than I do down in the valley. I am in my true element.” – Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner
Gerlinde has experienced much tragedy on her climbs and when many would hang up their ropes, she kept climbing toward her goal. Her nursing skills allowed her to save many lives along the way and to recognize dangerous situations. Although she was deeply affected by the deaths of her fellow climbers, she never let the fear stifle her passion. She also thwarted the media’s attempt to provoke a race between her and fellow trailblazer Edurne Pasaban and instead they climbed two of the mountains together. Then in 2011 after six attempts to climb K2, she finally reached the summit and her impressive goal. Gerlinde is still climbing and she also works with an organization that builds schools for children in Nepal.
More info about Gerlinde:
Mountains in My Heart by Gerlunde Kaltenbrunner
Gerlinde’s passion for the mountains shines in her book. She tells the stories of each of her climbs, both successes and failures on the way to that fourteenth summit on K2. This book is so good, I got goosebumps at the end of it.