14 Giant Mountains, Zero Oxygen for Austrian Alpinist

Stepping into the mountaineering record books, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, age 40, last week became the first woman to summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks without using supplementary oxygen. The Austrian alpinist, who was supported by grants from the National Geographic Society, reached the top of K2, the world’s second-tallest mountain and arguably its most difficult and deadly, just after 6p.m. on August 23.

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Light bathes the north side of K2, a peak that straddles the Chinese/Pakistani border; photo © National Geographic/Ralf Dujmovits

National Geographic reports Kaltenbrunner waded though waist-deep snow and battled the peak’s common high winds and avalanche conditions to make it to the top. Kaltenbrunner was one of four climbers to reach the summit last week, including Maxut Zhumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov of Kazakhstan, and Darek Zaluski of Poland. Kaltenbrunner’s husband, Ralf Dujmovits, and photographer Tomas Heinrich had turned back to base camp further down the mountain, National Geographic reports.

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Kaltenbrunner walks between towers of ice on K2’s lower flanks; photo © National Geographic/Ralf Dujmovits

Climbing all the world’s 8,000-meter peaks puts Kaltenbrunner in an exclusive club. Reinhold Messner was the first to climb the “eight-thousanders,” finishing the high-altitude feat in 1986. Since then, only a about two-dozen climbers have completed the circuit, which includes K2, Everest, Kangchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, Nanga Parbat, Annapurna, Gasherbrum I, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum II, and Shishapangma.

Kaltenbrunner and her team began the K2 expedition in June, when a train of camels transported their supplies from Xinjiang, China. They made base camp at about 3,900 meters and worked to finally ascend K2 via the North Pillar route.

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Kaltenbrunner on the climb; photos © National Geographic by Ralf Dujmovits (top image) and Maxut Zhumayev

This was not her first time to the deadly mountain. Last year, Kaltenbrunner and a team made an attempt to summit K2 but the expedition ended tragically with the death of team member Fredrick Ericsson.

Kaltenbrunner was quoted this year on the expedition’s blog thanking her friends and fans for their “mental support.” She said she could “clearly feel and [was] literally carried to the summit” by the energy.

—Stephen Regenold is editor of GearJunkie.com. All photographs © National Geographic. For additional photographs and a full report on Kaltenbrunner’s ascent of K2, visit National Geographic’s special online feature, “Expedition K2.”

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Summit! Kaltenbrunner and her team on top; photo © National Geographic/Darek Zaluski

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