Kaltenbrunner scales K2

An Upper Austrian climber has become the third woman in the world to reach the summits of the 14 highest mountains in the world.

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner’s German husband Ralf Dujmovits said yesterday (Tues) the 40-year-old and her comrades reached the peak of K2. Kaltenbrunner was climbing with a Pole and two Kazakhs. The 8,611-metre K2 is the second-highest mountain in the world after Mount Everest at 8,848 metres but widely considered as more dangerous due to its high death toll. The most recent successful expedition to the summit of the mountain dates back to August 2008.

Kaltenbrunner had attempted to scale K2, which is located in the Pakistani-Chinese border region, several times in the past years. She took a long break from climbing after being forced to watch on as a colleague died. Fredrik Ericsson fell down a 1,000-metre rock face during an expedition on K2 in August of last year. The 36-year-old Swede died instantly. Kaltenbrunner – a nurse from Spital am Pyhrn – eventually decided to keep climbing.

Kaltenbrunner and her colleagues are currently on their way to the base camp, an endeavour regarded almost as dangerous as hiking up to K2’s peak. Dujmovits said his wife told him by radio she was “overwhelmed with joy.” The experienced climber added Kaltenbrunner considers her successful expedition as a “gift.”

Austrian President Heinz Fischer – who is an ambitious hiker himself – and Social Democratic (SPÖ) Chancellor Werner Faymann congratulated Kaltenbrunner. Fischer said he wanted to “pay the highest possible respect to this incredible achievement.” Faymann said he was “impressed” by her “fascinating” success.

Kaltenbrunner – who released a book on her experiences called “Ganz bei mir – Leidenschaft Achttausender” two years ago – is the third woman in the world to reach the peaks of the 14 highest mountains on the planet. South Korean climber Oh Eun-Sun and Spanish alpinist Edurne Pasaban achieved this goal in 2010. However, the Austrian is now the first woman ever to achieve this without supplemental oxygen. Newspapers, magazines and TV broadcasters tried to label the adventures of Oh, Pasaban and Kaltenbrunner as a competition. The Austrian always denied trying to come first. She also emphasised being good friends with Pasaban, but also criticised the South Korean media hype around Oh’s expeditions.

Italian mountain climbing legend Reinhold Messner said today: “I always knew she (Kaltenbrunner) could make it. I would like to congratulate her for daring to do so without any extra oxygen supply.”

The South Tyrolean became the first person in the world to scale the globe’s 14 highest mountains without supplementary oxygen. His praise for Kaltenbrunner, who started climbing at the age of 13, comes shortly after he criticised her and fellow Austrian climber Christian Stangl for “being tourists”.

Messner, 66, told Austrian magazine profil: “Kaltenbrunner walks up on routes prepared for tourists. How did she supposedly avoid using them? What I and (climbing comrade) Peter Habeler did on Mount Everest (in 1978) was alpinism. What Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and Christian Stangl did on Mount Everest is tourism.”

Eduard Koblmüller challenged Messner’s claims. The Upper Austrian alpinist told the Kurier newspaper today: “Kaltenbrunner opted to take the most difficult route up K2 and Mount Everest last year. This puts her on another level in comparison to other climbers.”

Koblmüller added: “To reach the world’s 14 highest mountaintops is a great achievement. Only 24 people did so before her. It is irrelevant that she failed to become the first woman. What matters is the style of her expeditions.”