meet Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner,
Queen Among Kings

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner is a legend. The Austrian mountaineer was the second woman to climb all the 8,000m peaks, and the first to do so without supplementary oxygen or high-altitude porters. We caught up with her between expeditions to get the inside scoop on her strengths, challenges, and post-climb vegan cakes. Read on to learn more, then come meet Gerlinde and learn from her in person at our 2018 Annual Benefit Dinner

 Photo: R Dujmovits

Photo: R Dujmovits

What was your first Himalayan expedition? 
My first Himalayan expedition was in 1997. It was my first time in Nepal as well as in the Khumbu Region. Climbing Ama Dablam had been my big dream. It’s such a beautiful, majestic mountain. In 1994, I visited Pakistan to climb Broad Peak, which was also a wonderful experience.

It took 14 years to climb all 14 of the peaks. What kept you going when it got tough?
I am absolutely convinced that everything, which has happened in my life, has happened for a reason... it has given me the chance to grow, and it still does. In order to overcome the most tragic events in my climbing career, it was necessary to take time to reflect, look deeply inside myself and ask myself some questions.

What do you think were your greatest strengths in attempting these high-altitude summits?
The most important thing has always been to be physically as well as mentally perfectly prepared! I think everybody starts out physically very well trained, however, the mental preparation is just as important. Every time before I start a summit attempt, I mentally go through every detail of the entire ascent and descent route. I envisage all possible difficulties, but also all the beautiful moments I may face during my climb. It helps me be mentally prepared for the difficulties and keeps me calm and serene, also in moments that may seem hopeless.

Did you have any weaknesses, compared with other climbers, that you felt you had to overcome?
No, never.

Which was harder without supplemental oxygen: Everest or K2?
K2 for me it was the most challenging. It is the most beautiful but also most difficult 8000 meter peak I climbed. This mountain gave me the broadest spectrum of experiences. Tremendous and happy moments, and also very sad ones. The North Pillar of K2 was very intense in all aspects. Doing the last steps to the highest point of K2 felt like a present from universe… the feelings and insights were so deep, I will never forget them.

Do you feel commercially guided climbing on K2 is appropriate or safe? Can you explain why or why not?
I don’t think we can stop it. In my opinion, however, it is very important that commercial operators pay the mountain the necessary respect. I mean that if they decide to offer K2 or any other 8000m peak, they should make sure that their clients have really enough experience and are physically and mentally strong enough to climb K2 or any other high mountain. The clients of such commercial expeditions should be independent mountaineers.

Looking back six years after finishing the 8,000-meter peaks, what makes you the most proud?
Inspiring other people and supporting school projects in Nepal are some of the things that make me very happy.

What has been the focus of your climbing life since finishing the 8,000ers?
My passion for mountaineering is still unbroken, and I think it will remain so until the end of my life. When climbing you are in the very present moment and it does apply not only to high mountains. No matter whether it is climbing or mountaineering, it just fulfills me.

What do you like to do when you’re not climbing or training?
Beside climbing and mountaineering, I love yoga and meditation, swimming and biking. But my life is not only about exercising or being outdoors, which I absolutely love, I also have other passions such as baking healthy vegan cakes. From time to time I even go to the opera.

Do you have a favorite post-climb indulgence or meal?
My favorite meal after an expedition is fresh mixed vegetable salad, fresh fruit salad and a delicious healthy vegan cake.

How have you seen the involvement of women in the elite mountaineering community evolve since you started climbing?
The young climbers, female and male, have become stronger and stronger, especially in rock climbing. As far as high altitude mountaineering is concerned, I think that there is still a lack of women who climb completely autonomously.

What advice would you give a young woman looking to accomplish a similar feat? Is there anything you wish you knew before you began?
Listen to your gut feeling, give your best, and trust that everything that happens to you happens for a reason and will support you in your development.

Inspired? Gerlinde will be the keynote speaker at our 2018 Annual Benefit Dinner in Boston, MA February 23-25. Tickets are super limited— so get yours today!