Side by side, the two women now closed in on Polish Wanda Rutkiewicz magic number - 8 summits - before the last one took her life. Image of Wanda courtesy of Mark Samuels.
Gerlinde climbing up after retrieving Ralfs crampon. If this mountain didnt want you, you would have fallen already! Ralf stared down at the 80 meters of ice wall below, and hoped she was right. Gerlinde came by his side, and then climbed down the wall to retrieve his crampon. She grabbed it, climbed back up to Ralf, and helped him out of there. (Click to enlarge) Image by Ralf Dujmovits courtesy Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Ralf Dujmovits
Fast emerging as the foremost female climber in the world, the Shisha summit put Gerlinde at the shared top of the list of the most accomplished living female high-altitude climbers in the world.
While another top female climber of the time, French Chantal Mauduit, named her expeditions after flowers, Gerlinde chose her climbs by the shape of the mountains. Image of Chantal courtesy of eolienne.com.
Only Spanish Edurne Pasaban equaled Gerlinde's score. There was a difference though; Gerlinde had climbed all her 8,000ers without O2, often choosing tough mountains and difficult routes. And there was a similarity: Both women refused competition, maintaining their right to climb just for the heck of it.
To Gerlinde, the fact of being a woman was no big deal. She climbed alone, with men, or other women - depending on who she liked. Ralf became favorite mate, and since their 2002 attempt on the North Face of Kangchenjunga also Japanese climber Hiro.
Look ma - no rope! The woman and two men set off to climb Shisha's giant South Face without ropes, camps, Sherpas or oxygen. Awaiting them were avalanches, snow storms, hard ice, whiteout and rotten rock all the way up to the summit.
The slope became steeper, up to 60º, when suddenly - Ralf lost his crampon. As the fear hit him full force, Ralf repeated the question, crying out to Gerlinde a few meters above. Balancing on the tip of only one crampon, Ralf was lucky Gerlinde was still close by. (Click to enlarge)
The fear loosened its grip around Ralf. Clouds came up and wrapped the climbers in fog. (Click to enlarge)
7300 m, where Ralf had noticed a small ledge on the way up. Perched on the tiny shelf, the climbers listened all night to the roar of avalanches down the couloir. (Click to enlarge)
This is the most rotten rock Ive ever climbed, Gerlinde sighed. Pitch by pitch the climbers worked their way up the 800 meter ice gully, without safety lines. (Click to enlarge)
Climbing the upper couloir at dawn. Winds increased and it was freezing. The guys were cold and wasted. They reached the upper part of the summit ridge in the first morning light, discovering that it was 60º steep. (Click to enlarge)
Gerlinde enjoying the first suns rays. All of a sudden, a sense of joy started to well inside them. On the edge of the ridge, a view of the brownish Tibetan plateau - and the highest point of Shisha Pangma. (Click to enlarge)
Gerlinde and Ralf walking the last meters before the summit. They had carried all their gear - including the soaked sleeping bags, all the way to the summit. Now, this offered a rare chance. (Click to enlarge)
At 11:00 am, after almost 12 hours of non-stop climbing, the climbers gazed out from the summit in the hard wind, mad with joy and overcome by fatigue.
Ralf and Hiro on the summit, Shishas Central summit in the background. The original plan had only been to finish the previous year's SF climb, but now the idea came to Ralf. He proposed a traverse to the others. (Click to enlarge)
Hiro's pulse dropped to 50 bits per minute. When Gerlinde tried to shoot him up with emergency drugs, Hiro's body was so cold she had a tough time to find a vein for the Dexamethasone.
The next day, all three climbers left the bivouac. Slowly, the friends lost altitude. With each meter, Hiro got better. Below 7000 meters, a joyous message: Now he can rappel down as a young God. Image of Ralf and Gerlinde helping and cheering up Hiro at their arrival to their BC, by Stefan Nestler, courtesy of Stefan Nestlers Everest-blog, Deutsche Welle/DW-World.de
Posted: Jan 01, 2006 04:59 am EST SUBSCRIBER CONTENT PREVIEW FOR FULL STORY: LOGIN OR SUBSCRIBE NOW - UP TO 3 MONTHS FREE
We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2005. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world. And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in the year of 2005. Today number 1: Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner - Shisha Pangma Traverse, Everest Supercouloir rescue, Gasherbrum 2 summit The...