August 23, 2011, at 6.18 pm a bunch of climbers stood on the summit of K2 for the first time since 2008. Maxut, Vassily and Gerlinde would finish their 14x8000ers quest together, through K2's wild side.
Image by Darek Zaluski courtesy Darek Zaluski/National Geographic, SOURCE
The 'Nameless summiteers' in their early days.
Beaming with admiration for his wife, Ralf never had problems acknowledging her strength, or even to stay back if it would help her success.
Chinese caravan to K2.
Image by Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner courtesy Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner/National Geographic, SOURCE
Plotting the strategy.
Image by Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner courtesy Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner/National Geographic, SOURCE
On arrival at base camp, Gerlinde wrote, "the mountain seems very different from this side – simply new."
Image by Ralf Dujmovits courtesy Ralf Dujmovits/National Geographic, SOURCE
The treacherous top traverse.
Image by Ralf Dujmovits courtesy Ralf Dujmovits/National Geographic, SOURCE
Impossible incline.
Image by Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner courtesy Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner/National Geographic, SOURCE
On K2 north pillar the steep ends only either on the bottom or at the top.
Image by Ralf Dujmovits courtesy Ralf Dujmovits/National Geographic, SOURCE
The route.
courtesy Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, SOURCE
K2 summit, her way.
Image by Maxut Zhumayev courtesy Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner/National Geographic, SOURCE
All those climbs. Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner became the first woman to summit the 14 8000ers without oxygen.
Best of ExplorersWeb 2011 Awards: K2 North Pillar

Posted: Dec 31, 2011 01:21 am EST
(ExplorersWeb) K2 is a tough nut to crack. Until this summer the last summits on the peak had been in 2008. The rare victory came at a terrible price: seven of the summiteers died on descent.

And that was on the more frequently climbed south side. The remote north side had last been summited in 2007, eleven years after the previous - in 1996.

That's why the news this year were so triumphant, and unexpected.

The team

...or perhaps not unexpected. Approaching the north ridge in the camel caravan typical of the Chinese side, was a strong team of international mountaineers.

Kazakh Maxut Zhumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov had attempted K2 twice before, once via the NW ridge exactly. German Ralf Dujmovits summited K2 practically before the invention of fire, in 1994. His Austrian wife Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner had attempted it three times from the south.

Polish film maker Darek Zaluski knew the peak from a 2002/2003 winter attempt. Photographer Tommy Heinrich from Argentina rounded off the team.

The Kazakhs

When ExplorersWeb first covered Kazakh Maxut (Zhuma) and Vassily (Vaso) we dubbed them 'The nameless summiteers.' The two warrior kids had been veiled by the rather anonymous 'Kazakh national team' until they broke loose.

They attempted K2 in 2005 via the Abruzzi Spur with two team mates. As hours went by in silence, the entire world was watching over the bold young guns trapped in a killer storm. Days later, they showed up in BC - alive and kicking after reaching 8400m on the savage mountain. Ironically, it was this drama rather than their previous achievements that finally made people familiar with the two shy mountaineers' faces.

In 2006, the two climbing buddies were awarded among the Best of ExplorersWeb for a double header of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna. Barely 30 years old, they walked to the peaks and climbed each in one single push.

The next year they bagged Everest without O2 as the first non-sherpa climbers that season to reach the summit. And it was that summer they approached K2's north ridge for the first time, back with the Kazakh National team.

Another former member of the Kazakh national team, Russian born Denis Urubko and his regular climbing mate Serguey Samoilov, snuffed the summit from the larger crew that year in a rather interesting chain of events that won them all an ExplorersWeb award. Sadly, Serguey died two years later during unclear circumstances in a Kazakh Everest-Lhotse traverse attempt.

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner

One by one, the previous generation of climbing women had vanished in the mountains. No less than three of the female legends, Liliane Barrard, Julie Tullis and Alison Hargreaves had been lost on K2. All the women's lives were cut short in their prime.

After 1995, the world had virtually no top high altitude female climbers left, and only a few new emerging.
It would take over twenty climbers and until last year for a woman, Edurne Pasaban, to enter the list of people who have summited all the 14, 8000ers. And another year before the first lady joined the only dozen men doing so without supplementary oxygen.

One year after Edurne Pasaban's savage fight for the throne, Gerlinde closed her quest exactly as she had wished for - her way.

The K2 climb was sponsored by National Geographic, but it wasn't always so. "Ask ten climbers who Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner is," we wrote in 2005, "check with any climbing or adventure magazine - and watch the confused expression on their face. Gerlinde...who?"

The passage was written in Gerlinde's, previous ExplorersWeb award for the first Shishapangma traverse from the south to the north side she did with Ralf and Hiro in 2005.

But in 2006 Gerlinde told ExplorersWeb, Der Spiegel wrote a story about her and Edurne, and everything changed. She became famous but still refused to race. "For me it’s not important to climb all 14 as soon as possible," she said. "What really matters to me is to climb them my way..."

Her way usually meant husband Ralf Dujmovits, no oxygen and alpine style. Beaming with admiration for his wife, Ralf never had problems acknowledging her strength, or even to stay back if it would help her success.

Ralf was the one who told the story how on the giant Shisha south face, climbing without ropes and on their front points most of the time, he lost his crampon at a 60º slope with 80 meters of ice wall below. Gerlinde climbed down the wall to retrieve it, climbed back up to Ralf, and helped him out of there.

Other ascents would follow. Until only K2 remained.

She tried it in 2007, in 2009, and then last year up to 8300 meters, steps behind in the Bottleneck when only one hour into the summit push Swedish ski mountaineer Fredrik Eriksson fell to his death. Looking for him in the whiteout, she found only one of his skis, descended alone and broke down in the arms of Darek Zaluski and Fabrizio Zangrilli who had come up to help. "Devastated, she quit the attempt, and almost quit K2 for ever," said her website.

But already this summer she was back.

The triumph on the north ridge

On arrival at base camp, Gerlinde wrote, "the mountain seems very different from this side – simply new." By June 29, she and the Kazakhs were at work. It took two months negotiating the insanely steep north pillar before the team was ready for final summit push.

We heard little from them until August 20, when Gerlinde, Maxut, Vassiliy and Darek had arrived camp III through strong winds. Ralf didn't like the conditions and had descended with Tommy earlier in the push.

The four remaining climbers reached Camp IV at 8,300 meters in deep snow the next day. Before the final summit push they needed to evaluate the snow conditions of the treacherous upper traverse and fix the section if it checked out.

The night in the bivouac was cold and short. The team stepped out at 6 am in perfect weather but unstable snow with loose powder covered by a hard crust.

"Hopefully conditions may be better on the left side of the wide, steep couloir, since the sun hits longer on that area" Ralf Dujmovits commented from BC. "In case they start tomorrow morning, the trail will be broken, the rope will be fixed and the progress to their highpoint will be much quicker."

The following day, the finest hour had arrived. The mountaineers left their bivouac at 1:30 am. "An icy, starry night welcomed the climbers as they departed," Ralf Dujmovits reported from BC. "Cold made things tough since, although the slope above the bivouac place is 'only' 45 degrees, most of the time they have to climb on their crampons' front points, which restricts blood flow and, at -25°, leads to to icy feet."

It took 10 hours to climb 100 meters to 8,400 m altitude. They stood on the summit ridge around 4 pm . Adrenaline blocking their exhaustion, by this time they could probably taste the success they had fought for so long.

When the news came, they broke at ExplorersWeb: K2 north pillar SUMMITS! Gerlinde bags the first female No-O2 14x8000ers ascent - Max, Vassiliy and Darek on top too.

August 23 at 6.18 pm, triumph was a fact: a bunch of climbers stood on the summit of K2 again, for the first time since 2008.

Maxut, Vassily and Gerlinde would finish their 14x8000ers quest together, through K2's wild side.

Darek, who had comforted Gerlinde after Fredrik's death was there as well, witnessing her victory as the first woman to summit the 14 Great Ones without oxygen.

Previous Awards in 2011

3. Everest paraglide
4. Hemingway award: Mr Park
5. The Wanderer: Henk de Velde
6. Himalayan knights: Abele Blanc

Special mentions:

Adrian Ballinger: Manaslu ski descent
Erden Eruc: Indian Ocean row finish
Arjun Vajpai: youngest on Lhotse and Manaslu
Sarah and Eric McNair-Landry: kiting the NW passage
Erik Boomer & Jon Turk, Ellesmere Island
Irena Mrak and Mojca Svajger, Nanga Parbat Diamir face
Christian Eide, South Pole speed record
Ueli Steck - Shishapangma speed climb

We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2011. 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 6 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in 2011.

By their performance, these expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:

- Courage
- Determination
- Persistence
- Self reliance
- Ingenuity
- Pioneering
- Idealism
- Comradeship
- Compassion
- Respect towards competition
- Honesty




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