National Geographic : 2012 Apr
had a job at a hospital in Rottenmann, a small town about 15 miles from Spital am Pyhrn. She was happy, near her family, but independent. On weekends she skipped o to the local alps to climb. e appetite for adventure, which had always set her apart from her family, led her to the Karakoram Range in 1994. On Broad Peak in Pakistan she abandoned her bid for the sum- mit as the weather worsened, then changed her mind, and nally reached the forepeak, some 20 meters lower than the 8,051-meter summit, which lay at the far end of a long ridge. (She would return to summit in 2007.) She was elated but, having seen the body of a climber who'd died on the mountain, was also perplexed. "It cannot be that happiness, joy, and death are so closely linked together," she wrote in her journal. Back home, Gerlinde saved money and cob- bled together vacation days for trekking and climbing trips to Pakistan, China, Nepal, Peru. A er her rst expedition her father said, "OK, one is enough. You don't have to do any more." A er the second he said, "Now you have two. at's enough." "His wish was to see me get married and have a family," Gerlinde recalls. But she had known in her early 20s that children were not in her cards. She showed her father pictures and tried to explain the infusion of energy and happiness she felt in the mountains. ere were risks of course, but nursing had taught her that death was part of life. And for perspective, she had only to look at the losses faced by Brigitte, who had already buried three husbands. Bad things could happen anytime, anywhere. In 1998 Gerlinde climbed Cho Oyu, near the Nepal-China border, her rst true 8,000-meter summit. Four years later, in 2002, she reached her third 8,000-meter summit, the top of 8,163-meter Manaslu in Nepal. In base camp she met Ralf Dujmovits, then 40 and at the peak of his celebrity, having starred in a live televised ascent of the north face of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps that was watched by millions of people. ey got along like a pair of swans and broke trail together. For more than 20 years women had been making inroads in the male domain of high- altitude mountaineering but were still fre- quently treated with condescension. In 2003, still acclimatized by an unsuccessful attempt on Kanchenjunga, Gerlinde ew to Pakistan to try the Diamir Face of the 8,126-meter Nanga Par- bat. Above Camp II she found herself breaking trail in a single le with six male climbers from Kazakhstan and one from Spain. Her presence was not mentioned when the leader reported on the radio that seven climbers were heading up to Camp III. When she worked her way to the front of the line to take her turn breaking trail, she was nudged aside. Misguided chivalry? Ar- rogant disdain for her abilities? She wasn't sure but went politely to the back of the line. When she had worked her way to the front again and one of the male climbers tried to wave her away a second time, she'd had enough. She took o , bulldozing her way up the unbroken slope with- out stopping. She plowed the path all the way to Camp III. e gob-smacked climbers in her wake nicknamed her "Cinderella Caterpillar" for the trail-breaking machine that had appeared in their midst. She was the rst Austrian woman to summit Nanga Parbat, the mountain known for the rst ascent by the legendary Austrian climber Her- mann Buhl in 1953. Her success on the 50th anniversary of Buhl's audacious feat attracted notice in climbing magazines and gave her the impetus to make a profession out of her pas- sion. Over the next two years she added An- napurna I, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II, and Xixabangma Feng to her résumé. She now had climbed 8 of the 14 highest peaks. In January 2006 the German magazine Der Spiegel dubbed her "queen of the death zone." e image of a haughty monarch reigning over life and death had little to do with the actual character of a sensitive, unsel sh woman (in base camp on K2 Gerlinde tried to see if a pair of sunglasses would relieve the distress of a snow-blind sheep), but FOCUSED ON THE TASK AT HAND.