National Geographic : 2012 Apr
congratulate her. e prime minister of Kazakh- stan congratulated Maxut and Vassiliy on Twit- ter. In the dining tent Gerlinde fell asleep over a plate of watermelon. At the airport in Munich her whole family turned out to greet her. Her father cried when he hugged her, and for the rst time he did not say she'd climbed enough mountains and should stop. With hardly an ounce of fat to start with, she'd lost 17 pounds. At a ceremony in Bühl, Germa- ny, Gerlinde was showered with bouquets and gi s, including a jeroboam of red Rhine wine labeled with a picture of her atop K2 with her arms over her head. "Normally you will not nd me with my arms over my head," she says. "It's not that I felt like a queen, but that I wanted to hug the whole world." Her friend and fellow climber David Göttler had arrived in Bühl from Munich to help edit the video of the climb for the lectures she would give. He tried several di erent pieces of music for the crucial summit scene, but none worked as well as "Ára bátur" by the Icelandic band Sigur Rós. He arranged the pictures and footage so the chorus of angelic voices and symphonic strings and horns all came to a crescendo just as Gerlinde thrust her arms overhead at the sum- mit. He showed it to Ralf, who was thrilled by how powerfully it conveyed the glory of Ger- linde's triumph. But when they showed it to Gerlinde, she frowned and shook her head. "No, Ralf, it's too much. I'm sorry, David. I think it's too much." ey protested, to no avail. en David, who had attempted K2 with Gerlinde in 2009 and knew her well, began to rework the scene. e pictures were the same. e music was the same. But the e ect was completely di erent. e ow of photographs that ended with the climactic picture of Gerlinde's upraised arms had been al- tered so that the crescendo of the music did not proclaim the glory of one mountaineer that sun- down hour on the summit of K2 but the great world she could see all around her, trans gured in golden light. She smiled when she saw it. j it meant to her to be there at that moment: "I'm so deeply lled to stand here now a er so many tries, so many years." She began to cry, then com- posed herself. "It was very, very hard, all the days now, and now it's just amazing. I don't nd the right words." She gestured to the sea of peaks in all directions. "You see all this---I think every- body can understand why we do this." Stand With Us Ralf was up most of the night monitoring the descent. More than a third of all fatalities on K2 have happened on the way down. Around 8:30 p.m. he could see four tiny pinpricks of light moving down the ramp into the Japanese Cou- loir. As she descended in the dark, exhausted, Gerlinde found herself repeating a phrase that had been in her mind: Steh uns bei und beschütze uns. Stand with us and protect us. "We spoke many times on the descent," said Gerlinde. "We asked each other again and again, 'Is everything OK?' It was just a very serious, very exacting climb. If there would have been just the cold, it would have been hard enough. But there was the steepness, the altitude, the wind during the night and the morning, and the psychological e ects---we didn't have any rope le to x the route, and the terrain was very steep and exposed. Everybody had to take a very long time and be very careful how they moved." Two days later, when Gerlinde came down from Camp I, Ralf met her on the glacier. ey held each other for a long time. At Camp I she had found the letter he had le for her in the hope that she would return---a four-foot-long missive written on toilet paper avowing his love and ex- plaining his decision to turn back. "I don't always want to be the person who holds you back..." In base camp Gerlinde spoke by satellite phone to Fredrik's father, Jan Olaf Ericsson, who wanted to know everything she had seen from the summit of the mountain where his son was buried. e president of Austria called to UP AND WILL HAVE TO TURN BACK.