National Geographic : 2012 Apr
• in the tent. Two avalanches had already swept over their route up a long gully. Around 6:30 a.m. Ralf stopped. So precarious were the snow con- ditions he could no longer ignore his gut feelings. "Gerlinde, I am going back," he said. Since the couple had been climbing together they had made a pact that neither would stand in the other's way if one wanted to continue and the other did not. Barring injury or ill health, they were responsible for themselves. On Ne- pal's Lhotse in 2006---just one of several ex- amples---Gerlinde had climbed on alone for 20 minutes a er Ralf had been deterred by fresh snow over the blue ice of the summit couloir, before she too turned back. She was, as he acknowledged, still brimming with wagnis--- a German word meaning "daring." Having never been to the top of K2, she was willing to take risks that Ralf, who had, was not. She coped with fear dif- ferently too. Where he relished how the sensation of fear in his stomach revealed the margins of his ability and compelled him to pay attention, Gerlinde strove to block out fear with the quiet calm that possessed her when she was absorbed in what she had to do. If she kept herself completely focused on the task at hand, she didn't feel afraid. But now, in the gully above Camp I, despite their agreement, despite knowing the delay might cost her a chance to reach the summit, Ralf begged his wife to come down with him. His composure deserted him. "Ralf was yelling that the route is very, very avalanche prone. He was shouting desperately," Maxut said later in a video on his website, "and Gerlinde shouted in return that now is the moment when the fate of the climb will be decided. If we turn around today, on the 18th, we are not making the period of good weather." "I was really afraid I would never see her again," Ralf explained later. In what was her most anguished moment of the climb so far, Gerlinde watched as Ralf distributed his group gear to the rest of the team and descended into the mist. And then, in what may be the premier example of her tenacity and will, she returned to the task at hand. "It's not that I was indi erent to the risk," she said a er- ward. "But my gut feeling was good." As Ralf had feared, the snow on the slope began to rip loose, three small slides in succes- sion set o by Maxut, Vassiliy, and Gerlinde, who were out front breaking trail. e biggest hit Tommy, climbing almost 200 feet below; it knocked him upside down and stuffed his nose and mouth. Only the xed rope, taut as a cello string, kept him from being ushed o JUST GETTING TO K2 FROM THE It took dozens of camels and eight Kyrgyz drivers to haul 2.2 tons of gear across the bed of the Shaksgam River to Chinese Base Camp. The cost: $17,000---plus eight pairs of sunglasses.