Mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner to Present “K2: Danger and Desire on the Savage Mountain” at the NYU Skirball Center

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Photo: Ralf Dujmovits, National Geographic

The NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts resumes its four-part speaker series in tandem with National Geographic Live by kicking off the new year with mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner showcasing her expeditions in a presentation titled, “K2: Danger and Desire on the Savage Mountain,” on Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m.

A native of Austria, Kaltenbrunner grew up skiing and climbing the local mountains, and her drive for adventure led her to her career path today. Kaltenbrunner successfully reached the peak of K2 at 8,611 meters, where she co-lead a team with her husband, Ralf Dujmovits, in 2012. In total, Kaltenbrunner has climbed all 14 main peaks in the 8,000 meter series, making her the first woman to do so without using supplementary oxygen.

Single tickets range in price from $35 to $70. Member and student discounts are available. Tickets may be purchased online at www.nyuskirball.org/natgeolive, in person at the NYU Skirball Center Box Office: Tuesday-Saturday, 12:00–6:00 p.m., or by phone at 212.998.4941. The NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts is located at 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square, New York, New York 10012.

Photo: Ralf Dujmovits, Courtesy of National Geographic
Photo: Ralf Dujmovits, Courtesy of National Geographic

What drew you to mountain climbing initially? How do climbing mountains for a living compare to everything else you have done so far in your lifetime?

I already started mountaineering in my childhood with the local priest of my home village. He was an enthusiastic climber and mountaineer. He taught me the first steps of rock and ice climbing as well as ski touring. Very early on, I learned about the big variation of mountaineering, and was fascinated by it.

I really appreciate being able to live from mountaineering. I really love what I do, and everything I have done and still do, is somehow connected with my profession. Building a school in Nepal together with friends, for example, is also a kind of summit – in a different way but also very deeply satisfying for life.

What was the journey like to the summit of K2? 

K2 is the most beautiful, but also most difficult 8,000 meter peak I climbed. This mountain gave me the broadest spectrum of experiences. Tremendous and happy moments, and also very sad ones. The North Pillar of K2 was very intense in all aspects. Doing the last steps to the highest point of K2 felt like a present from universe….the feelings and insights were so deep, I will never forget them.

approaching summit
Photo: Vassily Pivtsov, Courtesy of National Geographic

Out of all the climbs to the 14 8,000 meter peaks, would you say that the K2 climb was the most challenging?

Yes, for me it was the most challenging…

Did you at any point doubt yourself when making the decision to become a professional mountain climber? 

NEVER!

What do you think are some common misconceptions that people have about what you do? 

That I do a very dangerous sport! I always tell the people that I didn’t start from 0 to 8,000! I collected a lot of experiences before I went to the difficult and high mountains. Through precise preparation and my broad experience, I was able to dare the next step to another challenging route. However, I did everything to avoid the dangerous parts. Often, I turned back because the risk was too high.

What has been the most rewarding part about your career thus far? 

To be able to choose all my goals myself without pressure from my sponsors or others.

I am also very grateful that my presentations are still so popular. This gives me the chance to inspire other people!

What are some key things people should know about safety and climbing in general before they take on such an endeavor?

Passion is one very important aspect. If you don’t have passion for what you do, then it would be wasted energy. The second thing is to make sure you are properly prepared. I don’t think it is a good idea to go straight to an 8,000 meter peak before having tried out something smaller – maybe a nice 6,000 or 7,000 meter peak. Nepal is full of them and they are also very beautiful. Once you feel comfortable with the altitude, the equipment, the technical aspects and the ability to know about avalanche danger… then you can try to climb a higher mountain. But please do not underestimate the mental aspect. Mental strength (and this often comes with passion) is very important for high altitude climbing.

Kaltenbrunner on K2_CR Ralf Dujmovits
Photo: Ralf Dujmovits, Courtesy of National Geographic

What can people expect from your talk in New York on Feb. 23? 

I am very excited to take my audience to the top of my last 8,000m peak, K2 via its North Pillar. This will give me the opportunity to show them that with enthusiasm, perfect training, persistence, willpower, patience, discipline and respect for nature, it is possible to reach your goals…it doesn’t matter which goals you have in your heart.

What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming expeditions and/or peaks you hope to climb soon?

At the moment, I really enjoy being in Europe and doing some backcountry skiing and later in the year, I will probably do some more mountaineering in the Alps.

Of course, I will go on another expedition to the Himalayas, Karakoram or South America, however, I haven’t planned anything in detail yet.

-by Jackie Hart