by Ruth Hinkle
Ever thought of climbing a mountain? If you’ve never done it, climbing a mountain seems like a gargantuan and dangerous undertaking. It means battling intense cold, uneven footing, and the occasional rock slide or avalanche. With all that in mind, it’s not surprising that most of us don’t take on mountain heights.
But what about the people who do? How do they face the dangers and keep climbing?
Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner feels “quite safe” trekking up the world’s highest peaks according to her interview with National Geographic in an in-depth exploration about risk-taking. Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner is an adventurer who has survived an avalanche that killed two people. In her interview with National Geographic she recounts the harrowing story of her brush with death in 2007.
National Geographic: What’s the scariest moment you’ve faced?
Gerlinde: On Dhaulagiri [in Nepal] in 2007 there was an avalanche one morning, and I was swept away inside my tent. When it stopped, I didn’t know if I was up or down; it was so dark. But I thought, OK, at least I can breathe. I always carry a small knife in my harness, so I was able to cut a hole in the tent. I was terrified that the snow would suffocate me. Slowly, slowly, I made it out. I searched for three Spanish climbers who had camped near me. Two of them were dead. In that moment everything seemed to be over. For the first time I just wanted to leave the mountain.
National Geographic: How did you move past that terrible experience?
Gerlinde: It helped to talk with my husband, Ralf, who is also a climber and understands me completely. I realized that I couldn’t make the tragedy unhappen, and I couldn’t stop climbing—this is my life. A year later I returned to the same spot. There was the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. Joy and sorrow can be so close together.
What’s surprising is the fact that this terrible experience did not dampen her motivation or deter her from trekking the world’s mountains. Gerlinde is still out on the mountaintops today preparing to challenge her limits by setting more difficult goals.
When I read this, I thought, “Nothing I have faced has been as difficult or frightening as being covered by mounds of snow sliding down a mountain.” But then I reconsidered. We all experience our share of extreme fear and pain. Sometimes it’s physical, but it can just as easily be emotional, mental, or even spiritual.
During seventh grade, people in my family dropped dead like flies in a research lab. I survived that experience. Even now when my parents call us together for a family meeting, I want to ask, “Who died?” I spent my nights worrying that friends would die in horrible crashes or that an apocalypse would whisk away everyone I loved. Even though it was a painful year, I learned to accept that death is a natural part of life. My grief is still there but it doesn’t stop me from living.
I can’t wait for this year’s Spirit & Place Festival which will explore the many forms of RISKs – spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional and will celebrate the accomplishments of great risk-takers.
Ruth Hinkle is an IUPUI student who interns for @spiritandplace & @SAVIonline. She reads marketing blogs and fantasy novels in her free time. She celebrates Nerdfighteria and listens to 80s music at work. Follow @ruth_hinkle on Twitter!