For 14 years Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner had a single-minded pursuit: Climb the world's 14 tallest peaks without oxygen or porters. At 6:18 p.m. on August 23, 2011, atop K2, this part-time nurse accomplished just that, becoming the first woman to do so. It was her sixth attempt on the infamous peak, which had taken her teammate Fredrik Ericsson's life the previous year after a fall at the deadly Bottleneck.
Kaltenbrunner was introduced to hiking in the mountains by her church youth group. She did her first climbing tour of a local 2,028-meter peak, Sturzhahn, at 13, which sparked an interest in alpinism. After climbing her first 8,000-meter-peak, Broad Peak, at 23, she set her sights on climbing all 14 of the historic peaks, but without the aid of high-altitude porters or supplemental oxygen. "From the very beginning, it was very important to me to climb these peaks with my own energy, without the high-altitude porters, and, of course, without the supplemental oxygen," says Kaltenbrunner.