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Woman Reaches K2's Summit, And A Place In History

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At more than 28,000 feet, K2 is the second-highest mountain in the world. And when Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner reached its summit this week, she became the first woman to climb all 14 of the world's tallest peaks without using any supplementary oxygen.

Morning Edition guest host David Greene caught up with Kaltenbrunner, of Austria, at K2's upper base camp, speaking over a crackling satellite phone connection. She and her husband, Ralf Dujmovits, have also been writing a blog from the mountain for the National Geographic website.

"It was a big challenge, and now, finally, we could reach the top," she said.

Straddling the Pakistan-China border, K2 is known as the "Savage Mountain," because it presents such a treacherous climb for the alpinists who hope to reach its summit.

On her climb, Kaltenbrunner's husband — who has previously climbed K2 — ended his attempt to reach the summit.

"He tried to convince me to come back with him, of course," Kaltenbrunner says, "because he has another view of risk than I have. But I could convince him that I have a very good feeling, I know that there is avalanche danger, but we can avoid the danger somehow. I had a very good feeling."

Kaltenbrunner, 40, approached the summit along with three other climbers, coming from the Chinese side of K2 — considered a longer and more difficult climb than ascending from the Pakistani side.

She had already tried to climb the mountain at least four times; several of her teammates died in those attempts, including one last year.

"He tried to live his dreams, and we do the same," she says of her 2010 teammate, Fredrik Ericsson. "We know that something can happen. But the mountain is still there — very beautiful, very powerful."

During their two-month trek to K2's summit, the team of climbers sometimes waded through waist-deep snow and had to fight high winds. There were moments when Kaltenbrunner said it was so cold, she lost feeling in her fingers and toes.

But at the top, Kaltenbrunner says, the view from the peak was magical. In her words, it was "the most wonderful moment ever."

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