Posted at 02:04 PM ET, 08/25/2011

Austrian alpinist becomes first woman to summit all 14 of the world’s highest peaks

Expedition co-leader Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner on ascent, making her way through ice towers common to K2. (National Geographic/Ralf Dujmovits )
Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, a 40-year-old Austrian alpinist, had tried to climb K2 before. Three times. If she reached the top, she knew, she’d become the first woman to summit all 14 of the world’s peaks without using supplementary oxygen.

On Tuesday, Kaltenbrunner finally did it.

She and her team reached the top of the Earth’s second-tallest and most difficult to climb mountain at at 6:18 p.m. local time, National Geographic reported.

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner on the steep step before the rock shoulder of K2. (National Geographic/Ralf Dujmovits)
Kaltenbrunner, who supported by grants from the National Geographic Society, was one of four climbers to reach the summit of K2. Her husband and another climber had turned back, believing the threat of avalanche to be too great. The team had also waded through waist-deep snow and battled high winds to get to the top.

“I can’t believe how lucky we were to reach the summit together in this fantastic weather, despite the difficult conditions during the ascent,” Kaltenbrunner said. “I would like to thank everyone for their ‘mental support,’ which I could clearly feel and which literally carried me to the summit.”

Before this expedition, only 24 people had made it to the top of all 14 tallest mountains.

Kaltenbrunner and her team began their ascent after leaving northern base camp in Xinjiang, China, on June 17. K2, located on the Pakistan-China border, is 28,251 feet and believed to be the hardest of the peaks to climb. Many people have died trying.

Last year, Kaltenbrunner lost team member Fredrick Ericsson while trying to climb K2.

Kaltenbrunner began climbing mountains during her childhood in Austria. She later saved up money she earned as a nurse before becoming a full-time alpinist in 2003.

By  |  02:04 PM ET, 08/25/2011

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