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TAMARA LUNGER: GIVING TIME TO TIME
“It was as if K2 didn't want us”.
Struggle: Tamara Lunger has always chosen the hardest route, ever since she was a child. As a child, she immediately understands that she has fallen in love with the mountains and that she is able to endure much sufferance. At twenty-three she climbs her first eight-thousand metre peak, becoming the youngest woman in history on the summit of Lhotse. In 2014 she reaches the summit of K2 without oxygen, the second Italian woman in the history of mountaineering. The year she returns to the "mountain of the Italians", to try an exceptional feat: the first winter ascent of K2 in history. After the extraordinary success of the ten Nepalese mountaineers, who reach the summit, the expedition turns into a tragedy for Tamara Lunger. First, she witnesses the death of her friend Sergi Mingote who fall just a few meters from her: the South Tyrolean mountaineer stays by his side for an hour, talking to him, trying to make the last moments of his life more serene. Then more lives are lost; Atanas Skatov, Muhammad Ali Sadpara, John Snorri Sigurjónsson and Juan Pablo Mohr, known as JP, with whom Tamara Lunger had formed a deep friendship after the death of Sergi Mingote. These griefs push the Italian mountaineer to question herself and mountaineering: what has happened brings to a momentary halt her winter attempts on the giants of the Earth.
How do you feel Tamara?
"I'm meditating. I immediately felt a very strong energy on K2: this mountain really requires your whole self, both mentally and physically. I always try to hear what the mountain is communicating to me, if it is the right time to climb or if it is better to stop. After having made the first winter ascent of K2 in history, when Nirmal "Nims" Purja came back down, he said to me “Tamara be careful, this mountain allows for no mistakes”. And he gave me one of his lucky charms. I am thinking a lot about what happened: why did these five people die and not others? Why am I still alive? Although clearly I'm happy to be sitting here and being able to talk to you.”
What did you bring home from the expedition on K2?
“Initially I thought it was going to be a positive expedition, we were sure to get to the top. Then it all turned into a nightmare. It was very difficult. I felt as if we were not welcome there, the mountain did not want us. I did not feel at home: that place was not good for me. I saw K2 in a completely different light than in 2014. It almost scared me. At Camp 3 I came close to panicking, it was incredibly cold. I only have three photos of myself on K2: it is significant, it means that I was looking for something else.”
Why didn't you try the summit with the other climbers in the end?
“My main goal was to hear what the mountain was communicating to me, the messages it was sending me. I wanted to be open to these emotions and in fact I felt a lot more than on other occasions. When I left to try to reach the summit I was not in top form, I was a little sick, and I knew I was not in great shape. I put together the different signals, in particular the sensations that the mountain gave me, and so from Camp 3 I decided not to try the summit, even if it was important for me to be there with JP just before he left.”
You said you wanted to give it some time. In what sense?
“When the tragedy on Cho Oyu happened in 2010 and Walter Nones died, it took me six months to regain my passion for the mountains. Now I am not sure how long it will take me to recover or what tomorrow will bring. When these things happen, I always have many questions to answer”.
You said that what happened requires a halt to the winter attempts. But you have always accepted the risk
“Yes, I always knew it could be very dangerous. Maybe the K2 expedition had to be so terrible to make me understand that perhaps I should do something else with my future. I am aware that things can go wrong, but when friends die it is always terrible. I always thought that the climbing team with Sergi and JP was the best: they were always happy, we sang together, and I had a lot of fun with them. They were always positive, they made me feel at home. I wondered why them? Why Ali, who had so much experience and never took any risks? I am still trying to understand".
On K2 you experienced both joy for the Nepalese company and tragedy for the loss of your teammates. What does the mountain represent for you?
“In the end, although this was terribly difficult experience, I have to be honest with myself: in the mountains I always look for intense moments, which give me lessons for the future. And from this last expedition too, I have understood a lot. I faced many situations, and in the end, setting foot on the top of the mountain was no longer my priority. I was happy for the Nepalese, we all had a toast together, and I was proud of them, they deserved it. This celebration, however, had lost some value for me, because on the same day of their success I saw Sergi Mingote fall and die. From that moment on, I only thought about how to mourn this grief. With JP we understood each other immediately, we strengthened each other, we deeply needed each other, we were always together, we talked a lot, cried, laughed: we really helped each other. His death broke my heart.”
The mountain has often been described as a cool thing - very true - but perhaps the issue of safety has been overlooked a little. On the other hand, the phrase "if you are a mountaineer you go looking for it" is still often heard. What do you think about it?
"The mountain is everything: it can be the greatest joy in life, and half an hour later it can take all the joy away. It is like a human being: it has a thousand different facades, from happiness to sadness to wickedness. Sometimes it wants you at other times it does not want you at all. Some days then an incredible fog arrives and seems to tell you: get out of here! It depends a lot on what you perceive at that moment: for some, K2 is the most difficult mountain on the planet, because perhaps those who speak about it have had a negative experience. In 2014 I felt a perfect harmony with this mountain, I felt strong and at peace and I could not wait to climb, I felt super positive energy. Now, however, it has shown itself in another guise: I knew that I had to be very careful about how I moved, I was aware that I could not allow myself to make mistakes. I knew very well that the winter on K2 would be the most difficult expedition of my life."
What were you particularly careful about? What couldn't you afford?
"Walking in the dark: I had decided before leaving that I would only walk in the dark in case of an emergency. Otherwise, I would have left from the next camp, always with the light. Your hands are much more likely to freeze when you pitch your tent in the dark, and it may be windy. And at that point your expedition is over.”
What are the most important difficulties you faced during the winter on K2?
“The first was when we got lost on the glacier and instead of taking two hours to get to the camp we took five. I did not have a front lamp: I had lost one and the other one had no battery left, and my partner, an Irish mountaineer, had little battery and his dim light was about to go out. Then the conditions are different than in summer when there is a lot more snow. In winter everything is frozen, you always walk on crampons and the physical effort that the body has to support is considerable. It is very tiring for the legs. In addition, large rocks often fell from above, the landslide of which was often involuntarily caused by mountaineers walking above you. One of these boulders hit a climber on the head breaking his helmet and cracking his skull. In addition, during the descent I noticed that many pegs had come out, the ropes were no longer secure, so I checked everything at every step. I always had to be very focused. Of course, I also had to protect myself from the cold, trying to avoid mistakes that could have been fatal, like losing your gloves: if you are left with only one pair it is not a good thing. Luckily, I lost a left and a right glove of different pairs, and I always had two / three spare."
Who is Tamara Lunger in everyday life?
“I wish I knew too! (laughs). I struggle much more in everyday life than when I am on an expedition. In the mountains I do not have to struggle with bureaucracy, there are no bills to pay! I just cannot stand these things. I try to do something for myself every day, I work on myself, I do mindfulness and meditation, I read, I think, I write. I am constantly trying to improve to become the person I want to be. Then I train, even if at the moment, I'm not very motivated: I don't want to go to the mountains, to go ski mountaineering. I want to ride a bike and, above all, to stay warm, by the sea. I have to give myself some time.”