Julia: Hello Gerhard! It's great that you're here online today and are telling us about your greatest adventure in Antarctica to date.
First of all, it would be great if you could briefly introduce yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
I'm Gerhard, 52 years old and live with my family in Vienna. I have been doing expeditions to all continents of the world for 30 years, whereby the destinations of these expeditions are mostly the tops of very high mountains. Professionally, I give lectures on these expeditions and have written a number of books.
Julia: What does adventure mean to you in everyday life and how important is adventure to you?
Adventure has been a very important part of my life since I was little. For me, adventure always has something to do with uncertainty, not just whether you'll reach the goal in the end or not, but also how to deal with inner circumstances or doubts on the way there. Adventures always open up completely new horizons about myself.
Julia: And what has been your greatest adventure so far?
If I had to pick one, it would be my expedition to Antarctica in 2005. We traveled there as a team of 2 to climb Antarctica's highest mountain. Compared to the 8,000m peaks in the Himalayas, Mount Vinson is not very high at 5,140m. The challenge of this mountain lies in the fact that it stands in one of the most hostile environments at the end of the world. Because it's bitterly cold there, the weather is unpredictable and you don't meet a soul. However, Antarctica is definitely a unique piece of natural beauty. For me it is characterized by its unbelievable virginity and simplicity.
Before I started my adventure to Antarctica, I knew that getting there would be very difficult and expensive. However, I knew that I had to go there once in my life and that I wouldn't do it again.
Back then, we flew in a small plane from a research station to the foot of the mountains. And right after we got off that plane, he took off again. And then we stood there. It became quiet around us and there was nothing and nobody to be seen far and wide. You don't know that anymore because you're always surrounded by noises, people or civilization.
Usually you make 2 high camps on this route and we figured we'd make just one camp and set it up at the bottom of the mountain. Then we set up our tent there and then walked the first 1,000 meters of altitude on the route. It was really a beautiful day and we were able to acclimatize. After looking at the icefall up there, we hiked back to our tent and decided there that we would take another day off. While we were relaxing in our tent, an unbelievable storm rolled in. I had actually climbed quite a few mountains by then, but it was a situation I had never experienced in 20 years of mountaineering. It was freezing cold, strong storm and no visibility.
This powerful blizzard then lasted for 6 days. And during these 6 days I got to know myself a little further. After all, who are you these 6 days when you're locked in that tent and worried about the tent breaking down, running out of fuel or running out of time to climb the summit? This made it by far the greatest adventure for me as the continent and the circumstances were more challenging than the mountain itself.
Due to the strong storm we had to protect our tent at some point, so we cut out blocks of snow with a snow saw. We then used these blocks of snow to build a wall around the tent to direct the storm through the tent. The problem, however, was that the wind blew this protective wall away after 36 hours and we had to build this wall again and again. At some point we couldn't find any more suitable snow in the immediate vicinity, so we had to go further and further away. At some point we could no longer see the tent from there and found it difficult to find our way back. We solved that by tying each other to a 60 meter long climbing rope so as not to lose each other. A very absurd situation that fortunately ended well.
After 6 days this storm finally came to an end. After that we quickly packed up and went up and down Mount Vinson in 15 hours. The weather conditions were perfect that day! I can still remember well when we stood on the summit at midnight with no wind and -30 degrees. We still saw very far because it has 24 hours of light there in the Antarctic summer. Up there we had a unique view over the continent.
Julia: What exactly do you see from up there?
You see infinite space. A mountain range like the Hohe Tauern, for example, and where the mountains end below, an endless plain begins and at some point you can see the horizon.
Julia: And how did you pass the time when you were locked in the tent for 6 days? It would have been difficult to watch TV there. 😊
That's a good question. I wrote a lot and my partner solved a lot of sudokus in the meantime. In addition, we always had something to do, such as melting snow, cooking food, repairing and securing the tent or resting in a warm sleeping bag. But you have to know yourself in such situations - I would not recommend anyone to do this as their first tour. Just this loneliness there, it hits you hard.
Julia: Who exactly did you do this adventure with and how did you choose this person?
His name is Gerald and he's a really funny guy. He's not a mountaineer in the traditional sense, but an incredible all-rounder who loves to dance tournaments, skydive and deep sea dive. At the same time he climbed all 7 summits and was even on Everest. However, Gerald never comes as well prepared, neither physically nor organisationally, for an expedition as I do. Back then, my sled was 10kg heavier than his. But I've learned a lot from him. He denies adventures above all with his mental strength and his incredible constructiveness. Whatever happens on an expedition, I can be sure that he would never throw in the towel. He always strives to find solutions to problems.
I once started an expedition to Papua New Guinea with him and pretty much everything that could have gone wrong went wrong there. And yet he was always relaxed and constructive - for Gerald that is exactly the perfect adventure. What completes the picture of him is his job as a tax advisor. There he is a bone dry guy and works with numbers all day.
Julia: All right. So the Gerald jumped right into the adventure, but how did you prepare?
With a big mountain in Alaska, it was 1,000 meters higher than the mountain in Antarctica. But it was similar in terms of challenge, since you also pull a sled there.But I also trained a lot in the mountains in Austria and diligently collected meters in altitude. Physically, Mount Vinson in the Antarctic was not a big deal, it was important to get to know the "logistics". How about this sled? How do you pack it? How do you get him over climbing crevices? How do you pitch the tent so it doesn't fly away? How does plan B work to build an igloo? I dealt with these things more than a year before.
Julia: What 3 key takeaways would you give other adventurers?
#1 choose the right partner for the adventure
If you don't start your adventure alone, the most important thing is that you have the right partner by your side. I believe that the goal doesn't really matter that much if you spend the time to reach the goal with the right people. You should also just have a good time and enjoy the way there.
#2 stay constructive and relaxed
Things will always go wrong on an adventure, that's the nature of things. Surprising and unexpected things are sure to crop up. It is precisely in these situations that you should remain relaxed - this is really an important quality.
#3 never stop believing that you can achieve your goal
I learned that in the really high mountains in the Himalayas because there are hours and snow situations where you think you can't make it anymore. In moments like this, rationally speaking, everything speaks against it, but if you keep at it, you will definitely reach your goal. I also had a mountain accident once where I hurt myself badly and thought I would never be able to climb again. However, if you believe in yourself and have a positive attitude, you can often do more than you think.