Julia: Hello Gerhard! Thank you so much that you are here online today to tell us about your greatest adventure in Antarctica.
At the beginning it would be great if you could briefly introduce yourself. Who are you and what are you doing?
I am 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, and the goals of these expeditions are mostly peaks of very high mountains. Professionally, I give presentations on these expeditions and have written some books.
Julia: What does adventure mean to you in everyday life and what is the significance of adventure for you?
Adventure has had a very high value in my life since I was little. For me, adventure always has something to do with uncertainty, not only whether you reach the goal in the end or not, but also how you deal with internal circumstances or doubts on the way there. Adventures always open up completely new horizons about myself.
Julia: And what was your biggest adventure so far?
If I had to choose one, for me it would be my expedition to Antarctica in 2005. We went there as a 2-man team to climb the highest mountain in Antarctica. Compared to the 8,000 meter peaks in the Himalayas, this Mount Vinson with its 5,140 meters is not very high. The challenge of this mountain is that it is located in one of the most hostile environments at the end of the world. Because there it is bitterly cold, the weather is unpredictable and you don't meet a soul. However, Antarctica is definitely a unique piece of beautiful nature. It stands out for me because of its incredible unspoiledness and simplicity.
Before I started my adventure to Antarctica, I already knew that it would be very difficult and expensive to get there. However, I knew that I had to go once in my life and that I would not repeat it.
At that time, we flew in a small plane from a research station to the foot of the mountain. And right after we got off the plane, he took off again. And then we stood there. It became quiet around us and far and wide there was nothing and nobody to be seen. You don't know that anymore, because you are always surrounded by noise, people or civilization.
Usually it is so that one makes 2 high camps on this route and we have thought that we only make one camp and set it up at the very bottom of the mountain. Then we set up our tent there and then walked the first 1,000 meters of altitude of the route. It was really a beautiful day and we were able to acclimatize to it. After looking at the icefall up there, we hiked back to our tent and decided there that we would take another day break. While we were getting comfortable in our tent to rest, an incredible storm blew in. I had really climbed some mountains at this point, but this was a situation like I had never experienced in 20 years of mountaineering. It was freezing cold, strong storm and no visibility.
This mighty snowstorm then lasted for 6 days. And during these 6 days I got to know myself a bit more. Because who are you in these 6 days, where you are locked in this tent and worry that the tent will break, the fuel is not enough or you have no more time to climb the summit? That made it by far the biggest adventure for me, because 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 snow blocks with a snow saw. From these snow blocks we then built a wall around the tent to direct the storm over the tent. The problem was, however, that the wind blew away this protective wall after 36 hours and we had to rebuild this wall again and again. Immediately nearby we eventually couldn't find any more suitable snow, so we had to go further and further away. From there, at some point we could no longer see the tent and could not easily find our way back. We solved this by tying each other to a 60-meter climbing rope so we wouldn't get lost. A very absurd situation that fortunately turned out well.
After 6 days the storm finally came to an end. After that we packed up quickly and walked up and down the Mount Vinson in 15 hours. On that day the weather conditions were perfect! I can still remember when we stood on the summit at midnight with no wind and -30 degrees. Nevertheless, we saw very far because it is light there for 24 hours in the Antarctic summer. Up there we had a unique view of the continent.
Julia: What exactly can you see from up there?
You see infinite space. A mountain range such as the Hohe Tauern and where the mountain range ends below, an endless expanse begins and at some point you can see the horizon.
Julia: And how did you pass the time when you were locked in a tent for 6 days? Television would have been difficult 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 the 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 wouldn't recommend doing this as your first tour. This loneliness there alone hits you hard.
Julia: Who exactly did you have 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 classic sense, but an incredible all-rounder who loves to dance tournaments, parachute jumping and diving deep sea. At the same time he climbed all 7 summits and was even on Everest. However, Gerald never comes as well prepared as I do, neither physically nor organizationally, on an expedition like me. Back then, my sled was 10kg heavier than his. But I've already learned a lot from him. He denies adventures mainly with his mental strength and incredible constructiveness. Whatever happens on an expedition, I can be sure that he would never give up. He is always trying to find solutions for problems.
I once started an expedition with him to Papua New Guinea and pretty much everything went wrong there that could have gone wrong. And yet he was always relaxed and constructive - that is exactly a perfect adventure for Gerald. What makes the picture of him complete is his job as a tax advisor.
Julia: All right. So Gerald jumped straight into the adventure, but how did you prepare?
With a large mountain in Alaska that was 1,000 meters higher than the mountain in Antarctica. In terms of the challenge, however, it was similar, since you also pull a sledge there. But also in Austria I trained a lot in the mountains and diligently collected meters in altitude. Physically, Mount Vinson in Antarctica wasn't a big deal, it was important to get to know the "logistics". How is it with this sleigh? How do you pack it? How do you get it over crevasses? How do you set up the tent so that it doesn't fly away? How does Plan B to build an igloo work? I had already dealt with these things over a year before that.
Julia: Which 3 key takeaways would you give to 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 isn't that important if you spend the time with the right people to get there. You should just have a good time and enjoy the way there.
# 2 stay constructive and relaxed
Something will always go wrong on an adventure, that's in the nature of things. Surprising and unexpected things are sure to crop up. It is precisely in these situations that you should stay 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 do it anymore. In such moments everything speaks against it rationally, but if you stick with it, you will definitely achieve your goal. I also had a mountain accident once where I was seriously injured and thought that I could never climb again. However, if you believe in yourself and have a positive attitude, you can often do more than you think.