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The Mountaineer: Edurne Pasaban

Edurne Pasaban climbed all 14 8,000-meter peaks in the world. Was she the first or the second woman to pull this off? To her, it doesn’t matter.

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Everything makes more sense on a mountain. There’s a purity to it, a finality. You climb to the top and live to tell about it, or you don’t. And descents can be more fatal than the push to the summit. Edurne Pasaban knows this all too well. Six years ago, on her way off of 28,251-foot K2, Pasabán lost pieces of her big toes to frostbite. When she returned home to Spain she felt “like a load of things had piled up on me all at once.” She was 31 with no partner, no children, and a life dedicated to a quest that had left her missing some of her toes. She had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. She thought about quitting climbing. Then, not quite a year later, Pasaban returned to the mountains, where things were clearer.

This spring, after knocking off 26,545-foot Annapurna and then, quickly, 26,289-foot Shishapangma, the 37-year-old Basque became the second woman in history to summit every mountain above 8,000 meters (26,247 feet). The first, a Korean named Oh Eun-sun, had climbed Annapurna just weeks before. But Eun-sun’s claim for the 14 eight-thousanders is controversial, her ascent of Kangchenjunga, in 2009, has been called into question—photo evidence and Sherpa accounts don’t match up. Pasaban is sick of the debate. She’s climbed the highest, hardest mountains on Earth. All of them. And to her, that’s what’s important. Who are we to disagree?

—By Ryan Bradley

By Edurne Pasaban

A (Hard) Hobby
When I climbed Everest in 2001, never did I think that one day I will finish all 14 eight-thousanders. Climbing was my hobby. I worked as an engineer. But after I climbed Broad Peak in 2007, I thought, I’ve already climbed nine of the highest in the world. So why not? After I had done so many, I began to think it would be possible to do them all.

No Rivals, Just Friends
I never feel like I’m in competition with other climbers. When Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and I climbed Broad Peak and Dhaulagiri in the same season, I never saw her like a rival. Both of us have a dream in our life, and it's the same dream. I think that the mountain gives me many things and one of these, the most important, is friends. For me, Gerlinde is one of the best friends that I have.

Puro y Duro
On K2 in 2004, we arrived to the summit very late in the afternoon and had many problems on the way down. We spent 24 hours above 8,000 meters, which can be deadly. And last year, descending Kanchenjunga, I got to a point where I told the rest of my team that I couldn't go on, that they should leave me behind. For me, it was egotism, puro y duro ("pure and hard"). Of course I didn't want them to leave me, so it was a way of telling them I was in trouble without necessarily saying it. Sometimes your own pride keeps you from saying those types of things.

Mental Coaching
This year, the mental preparation was different, because I knew I would be spending three months in the Himalaya, and that is a very long time. I had a coach to help me prepare my mind for that. For me, my motivation wasn’t to be the first, but to finish my project, my dream, because I had started it. These ten years were not easy for me. I had many personal problems. I had a big depression during 2005 and 2006 and I think that it was the worst moment in my life. But I had to prove to myself I could keep going and accomplish this.

The Controversy
Really, I am very tired of talking about this. On the 17th of May [2010], I finished my challenge. For me this is the most important thing. If I am the first or the second it is not important for me. Maybe I can stay in the history books, but my real life will not change with this. Many times, in the bad moments in my depression, in moments on the mountain when didn’t think I would make it, I didn’t think about how many peaks I had climbed. The important thing is knowing oneself. If Miss Oh did Kangchenjunga, yes or no, is not an important problem in my life. What is important is to be honest and humble.

Going for Purity
This spring, I will do Everest without oxygen. I did all my peaks without oxygen except Everest. I just want to continue be happy, doing what I love—climbing mountains.

—Additional reporting by Tetsuhiko Endo

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