A gift for endurance and respectful nature made a young Tamara Lunger stand out enough for a PE teacher to earmark her as a future high-altitude climber.
Growing up in the Italian mountains, the Dolomites were her playground, a perfect grounding for her future climbing profession.
However, aged 22, Tamara helped retrieve a friend’s body from Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world at 26,864ft, which lead to a period of soul searching.
The now 31-year-old talks to Sports Liberated about her career so far and reflects on such a traumatic period in her life.
Tamara, you’re the oldest of three sisters – are your siblings as adventurous as you?
No, let’s say I’m the craziest one! The others like to do sport but they always say to me, you’re crazy, why do you want to go up in the cold? It’s very hard to climb to 8,000m and they don’t really understand.
You all grew up in the same family environment so what makes you so different?
I don’t know. My father was a professional mountain biker and we’d be with him every weekend at the races and we slept outside in our van and this life for me was like an adventure life – I think this period created the spirit in me. Maybe the other sisters didn’t like it so much!
My parents are so free minded, they never said to us, ‘You have to learn this because in this work you can earn a lot of money’. They always supported us in our dreams and when I said I want to go to 8,000m, they never said, ‘Don’t go because it’s too dangerous’.
This is the best they can do because if I’m there, I’m not afraid about their feelings or their fears because I know that they are, let’s say, ‘happy’ if I’m happy in what I’m doing.
You compete in ski mountaineer racing and also do expeditions. Does this reveal two opposing sides of your personality?
Yes. That’s exactly the thing. I also did athletics so I grew up a little competitive and I still love to be competitive because if I go to expeditions I don’t want to be there without training as I always want to keep high my level of fitness and to be fast in the mountains because it’s also something that can keep you alive if you are in trouble.
As you get older do you think you’re getting more competitive or more adventurous?
I think more adventurous. At first I did expeditions where there were more people, like my first expedition was on Lhotse (the world’s fourth highest peak) and there were 1,000 people in base camp – it was interesting but I think my future is somewhere where there are no people and where I can really find myself.
How do you make a living?
I have sponsors, and I make some slide shows, and I help a little bit my parents because they have a mountain hut, a refuge, and so during the summer I have the possibility to work there and in winter I do some fitness training with groups. I try to work as less as possible and to enjoy as much as possible my life.
What you do is dangerous – some of your friends have died – do you feel you’re more aware of how precious life is?
Yes. I always try to live every day very intense. I love to train, I love to travel, I love to do slideshows. I never will lose this passion for expeditions or for the mountains because it’s so strong inside me it’s impossible to lose.
You had a terrible situation where you had to take a friend’s body off the mountain – can you describe that situation?
It was a very hard time and when this day was finished I thought okay, I did a good job because I really tried to avoid my feelings and to see it as work because we had to bring him down so I didn’t want to be super sensitive and crying. But the day after I was totally crying and very sad.
I was totally shocked and I lost a little bit the love for the mountains. I really wanted to be a professional climber and now I didn’t know if I still wanted to do this.
I stayed in the base camp and it was really hard because all these pictures were in my mind and it was so painful in my heart. I went home and I met his wife and she gave me a carabiner from him and now this carabiner is always with me in every expedition as good luck.
I needed half a year to recover but after I understood that nothing can keep me away from this passion and that the mountain is my way of life.
Tamara summits K2!
No idea what she’s saying but you don’t need to know – her face says it all.
Recommended further reading
‘This mountaineer’s decision to fail likely saved her partners’ via National Geographic