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Geri Winkler,
Austrian to set record as first diabetic to climb world’s highest peaks

“It’s exciting!” Geri cried out a few steps from reaching the summit. Looking over his shoulders, the 49-year old took a deep breath and beheld the freezing barren landscape below. Desolate and inhospitable, it’s no place for humans. Even less a spot for a diabetic like him. Yet here he was atop the highest peak of the world’s bottom, the Antarctica. His red moustache frozen, he smiled contently. He is now three steps closer to his dream —to be the first diabetic ever to finish the Seven Summits Mission, conquering the highest mountain in all seven continents.—

On the freezing peak of Mt. Vinson, Antarctica, Geri Winkler, an Austrian trained in extreme outdoor sports, unscrewed his flask, a regular companion, and poured into a cup a hot golden brown liquid. It’s Charantea, and it has reached Antarctica’s roof with the man. Geri has been drinking it to manage his blood sugar level in normal and, as in the South Pole, extreme conditions.

Far from being weighed down by diabetes, Geri used it as a reason to fire himself up. “Don’t let diabetes restrict you. You’re the boss.” One can sense that behind the man’s hunger for a world record lurks a bigger hunger—to prove a diabetic can live a full and active life.

Mt. Vinson is Antarctica’s highest peak at 5,140 meters. Geri reached its peak last December, making it the third mountain off his list. In July 2001, Geri started his grand dream with the successful climb of Europe’s highest, the 5,642 meter Mt. Elbrus in Russia. Two years after, he reached the peak of Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina, which at 7,000 meters is South America’s tallest mountain. Four to go.

A Dangerous life

Geri’s passion for the outdoors glosses over the risks involved. In fact, he seems to love staring danger in the eye. He was lucky that his first three climbs didn’t pose any serious threat. “There’s good snow and ice conditions,” he said. Still, they were not without pitfalls. Geri found the long ascent to the summit of Mt. Elbrus long and tedious, which for a diabetic could easily be twice difficult. “On summit day, it’s a long unbroken uphill from an altitude of 3,800 meters to the peak at 5,642 meters.” On their way down, Geri recalled, his team spotted a Danish climber who was lying unconscious on the snow-covered slopes. “We found him with severe symptoms of mountain sickness,” he said. Against the advice of his team, the man proceeded to reach the summit alone; but exhaustion later caught him. “He would have died a few minutes later [if we didn’t find him].” The Dane survived. At the back of his mind, Geri knew that man could easily be him.

In Mt. Aconcagua, the climb was higher and compounded by winds hitting his face at 100 km/h. It could injure an unprotected eye. The Antarctic tour was no less perilous. Although Mt. Vinson is technically an ‘easy climb’—it towers only at about 100 Statue of Liberties standing atop each other—the temperature is deceitful. Without warning, it drops to -45˚C in minutes, leaving the unprepared vulnerable to deadly frost bites.

Geri’s latest crossing - Amazing Antarctica

Endless vistas of blue ice and snow. This was Geri's latest crossing. His expedition team composed of a fellow Austrian, Japanese, Lebanese, a Canadian and two British climbers spent last year's Christmas under the grey Antarctic sky.

A cargo aircraft from Punta Arenas , Chile , the world's southernmost city, was the only way to bring Geri's team and their stuff to the continent. It was early morning when the massive Russian Iljuschin plane landed with tires crunching heavily on the blue ice shelf, as if any time the ground would break open. The giant beast slowed to a halt and, slowly, lowered its bay doors. The team looked outside and, as sunlight poured into the plane, caught their first glimpse of the last frontier. Welcome to Antarctica.

With little time to spare, the team set up camp at Patriot Hills, the final jumping-off point before the ascent of the 4,897 meter-high Mt. Vinson . The nearest ‘town' is the South Pole. Later in the evening, Geri and his team were served hot meals and slept the night comfortably. “From here on, there was only day time,” wrote Geri in his journal. The next day, as the team got closer to the pole for the ascent, they came across one of Antarctica 's peculiarities. The sun never sets and the moon is perpetually absent. The reason is simple: the South Pole is fixed almost facing the sun the whole year and the moon does not cross over the poles.

For five hours, the team trekked across wide swaths of age-old glaciers. Geri said they had to fasten themselves and secure their sleighs with straps to avoid falling into cracks that seemed to appear unannounced between ice shelves. By the day's end, they have covered 3,000 meters of altitude. Time to set up camp. Tomorrow was the 25 th of December, literally his whitest Christmas ever.

Over the next three days, the team would push for the summit, overcoming icy wind and steep cliffs. Eventually, they had to give up the sleighs as the ground started to turn up 50-degrees. From here, they had to carry their baggage.

As they climbed higher, the temperature was fast dropping. The cold started to distress Geri. They pressed on. Silence enveloped the team, broken only by the whooshing wind. Geri could already smell his dream unfolding; but it's still seven hours away from the peak.

Finally, after six days of scaling the cold mountain the team touched ground on Mt. Vinson 's summit “We were standing on the highest peak of the Antarctica !” exclaimed Geri. “We felt warm. We enjoyed it.” Resting a while, the team took some pictures, marveled at the endless white scenery and congratulated each other. They had conquered Antarctica. Next mountain, please.

Geri has had near tragic encounters even before he took on the Seven Summits goal. “I was caught twice between tribal warfare,” he said, recalling his many jungle trips. Once, he swam a river full of crocodiles in Angola to escape fighting armed groups. He also crashed his paraglider at 40 meters above ground, and escaped an avalanche in Peru by five meters. “Outdoor sports is dangerous. Everyone who likes it has to accept the consequence.

Will Geri make it?

His Shot at a world record to be the first diabetic to conquer the tallest peaks of the world's seven continents is now near half through. Follow his travels as he embarks once more to scale Mt. McKinley in Alaska this summer, the fourth leg of his Seven Summits Mission.

Biography

Name: Geri (Gerhard) Winkler
Nationality: Austrian
Date of Birth: 13 th of April 1956
Profession: Outdoor Sportsman and High School Teacher
Diabetes Type 1: since 1984
Languages: German (excellent), English (good), French (good), Spanish (basic)
Family Status: one child (boy), single
Contact Details: Gerhard Winkler
Kreindlgasse 1b/10, A-1190 Vienna,
Telephone: +43-1-369 07 06,
Email: gerhardwinkler@hotmail.com
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