Tamara Lunger conquers eight-thousanders, but only when the mountain calls her. She only takes part in ultra-races when it makes sense for her. Indeed, she only does what’s good for her, allowing herself to be guided by instinct. Oh, these girls and their feelings! Yet wait a minute: We’re not talking about sentimentalism here, but about a woman who knows full well what she’s getting herself into when she listens to her heart and gut feeling. “I am a dreamer in love with the mountains,” she says of herself. This statement can also be found on her website (tamaralunger.com) and I think it hits the nail on the head, although this admission could be misinterpreted. Despite the reverie and love, she doesn’t remain lying on the couch, moving from one daydream to the next. Tamara listens – listens to her inner self. Then she gets up and acts… with unbelievable energy. If she is inspired by an idea and her gut feeling is right, it does not really matter that the set target requires an absolute world-class performance. Somehow she’ll carry it off. All she needs is to trust in herself, God and the support of her closest confidants: “My mother always let me go. If I ever doubted myself, she gave me confidence, not only in what I can do, but that I have made the right decision. That kind of faith and confidence makes you strong, because it gives you something to hold onto.”
Heart says, gut feeling says
Sometimes her gut feeling says: Up! Like in 2014 on K2, which she climbed without the help of Sherpas and without bottled oxygen… an absolute top alpine performance. But sometimes her gut feeling says: Down! Such was the case in 2016, when she turned back shortly before the summit of Nanga Parbat while attempting the first winter ascent. That was also a world-class performance – for both the ascent and descent. But her gut feeling never says anything without having first consulted her heart. Tamara’ heart is in the right place and it functions well in the endurance athlete, not only pumping blood, but also as a source of advice. Tamara Lunger is no longer one of the young wild ones who suddenly materialize and rock the scene. The South Tyrolean recently celebrated her 30th birthday. But as an alpinist she really entered the arena six years ago, when she became the youngest woman to climb the Lhotse (at a height of 8,516 metres the world’s fourth tallest mountain). That was not a thunderclap that aroused much interest; Tamara’s achievement on the Lhotse standard climbing route was not spectacular enough for that. For Tamara herself, however, it was a new turn in her life’s path. From now on, high-altitude mountains would play a major role for her.
Competition in the blood, weaker self as an adversary, the mountain as a friend
Tamara had previously enjoyed a reputation in other sport disciplines. For many years the name Lunger was on everyone’s lips in the ski mountaineering society in Italy. Her father Hansjörg had already been a successful ski mountaineer. Tamara sees him as a great role model. At the age of 16 she followed in his footsteps, quickly achieved a number of successes and was appointed to the Italian national team. In 2006 and 2008 she was national champion. In the Pierra Menta (besides the Patrouille de Glaciers and Trofeo Mezzalama one of the most important ski-tour races) the Lunger family was represented twice on the medal podium: in 2007 and 2008 Tamara won in her age group, while her father won the silver medal in the open class. In 2008 Tamara also became U23 world champion in long distance. In truth, no matter what she tackles: she is always successful. For Tamara success means first and foremost a successful life, not so much success in sport. It’s the attitude that counts. At the age of 14 she dreamed of climbing an eight-thousander. But first of all she became Italian vice-champion in orienteering. She apparently has a talent for endurance sport: excellent prerequisites for her ski-tour racing career and the 8,000ers. But wait, it’s not that easy to trace Tamara’s development: in 2004 and 2005 she became Italian vice-champion in discus. Discus throwing? At a national level? Her knee is to blame for that. Despite all her strengths, Tamara also has serious weaknesses. Since her youth she has had pains in the knee. At some point it became too much for her; Tamara gave up running and tried something else. Her knee pains started to ease. But nevertheless: “After a while I gave up discus again. Because, if you do it for long, you look like a barrel, and I didn’t want to end like so many others,” Tamara grins. So she resumed her career in ski touring races.
At home in the mountains, at home in the family
Tamara grew up in the mountains and with the mountains. Her parents run the mountain lodge known as Latzfonser Kreuz, 2,300 metres above Klausen in South Tyrol. Directly adjacent to the house is a church of the same name, a well-known place of pilgrimage and the highest in Europe. Tamara grew up with this church. She describes herself as a very religious person. Prior to every expedition, Tamara says Mass in the Latzfonser Kreuz Church. On Sunday, however, she does not go to church: no time for that. When Tamara is not on an expedition, she helps out by serving guests in the lodge. Around Farragosto (mid-August), when half of, if not all, Italy goes on holiday, even the most idyllic spots in South Tyrol are not spared from the masses, and Tamara works as a waitress and in the kitchen. With this experience under her belt she has also worked in service at the Munich Oktoberfest. “The Oktoberfest is harder than the K2,” is a typical line from Tamara. “When I suffer, I’m content” When she tackles something, it has to be hard. Tamara is always curious to test her limits. Her knee pains are still troubling her. With consistent physiotherapy, meditation and positive thinking she meanwhile has her body under control. Mountain runs are again part of her sporting life and, of course, elemental to her power of endurance. In 2013, without major preparations, she came in second in the GORE-TEX Transalpine Run. In the following year she was even able to win the race (again together with her running partner Annemarie Gross) – even though it hurt badly. Each day, tormented by muscle ache, she has to force herself to continue. “But I simply wanted it, and I’m not just running for myself, I also have a partner for whom I share the responsibility,” says Tamara. “Somehow, it seems that when I suffer, I’m content.” She laughs: “Particularly afterwards.” On Nanga Parbat she hurt herself on the descent: her shoulder and ankle joint were damaged. After that, she was unable to step on the gas, as she would like to have done. But bemoaning her fate? That makes no sense to her. Tamara will merely realise other dreams that only indirectly have something to do with the mountains. “I always wanted to be a helicopter pilot, but the costs and time involved were always prohibitive. After the attempt on Manaslu in the winter of 2015, Simone Moro brought it home to me. He himself flies helicopters and flies rescue missions in Nepal. That’s my ultimate dream: to fly up in the Himalayas. After you have already gained so many things from the country that count in your life – adventures, impressions, experiences – that enables you to give something back to people.”
Joy in things big and small
Wherever one encounters Tamara, there are usually a few people around her who are in a good mood. That’s not surprising, because Tamara herself has a cheerful personality, and that is contagious. However, a hint at how she is in private, when she is unobserved and sometimes in low spirits, can be gained by looking at her Facebook postings. The latter are often very direct, honest and frank. She’s a straight talker and refuses to succumb to censure. When something bugs her and knocks her off-balance, she expresses her displeasure in an unequivocal manner. What she particularly abhors are hypocrisy and double standards: in the mountains, but also in interpersonal relationships. The feeling must be right, in everything she does. Whether it’s ‘something small’ like a three-day hike as part of an inclusion project with children with and without disabilities, or ‘something big’ such as the winter ascent of Nanga Parbat.