Record-breaking woman who conquered world's tallest peaks

Published 5:30 AM ET, Wed April 24, 2013
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Edurne Pasaban became the first woman to climb all 14 mountains over 8,000 meters in May 2010, spanning Nepal, China, India and Pakistan. They range from Shisha Pangma in Tibet at 8,027m to Everest in Nepal at 8,848m.

Standing on the summit of a mountain, the Spanish mountaineer is at her happiest. "I feel free without any pressure of any kind...I am in peace with myself," she says.
Courtesy Edurne Pasaban
South Korean climber Oh Eun-Sun beat Pasaban to completing the 14 peaks by 3 weeks in 2010.

However, fellow climbers began to question whether Oh had in fact reached the summit of Kanchenjunga, one of the mountains, the previous year.

After an investigation by the Korean Alpine Federation in August 2010, it was concluded Oh had not completed the ascent, and Pasaban was generally considered to be the first woman to complete the 14 peaks.
Courtesy Edurne Pasaban
Pasaban, 39, was born in the Basque region of Spain with a stomach illness that was not diagnosed until she was six.

"I had few ambitions when I was a child," she says. "I had a lot of fears and very low self-esteem. I hardly communicated with other children of my age." Here, Pasaban shows her elation after her ascent of 8,091m Annapurna in 2010.
Courtesy Edurne Pasaban
As a child, Pasaban enjoyed trekking with her parents in the Basque Country. At the age of 14, she joined a mountaineering club and took up climbing, initially in the Pyrenees and the Alps, before progressing to the Himalayas.

Here, Pasaban is pictured in the midst of climbing K2, the world's second highest mountain at 8,611m, on the border of Pakistan and China, in 2004.
Courtesy Edurne Pasaban
It took Pasaban nine years, from 2001 to 2010, to climb all the mountains. When she climbed Manaslu in 2008, Pasaban says it snowed for most of the ascent, creating dangerous conditions. Courtesy Edurne Pasaban
Pasaban, pictured here at the summit of Makalu in 2002, studied industrial engineering at university and initially joined the family engineering firm.

"After climbing the Everest I realized this was my passion and that the path I wanted to follow was to do expeditions," she says. "My father made me face the dilemma of choosing between my engineering career and concentrating on professional climbing. At that moment, I heard my heart."
Courtesy Edurne Pasaban
Pasaban didn't set out to make history: she had already climbed nine of the 14 mountains, including this ascent of 8,516m Lhotse in 2003, when it occurred to her she could complete them all.

"I started climbing the 8,000ers because I really enjoyed it and also maybe out of love," she says. "I never considered the possibility of finishing them until the end. That possibility arose when I had climbed nine mountains."
Courtesy Edurne Pasaban
In 2011, Pasaban attempted to climb Everest for a second time. She decided to skip the artificial oxygen, but could not reach the summit.

"This is an outstanding challenge," she says. "I will not like to finish my career without having achieved it, but I have to find the right moment in my professional life to do it. It is a dream."

Pasaban pictured at the summit of K2, the world's second highest mountain, in 2004. This, like all mountains except Everest, she climbed without artificial oxygen.
Courtesy Edurne Pasaban
Pasaban, seen here at the summit of Cho Oyo in 2002, is now working as an executive coach and lecturer, and runs her own travel agency. She also plans to climb more 6,000 and 7,000 meter mountains, particularly in Tibet. Courtesy Edurne Pasaban
Pasaban camping on a ridge on Shisha Pangma in 2006, during a failed attempt at the mountain. She finally reached the summit on her fifth attempt in 2010, the last of her 14 mountains.

Mountaineering is a risky sport, and Pasaban said she has lost 15 friends in her years of climbing. One member of her own team perished on her ascent of Dhaulagiri in the Himalayas in 2001.
Courtesy Edurne Pasaban
Pasaban, seen here camping in the cold during an ascent of Annapurna in 2010, is candid about battling with depression which, she said, was triggered in part with what she had sacrificed: her career and the possibility of having children.

"It was a critical moment in my life and I nearly wanted to give up all," she says. "Trying to find the incentive to continue a lot of times is not easy and when you are suffering a depression it is even harder, because you do not see beyond yourself.

"The 14 8,000ers have been for me more than 14 mountains, they have been the key to come out from where I was."
Courtesy Edurne Pasaban
An image of a base camp at Nanga Parbat in 2005 shows the scale of a planned ascent. National Geographic named Pasaban its Adventurer of the Year in 2011 after she completed her challenge. Courtesy Edurne Pasaban