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Helga Hengge: “Everest has given me a lot”

Helga Hengge in Cologne

You have only successfully climbed a mountain when you reach after the summit also the valley safe and sound. In this sense, Helga Hengge was the first successful German female mountaineer on Mount Everest. As a member of a commercial expedition team in spring 1999, she climbed from the Tibetan north side to the 8850-meter-high summit. Hannelore Schmatz had been the first German woman to reach the highest point of Everest in fall 1979, but she had died of exhaustion at 8,300 meters on her descent.

In 2011, Hengge became the first German female climber to complete the collection of the “Seven Summits”, the highest mountains of all continents. Helga is now 51 years old. She lives with her husband, her twelve-year-old daughter and her eleven-year-old son in Munich – and still goes to the mountains. Last fall, she tackled the 6543-meter-high Shivling in the Indian Himalayas. I met her on the margins of a lecture in Cologne.

Helga, it’s almost 19 years since you were on Mount Everest. Do you have any special relationship with the mountain?


17. January 2018 | 23:27



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Helga’s Everest nightmare

At the summit of Everest in 1999

In fact she was the second but in a way the first too. Helga Hengge summited Mount Everest on 27th May 1999. As second German woman after Hannelore Schmatz. But Hengge also survived the descent – in contrast to Schmatz who died from exhaustion on 8300 meters on the south side of the mountain on 2nd October 1979. For years climbers passed the corpse called „The German woman” which was sitting in the snow. Later the storm blew it into the depth. Almost twenty years after Schmatz Helga Hengge reached the highest point on 8850 metres after she had climbed up from the Tibetan north side. „I felt like a goddess”, Helga later said, „as if I could float.” Hengge was 32 years old when she stood on top of the world. Today Mount Everest sometimes gives her a nightmare, Helga, aged 46 now, wrote to me after I had asked her for her thoughts on occasion of the 60th anniversary of the first ascent.


17. April 2013 | 14:52



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