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 Winter Makalu 2000/2001                      The Wind defeated us

Monika Rogozinska talks to Krzysztof Wielicki, the head of the expedition to Makalu and the conqueror of the Crown of Himalayas.


RZ Question: The average age of the members of the Polish Winter Expedition to Makalu (46) shocked many people. It is often stressed that such line-up had no chance of success.


KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: The notion of youth is relative in the highest mountains. I would like to remind you that I ascended the second highest summit of the world (K2) at the age of 46 and a week later climbed Nanga Parbat, another eight-thousand-meter-high mountain. That completed the Crown of Himalayas. It seems to me that the mind is more important than age. I would prefer the members to be younger but there are not too many people eager to take such challenge. Who would want to devote a few months of life in order to fight the wind? Winter Himalaism requires patience and experience acquired over the years. Anyway, the issue of age is not only a problem of this expedition, it is a problem of Himalaism as a whole.

Question: What is the cause of the generation gap? Seven out of eight highest mountains in the world were ascended in winter in eight years. All first climbs were made by Polish Alpinists but the last one was eleven years ago. You ascended Lhotse by yourself then?

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: The generation gap was caused by the political and social situation in Poland. At the beginning of 1990's, along with democracy, we all had to continue working in our professions or take other challenges which allowed us to settle. All of us, university graduates, left our jobs for Himalaism. In order to go to the mountains we had to paint chimneys and perform well paid jobs at the heights. When freedom came, Alpinists started to use their abilities not only in the mountains. Many gave up climbing in order to start careers. I think that the generation gap was also caused by tragedies which struck Polish Alpinism at the end of 1980's.

Question: Five Poles ascended Makalu in autumn. Only two of them, including you, are still alive...

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: There is one more reason why we have no successors - time became very precious. In the past an expedition took two or three months. Nowadays people cannot afford that. They go away for a weekend to climb some rocks extensively and on Monday morning they are at work wearing a suit and a tie. The times of exploration adventure are over. Today people want to do what they have to do. Winter himalaism requires patience, self possession, distance.

Question: It is enough to look at special agencies in Nepal. They service Alpinists in summer. You can see that climbing in the Himalayas is highly organized and fitted to one's free time. It is known that next year there will be camps on Everest and someone will attack the summit. The departure is also planned, as is the end of a trip. Sherpas pack camps and balustrades according to schedule. The mountain is closed.

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: After the tenth, twentieth, thirtieth day the winter says: no. Andrzej Zawada used to say that there are expeditions completed with success and those which end happily. Our climb onto Makalu ended happily. All of us came back safe and sound. It is not a reason to cry. We should say: we failed, let's try again some other time. It is natural - we should not give up.

Question: Wait a second. During the last expedition you changed the route three times. When I phoned home and said that we were in retreat for the second time, my fifteen-year-old son immediately said: "Do you have to waste your strength and resources?" I suppose such is the general feeling about it. A time of relatively good weather at the end of December was wasted. In January Makalu constantly roared with wind. Changing routes made an impression that the expedition lacks strategy, that you just moved about nervously. The head of an expedition is responsible for its strategy.

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: I admit that I overestimated my strength and chose my goal too ambitiously. It seemed to me that such mountain as Makalu had to be conquered in winter, choosing a beautiful, difficult route - the Western Leg. If I had evaluated the resources at the start of the expedition, the events would have been different, which does not mean that we would have ascended the peak. The wind was our main opponent, not the technical difficulties of the routes. Each change did not alter much in the long run, although I would like to stress that when we decided to take the easier route, two camps were set up in two days. We immediately reached the same height.

Question: You fell into a trap of your individual achievements in the Himalayas. When I shared my opinions with the other members of the expedition, they said: "Not to worry, we will prepare the ground a little and then Krzysztof will take a backpack, rush into the summit by himself and the expedition will be over, you'll see."

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: Such was my plan. Regardless of the situation, I wanted to ascend the peak during my last climb.

Question: But you turned 51 during the course of the expedition.

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: That is a fact, but it is good news for me. I was a little bit afraid of confrontation with the eight-thousand-meter mountain after four and a half years that passed from my ascent of Nanga Parbat, which was a bit crazy. I was not sure of my physiology. I can say that everything is fine - I still am the leader of the team. I repeat that in case of this expedition, the average age was not a decisive factor.

Question: I do not agree. You are an exception. It is hard to say that, because everybody was very friendly, but there was a man who was not able to climb above 5300m. It was not nice to listen to him saying how happy he was that he lost so many kilograms. This would happen even to a glutton. Everybody looses weight at those heights, since our organisms refuse to absorb nourishment.

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: That man needed an adventure. I did not dream of him climbing higher. He paid a contribution and was loyal. He was not an element of tactics right from the start.

Question: Winter in the Himalayas is not very popular, there is not much competition here.

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: I consider the direction pointed by Andrzej Zawada a good one, regardless of the criticism. There is not much more to be done in the great exploration of the Himalayas. Winter causes great difficulties: short days, little sun, wind and frost make you stay in your tent all the time. Of course, the opponents of the winter Alpinism would say: what is the point of such effort, if you can go when it is so warm that you can take off your shirt and the chances of reaching the summit are 90%. There are simply two philosophies of climbing in the Himalayas. I don't mind the easier way but does it change anything? I think that difficult goals are a good idea and a big chance for the Polish Himalaism. We should keep strengthening our position until the point when it is known that Polish Alpinists are and will be the best in the Himalayas.

Question: Is eleven years with no winter success not enough for you to admit that this goal is not real?

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: No, because there was no void, only thanks to the changes in Poland people could realize their individual goals. I myself was more a supporter of the idea of reaching the Crown of Himalayas, not the winter climbing. I think that a time has come to continue the winter option and implement the program of Polish Himalaism, especially because the standards in the highest mountains are lower. Sport became less important, dreams of regular people were realized. They reach the peaks aided by Sherpas and guides.

Question: The peak, the success is all that matters.

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: But this is very personal: the success of Mr. Smith from America or France, who does not care if he contributes something to American, French or world Alpinism. There is great personalization of actions in the Himalayas.

Question: What conclusions did you draw from this expedition?

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: We should have left earlier which costs more money. It is proper to acclimatize in autumn at a high, seven-thousand-meter mountain in order to shorten the time of winter activity. More than forty days of winter expedition takes away your chances: people are struck with diseases, they are not strong enough physically. A mountain should be conquered in maximum of thirty days. I thought about it before. I wanted to outsmart the season, the bureaucracy, the regulations and the mountain. The Czechs, who ascended Cho Oyu, actually did that. They acclimatized in autumn, bought permission for winter and were at the peak at the beginning of December.

Question: But that was rather "administrative", not astronomical winter. You failed at Makalu and now you plan to undertake one of the greatest challenges of Himalaism in less than a year - to lead the winter expedition to K2, the second summit of the world. This is a terrifying mountain. One in four Alpinists does not come back from its peak in summer season.

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: Makalu is a very windy mountain. The wind outsmarted us. We were lucky there were moments of silence when we climbed in winter with Jerzy Kukuczka and Leszek Cichy. We did not have such opportunity at Makalu. Anyway, the mountain is still there and waiting for us. Although K2 is higher, I consider it as difficult to climb in winter. I know the routes at both mountains. K2 is very famous and the Poles, who first tried to conquer it in winter 13 years ago, deserve another chance.

Question: How can you get people who would guarantee the conquest of such a difficult mountain?

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: This is a problem. It is useless to take people who do not believe in success right at the start. I may take some foreigners, possibly Russians, Ukrainians, people from Kazakhstan, Georgians, citizens of the former USSR.

Question: Why?

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: They have dominated Himalaism, such as we did in 1980's. I cooperated with them. They can always be trusted. The center of Himalaism is currently located in Jekaterynburg. I guess you might expect a lot from a man who used to go to school in winter as a child and the temperature outside reached minus 40 degrees Celsius. Of course, this is against my philosophy of Polish exploration. Perhaps, to satisfy everybody and avoid competition of nations, the teams should consist of one Pole and one Russian or Ukrainian. You should not fight people who better than you, it is better to join them.

Question: How much money do you need to organize a Polish-East European expedition to K2?

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: Not less than 100 000 dollars, I think.

Question: Andrzej Zawada organized it for a million dollars 13 years ago. He went with Canadians and the British.

KRZYSZTOF WIELICKI: Yes but that was an expedition from the Pakistani side, which is difficult to access in winter. The Chinese side is cheaper and the mountain is as difficult. After detailed analysis of the current situation it seems to me that only strengthening of the line-up with very strong colleagues from the East will give us the chances of completion of winter exploration of the highest peaks in the Himalayas. We "invented" winter in high mountains, took the challenge many years ago, but we will not complete the work of our predecessors without cooperation of the best and there are less and less of such people in our country. The coming of the year 2002 is a great time for an international expedition. That year was announced the Year of the Mountains by UN. I trust that there are people who will believe that we are able to repeat the greatest achievements of Polish Himalaism even if this means sharing it with our friends and giving up the role of a watchdog. Experience supported with determination may bring success to both parties.

written by Monika Rogozinska, "Rzeczpospolita",
transl. by "TRANSLATOR" Technical Translation Agency
http://www.rp.pl  ("Rzeczpospolita") and
http://www.translator-warsaw.com.pl ("TRANSLATOR")

EverestNews.com: We can all get along ! We can work together ! Things can happen when people talk and work together ! EverestNews.com, would like to thank Rzeczpospolita, Monika Rogozinska, Andrzej Michalik, Marek Kopyt, Piotr Trybalski and all the others who made it possible for the many people around the world to share this expedition and get to know, just a little, one of the greatest climbers who ever lived. Freedom reigns ! In American and Poland !


All the Updates from this expedition

Krzysztof Wielicki

The Death of a Legend: Andrzej Zawada 

The Quest for all 14 8000 Meter Peaks Summits (The True Highest Summit!)

The Mountaineering Must Haves


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