POLISH CLIMBERS ATTACK K2
To ascend and to come
They call K2 the Mountain
of Mountains. Some due to its beauty, others because of the terror it causes
among mountaineers. On December 16, the Netia K2 Polish Winter Expedition will
set out for K2. It is going to be a historical event - no-one has ever tried
spending the winter on K2's northern slopes (8611 m) - the Earth's second
highest summit. The expedition is headed by Krzysztof Wielicki, one of the most
outstanding mountaineers of the world. The base is to be established on New
Year's Eve, the struggle to reach the summit may last until the end of February.
"Rzeczpospolita" correspondent MONIKA ROGOZIŃSKA will be accompanying the
K2 lies in the Karakorum
mountain range that is parallel to the Himalayas, on the border of China and
Pakistan. Its form reminds one of a pyramid, equally hard to conquer from all
sides. Swept with winds, it grows 600 m ahead of the nest of four 8000ers.
The history of conquering
K2, long and dramatic, remains in the shadow of Mount Everest, which is higher
then the former by merely 237 m. Though the names of Sir Edmund Hillary and
Tenzing Norgay, the first people to set foot on the highest summit, are widely
known, only mountain lovers know about Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli.
Those two Italians conquered in the summer of 1954 the then maiden K2, for which
they had paid a high price - their chilblained fingers had to be amputated.
Polish successes and
Statistics say a lot
about the difficulties concerning that mountain. Up until today, less than 200
people have reached the summit of K2. Only two mountaineers did it twice (the
summit of Mount Everest was reached 1500 times in total by around 900 people).
Every seventh person descending from K2 does not reach the base. This might be
the reason why a mountaineer's rank is determined not by climbing Mount Everest,
Among the five women who
set foot on its summit, Wanda Rutkiewicz was the first. Alison Hargreaves was
the last. In a poll announced by the world's largest mountain newspaper, the
Internet portal www.everestnews.com, to
emerge the alpinists of the century, it was they
who have won. A Briton, the only woman not to use oxygen from a cylinder there,
did not survive the descent - the wind tore her off the slope and threw her into
Our alpinists have many
achievements on this mountain in the summer season. The decision not to use the
help of height porters, taken in the year 1976 by the expedition headed by
Janusz Kurczaba, was a sensation. On their new route, the unaided alpinist team
missed the victory by a mere 200 m. Poles have marked or finished four of the
nine routes leading to the summit, among them the legendary one, called by
Reinhold Messner the Magic Line, as well as the one daringly marked by Jerzy
Kukuczka and Tadeusz Piotrowski on the southern slope, called the Polish route
since then, for which they paid a horrible price - the death of Piotrowski.
On this mountain, we have
also lost other wonderful mountaineers: Halina Kruger-Syrokomska and Wojciech
Wróża. At the foot of K2 lies the buried body of Dobrosława Miodowicz-Wolf.
Those tragedies were intermixed with beautiful moments. It was here that Piotr
Pustelnik earned the Fair Play Award of the Polish Olympics Committee.
We were first
Watching the struggle for
K2 made Jerzy Kukuczka express an opinion, which had moved the international
mountaineering circle. He compared Western and Polish expedition to cars: the
former, being luxurious, turn out to be useful on good roads, while the latter,
old and less showy, joggle along persistently also on bumpy roads. Presently,
many himalaists consider this division to be true for mountaineers from the West
and from the East.
Apart from the first
Poles, Mount Everest was conquered in winter only by Japanese, Koreans and
Sherpas from Nepal. Today it seems that the mountaineers ready to take any risk
come from Russia and the countries that came into being after the break-up of
the Soviet Union.
A winter expedition is
the bumpiest road imaginable. It is not without reason that the American Space
Agency NASA, preparing a manned expedition to Mars, tests the endurance of men
on the slopes of the highest mountains and in the Antarctica, with extreme
conditions and a landscape similar to the one on Mars. In winter, winds are
raging around 8000ers. Climbing at that time is comparable to cosmic alpinism.
Nonetheless, seven of the
fourteen 8000ers were conquered in winter. Polish expeditions achieved that goal
first in the eighties.
Krzysztof Wielicki, head
of the expedition
Today, there a few
alpinists - in Poland as well as abroad - ready to risk that much, when the
chance of success is so uncertain. The goal of the beginning expedition is to
conquer K2 in winter through the Northern Pillar, on a four kilometers high
ridge growing out of the northern slope - one of the most dangerous precipices
of the globe.
reached the summit in the summer of 1996. It was his fourth expedition to K2. In
a poll carried out by www.everestnews.com,
52-year-old Wielicki was deemed one of the most
outstanding, living alpinists.
The verdict stressed that
he still takes up difficult challenges and does not rest on his laurels.
Although he could. He is the fifth man to win the Crown of the Himalayas -
fourteen 8000ers. He often did it pioneer style. Three of them, including Mount
Everest, he climbed in winter as the first. He climbed on Lhotse alone on the
night of New Year's Eve, in a corset he was wearing after injuring his spine in
the mountains. He "ran up" Broad Peak alone in one day (which was the first
climb on an 8000er within a day). Witness to his lone climb on Nanga Parbat, one
of the biggest slopes of the world, were only Pakistani shepherds, watching his
feat from distant meadows.
Wielicki knows K2 from
all sides. He participated in four expeditions to this mountain. Only during the
last one, in the summer of 1996, his perseverance was rewarded - he reached the
summit through the Northern Pillar with two Italian alpinists. Pictures from the
summit make a ghastly impression on everyone knowing how dangerous this mountain
is - they were already made in complete darkness. After a bivouac not far from
the top, the descent changed into a rescuing mission of the extremely emaciated
Italian, which had a happy end.
"Next year, we have the
fiftieth anniversary of conquering Mount Everest, which is to be a grand
celebration - says Wielicki. - It's a good time to set the crossbar higher in
the highest mountains".
Over 30 people are going
to participate in the expedition. The hard core will consist of 14 alpinists:
Krzysztof Wielicki - head of the expedition, Roman Mazik - physician, Bogdan
Jankowski - communications, Maciej Pawlikowski, Jacek Berbeka, Jerzy Natkański,
Dariusz Załuski, Jan Szulc, Marcin Kaczkan, Piotr Morawski, Gia Tortladze
(Georgia), Denis Urubko (Kazakhstan), Wasilij Piwcow (Kazakhstan), Ilias
They will be joined by
five Pakistani porters and several young Polish alpinists (supporting group),
needed to transport the equipment on the glacier to the base which will be two
days away from its front, two Nepal cooks and a Chinese liaison officer with his
Accompanied by TV
A novelty and an
interesting experiment will be the participation of a Polish Television crew
consisting of six people who want to make transmissions to a specially organized
studio of Channel 1 in Warsaw. The members of the TV crew will not be climbing,
however. Almost every alpinist has his own digital camera. Disks with the saved
video signal will be carried down to the base, edited in the tent, which will
turn into the highest located TV studio in the world, and then sent to Poland by
means of a satellite phone. The expedition's third media sponsor - apart from "Rzeczpospolita"
and TVP - will be the Internet portal Onet.pl.
On December 16, the
expedition will fly to the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek (known in the times of
the USSR as Frunze). From there, the expedition will go by trucks to China, and
then through Kashgar, a bazaar-like city located on the Silk Route, to the
settlement of Mazdar, where they will change to camels. The travel to the front
of the K2 glacier will last six days. Further than that, to a base at 5100 m,
all the equipment has to be carried on the backs.
originator of winter himalaism, during his last expedition (Nanga Parbat
This expedition was
Andrzej Zawada's greatest dream. As originator of winter himalaism and boss of
the first victorious winter expedition to Mount Everest, he headed at the turn
of 1987/88 the only international expedition until know, whose purpose was to
conquer K2 in winter from its northern, Pakistani side.
Three years ago, he
started preparing the present expedition. In February 2000, he was to go to a
reconnaissance - it was necessary to check whether it was possible to reach the
foot of K2 from the north at all in that time of year. The day before the trip,
physicists discovered a dangerous illness consuming him. Instead of to China,
Zawada went to a hospital. Even when he was in a serious condition, he was
making plans of conquering the Himalayas in winter. He made the reconnaissance
happen, however - somebody else went. It seemed that an operation could save
Andrzej's life. He died 6 months later.
On All Souls' Day, I
visited Andrzej's grave at the Warsaw Powązki Cemetery. Somebody put a white
piece of paper torn out from a notebook behind the plate. It said, "Rest in
peace there. We're going to K2. Your team".
Written by Monika
translated by "Scrivanek".