Poles in the Himalayas
Poles belong to the top Himalayan mountaineers. They were the first people to ascend most eight-thousanders in winter. They have completed the Crown of the Himalaya three times. Now, a Polish woman wants to reach all 14 eight-thousanders of the world.
Year 2014 was interesting for Polish mountaineers. In the summer, two Poles Janusz Gołąb and Marcin Kaczkan summited K2, an eight-thousander in the Karakoram range, the second-highest peak in the world considered one of the least accessible summits.
‘The main goal of our expedition was to get to know K2 well enough to try and reach this peak in winter,’ Marcin Kaczkan, an experienced mountaineer and the leader of the expedition told Polska.pl. His team also included Janusz Gołąb, Artur Małek and Paweł Michalski.
Their ultimate goal is to reach K2 in winter, which – in spite of many attempts – has never been achieved before.
‘K2 is the greatest challenge of contemporary winter mountaineering in the Himalayas,’ Krzysztof Wielicki, who has led expeditions in the Himalayas and Karakoram, told Polska.pl. ‘The summer expedition to the summit is to lay the ground for a winter expedition, which is a part of the programme of Polish Winter Mountaineering, whose goal is to reach all 14 eight-thousanders in winter. Two of them remain unreached, and it would be nice if Poles managed it.’
If everything goes according to the plan, in winter 2014/2015 Poles will attempt to ascend K2. A year later, they want to reach Nanga Parbat, the ninth-highest peak in the world, which has also never been ascended in winter.
‘It is a moody mountain,’ says Wielicki. ‘Nanga Parbat is the northern-most eight-thousander, which has a great influence on its climate. Changing weather hinders access to the summit in winter.’
Reinhold Messner, a mountaineer from the German-speaking Southern Tyrol, who was the first person to complete the Crown of the Himalaya in 1986, called Poles ‘the best mountaineers in the world’.
Winter mountaineering is an extremely difficult sport due to extremely low temperatures and hurricanes, which are frequent at that time in the Himalayas and Karakoram. Yet Poles made the winter ascents of eight-thousanders their national sport. Many of them have paid the highest price for it, but the achievements of Polish teams are still spectacular. Among 12 peaks reached in winter, as many as 10 first ascents belong to Polish mountaineers.
The first achievement of this sort was the ascent of Mount Everest by Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy in February 1980. Wielicki continued with the completion of all 14 eight-thousanders, called the Crown of the Himalaya, by 1996 as the fifth man in the world. The first Pole and the second man in the world who completed this challenge was Jerzy Kukuczka, who is considered one of the most distinguished mountaineers of the 20th century. Also Wanda Rutkiewicz was close to the completion of the Crown of the Himalaya, and would have done it as the first woman ever. Unfortunately, her death at the slopes of Kangchenjunga in 1992 put an end to these plans. Piotr Pustelnik is the third Polish ascencionist of the Crown of the Himalaya.
Currently, the same feat is attempted by Kinga Baranowska, who has already reached eight eight-thousanders. She ascended three of them – Dhaulagiri, Manaslu and Kangchenjunga – as the first Polish woman. Her plans include six more summits, but she does not want to reveal details of her next expeditions. ‘It is a long project that requires humility from me, taking into consideration that only two women in the world have set their foot on all fourteen eight-thousanders,’ Kinga Baranowska tells Polska.pl.
‘Kinga struggles for the Crown of the Himalaya for the first Polish woman,’ says Wielicki. ‘We keep our fingers crossed. We hope that she will soon manage to collect the missing peaks.’
First winter ascents of eight-thousanders (in the descending order according to the height of the peak):
1. Mount Everest (8848) 17 February 1980 – Krzysztof Wielicki, Leszek Cichy (PL)
2. K2 (8611) – not ascended in winter
3. Kangchenjunga (8586) 11 January 1986 – Krzysztof Wielicki, Jerzy Kukuczka (PL)
4. Lhotse (8516) 31 December 1988 – Krzysztof Wielicki (PL)
5. Makalu (8463) 9 February 2009 – Denis Urubko (Kazakhstan), Simone Moro (IT)
6. Cho Oyu (8201) 12 February 1985 – Maciej Berbeka, Maciej Pawlikowski (PL)
7. Dhaulagiri (8167) 21 January 1985 – Andrzej Czok, Jerzy Kukuczka (PL)
8. Manaslu (8156) 12 January 1984 – Maciej Berbeka, Ryszard Gajewski (PL)
9. Nanga Parbat (8126) – not ascended in winter
10. Annapurna I (8091) 2 February 1987 – Artur Hajzer, Jerzy Kukuczka (PL)
11. Gasherbrum I (8068) 9 March 2012 – Adam Bielecki, Janusz Gołąb (PL)
12. Broad Peak (8047) 5 March 2013 – Maciej Berbeka, Adam Bielecki, Tomasz Kowalski, Artur Małek (PL)
13. Gasherbrum II (8035) 2 February 2011 – Denis Urubko (Kazakhstan), Simone Moro (IT), Cory Richards (USA)
14. Shishapangma (8013) 14 January 2005 – Piotr Morawski (PL), Simone Moro (IT)