Jerzy”Jurek” Kukuczka has entered mountaineering history as ‘the second manto conquer all 14, 8000ers” after Reinhold Messner.
The description hints sort of a ‘second best’ rating – but nothingcould be more off. The best are not always the first. In fact, manyconsider Kukuczka the greatest mountaineer of all. In this series, we examine why.
In part 1, we wrote that Jurek summited all 8000ers in only eightyears, compared to Messner’s 16, most through new routes and/or inwinter. He opened nine new routes, five climbs in alpine style and fourin winter. That style is the reason why Jerzy is considered a referenceon elegant climbing, pure spirits and deep respect for the rules of thegame.
Today, part 2: The money, the visas and the suffering
A miner sees the light
Kukuczka’s expeditions had yet another difficulty: Thefinancial/political one. Born in Katowice (Poland) in 1948, his lifewas meant to be nothing related to great heights and brilliantmountains: Jurek was a miner.
His initial adventure could be considered sort of job-related: Hisfirst contact with ropes and karabiners was not for climbing, but for -caving. Thus Jerzy’s dream of the top of the world literally startedunderground!
Obviously, in a Socialist Poland, spending huge amounts of money onsomething as unproductive as mountain climbing was simply absurd. Tofind sponsors proved very difficult. To that came the challenge ofbeing able to leave at all. Obtaining visas was not easy for thoseliving behind the iron curtain, especially not for a simple miner – thetask perhaps as difficult as the planned routes themselves.
Dig where you stand
Jurek went with what he had. During all his life, he would climbusing ragged, old, inadequate gear. He climbed where he stood; hisclimbs started in the Tatra mountains. In these circumstances, Jurekreally needed a strong motivation to go on with the dream to climb inthe Himalayas.
Ability to suffer and lack of response to danger
But motivation was the one thing that never lacked Jerzy. His badluck also traded for great strength; in body and mind. Messner wouldremark that Kukuczka, once in the Himalayas, “was the strong man.”
His climbing partner Voytek Kurtyka said about him: -“Jurek was thegreatest psychological rhinoceros I’ve ever met among alpinists,unequalled in his ability to suffer and in his lack of responsivenessto danger.”
Slow to acclimatize
He was slow to acclimatize, but that didn’t stop him. Hecompensated with an incredible endurance and a remarkable capacity towithstand suffering. There was no obstacle big enough for thisunderdog. The greater the difficulties, the more appealing thechallenge to Jurek.
The sheer force of will would ‘lift’ him up on the mountains. Inthe seventies he accomplished some superb climbs in the Tatras,Dolomites (winter climb on Marmolada South Face), and Mont Blanc Massif (from openings on the Dru North Face to winter climbs on the GrandesJorasses).
He would get as far as Denali (South face) and Hindu Kush (Kohe Tezand the first climb of the North ridge of Tirich Mir East). That was aremarkable climbing career in itself. But the real deal was just aboutto start.
Image of the Tatras by Markiusz Markiewicz, courtesy of http://www.cs.put.poznan.pl/holidays/tatry/
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