Jerzy”Jurek” Kukuczka has entered mountaineering history as ‘the second man to conquer all 14, 8000ers” after Reinhold Messner. The description hints sort of a ‘second best’ rating – but nothing could be more off. In fact, many consider Kukuczka the greatest mountaineer of all. In this series, we examine why.
In the previous parts of the series, we wrote that Jurek summited all 8000ers in only eight years, compared to Messner’s 16, most through new routes and/or in winter. He opened nine new routes, five climbs in alpine style and four in winter.
But Jerzy had more than the challenge of the climb on his plate: He was a poor miner, living behind the iron courtain of communist Poland.Through all his life, he would climb using ragged, old, inadequategear. Just to get out of Poland was a fight. And he was slow to acclimatize. But he overcame all this with an incredible endurance and an extraordinary capacity to withstand suffering. The sheer force ofwill would ‘lift’ Jerzy up on the mountains.
A remarkable climbing career on lower peaks finally opened the communist door of Poland to Jurek’s greatest dream: The 8000ers in Himalaya.
Today: Lhotse – the turning point
Lhotse would be the first 8000er for Jerzy Kukuczka, and the start of a lightning career. At the moment he reached the summit and saw the void down its unclimbed south face, Lhotse became a special mountain to Jurek – a place to return. Who could have imagined, that it would also become a place to remain, forever.
Everest South Pillar
Jerzy Kukuczka, Andrzej Czok, Andrzej Heinrich and Janusz Skorek climbed Lhotse’s normal (NE) route, in the ‘normal’ post-monsoon season– October 4, 1979. It was OK for a first 8000+ experience, but the next had to be something more.
It was: To begin with, it was taller. The tallest of them all, in fact. And the route, well, it didn’t exist until Jurek and Czok invented it. On May 19, 1980, Everest got a new line up the South Pillar. This would be the only time that Kukuczka used supplementary O2.
Makalu double, Broad Peak twice, Gasherbrum’s in alpine style
Already the next year, in 1981, Kukuczka reached a double goal on Makalu: A variation on Makalu La – the huge saddle between the main peak and Makalu II – and the NW Ridge, solo.
Next came Broad Peak: In 1982, Kukuczka returned to Himalaya with mate Kurtyka to climb the normal route but, feeling unsatisfied, two years after (1984) the two climbers returned – to open a new route, including the traverse of the Three Broad Peak’s summits. Twelve months earlier, (in 1983) the two had climbed new routes on both Gasherbrum Iand II – in alpine style.
The cold climbs begin, Dhaula/Chou Oyu winter double, more new lines
1985 started out spectacular for Jurek: He climbed Dhaulagiri (with Czok again) on January 21! And before the winter ended, he and Czok joined three other climbers – Berbeka, Pawlikowski and Heinrich – to the SE Pillar on Cho Oyu, for a first ascent!
They summited February 15, and it was the first time a new route had been opened on an 8000er in winter.
That same summer of 1985, Jurek teamed up with Heinrich, Lobodzinski and a young Mexican named Carlos Carsolio (a future‘youngest’ climber to complete the 14 8000ers) – for another ‘first’: The SE Pillar of Nanga Parbat.
Are you following? That’s a triple header – including two winter climbs and two new lines in one year!
For his next 8000er, Jurek would patiently wait for the winter to close in. Only then would he climb Kanchenjunga, summiting the normal route on January 11, 1986. His climbing partner was no other than Wielicki, another Polish ‘winter beast’.
K2 – the Kukuczka way
To maintain the level, the next peak could be no other than K2: And what Kukuczka and Piotrowski did there was a real lesson on extreme climbing. The route they opened on the South face is still a waiting a first repetition. The Kukuczka route, rarely attempted, combines sustained difficulty with ‘suicidal’ exposed passages. They summited July 7, but at a terrible prize: Piotrowski fell to his death ondescent, by the Abruzzi Spur.
Jerzy climbed Manaslu that same year: Another first – again in winter conditions. On November 10, Kukuczka and Hajzer made a first ascent of the Manaslu NE face.
Next: The end.
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** zapraszam na relacje z wypraw polskich himalaistów.
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