Jerzy Kukuczka – the ultimate legend, part 4, final. /Version english/

Jerzy “Jurek” Kukuczka has entered mountaineering history as ‘the second man to conquer all 14, 8000ers” after Reinhold Messner. Jerzy Kukuczka - Lhotse south faceThe description hints sort of a ‘second best’ rating – but nothing could bemore off. In fact, many consider Kukuczka the greatest mountaineer ofall. In this series, we examine why.

Poor miner sets Alpine excellence

In the previous parts of the series, we wrote that Jurek summited all 8000ers in only eight years, compared to Messner’s 16, most throughnew 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 curtain of communist Poland.

An underdog’s bite

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 of will would ‘lift’ Jerzy up on the mountains in a remarkable climbing career.

Outstanding performance by sheer power of will

Lhotse in the late seventies would be the first 8000er for JerzyKukuczka, and the start of a lightning career. At the moment he reachedthe summit and saw the void down its unclimbed south face, Lhotse became a special mountain to Jurek – a place to return. But the next 8years he spent climbing the 14, 8000ers in the most impossible styles and conditions, crowning the period in 1986 with Kanchenjunga winter, anew route on K2 and a first ascent of the Manaslu NE face November 10.

Today: The end.

With that, 1986 saw another remarkable triple header: A winterclimb and two impressive new routes – one in winter conditions. In lessthan eight years, Kukuczka was simply running out of 8000ers to climb.But two remained:

Lucky enough, deep winter arrived at last – and a perfect time forAnnapurna! After his early November climb on Manaslu, Jurek and old friend Hajzer summited Annapurna North Face on February 3, 1987.

Hajzer returned to the mountains with Kukuczka already in September that same year. That’s when they made a first ascent of the East Ridgeon Shisha Pangma (Summit on September 18, 1987).

Olympic Gold – now what?

Jerzy had made it. With this summit he had completed the most famous ‘list’ of all in high altitude mountaineering. So, now what?

Jurek was free to return home, give up climbing, make money at last- and bask in fame, glory, and tributes. A few months later he andMessner would receive the Olympic Gold Medal (Note: Not the silver!).

South Face of Lhotse

But Jurek had stuff to do on the 8000ers. Already the next year, in1988, he climbed Annapurna East. But he never stopped thinking of Lhotse. And that unclimbed South Face.

Kukuczka got his wish. He completed the route and summited Lhotse –once again. But, in a bitter twist of fate, the same mountain where hehad started – would cost him his life… Or was it not fate at all perhaps? Maybe it was the 7mm rope he was tied in to. From 8350 meters, Jurek fell into the void.

Jerzy Kukuczka left behind a widow and two children. And one of the most amazing careers in mountaineering story. His memories and feelings remain still though, in two books: “My vertical World” and “JerzyKukuczca, de la mine aux sommets” (J.K: from the mine to the summits),the last one with a prologue by Walter Bonatti.

My Vertical World : Climbing the 8000-Metre Peaks by Jerzy Kukuczka

* Previous story :

Jerzy Kukuczka – the ultimate legend part 3. /Version english/

Jerzy Kukuczka – the ultimate legend part 2. /Version english/

Jerzy Kukuczka – the ultimate legend part 1. /Version english/

** zapraszam na relacje z wypraw polskich himalaistów.

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4 Responses

  1. Jerzy ! Your legacy is still alive. You`ve been a truth Hero to all of us.

  2. Make peace, not war!

  3. […] Jerzy Kukuczka – the ultimate legend, part 4, final. /Version english/ […]

  4. […] – Jerzy Kukuczka – the ultimate legend, part 4, final. /Version english/ […]

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