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In 1979 the High Mountain Club from Gliwice organizes a Lhotse expedition. Jerzy Kukuczka is admitted to participate in this expedition. It was a major challenge for Jerzy as for some time he had had an opinion of the alpinist who does not perform well in altitudes. Nevertheless, his recent ambitious successes in the Hindu Kush encouraged the expedition’s leader to invite him.

An expedition is a very challenging task in terms of organization and expenses. The cost of an expedition is about a million which corresponds to nearly 200 average monthly fees. In the Polish realities of the 1970s it is not easy to collect such amount but the alpinists find a way to deal with this problem…

“It’s 1978. The national emblem is hanging on a wall in the office, a sickly ferns stands next to the desk, a few volumes of Lenin’s works in a glazed cabinet and outside the window there is a huge, old chimney …

I wonder how much time do you need, gentlemen?
We can see this huge, though already flaking chimney outside the window. We look at it, shake our heads and turn down the corners of our mouths saying:

About two weeks. Perhaps, we could manage it in a week.
A week? – the director - clearly amused - settles himself more comfortably in the armchair. A point for him.
A week, as you know, is not enough to put up the scaffolding…
But we paint without the scaffolding.
How do you do it then?
We use ropes…”
At that time the altitude works became the most popular way to “organize” money for expensive expeditions in the Himalayas. But money is not all. The expedition had to get somehow specialist equipment, down clothes, food supplies but above all - dollars. In the 70s and 80s none of these tasks was easy. The equipment, which in the west was produced by professional suppliers, in Poland was produced with raw attestation in friendly smithies, the down jackets were produced specifically for expeditions and the process of their production started with the gees farmers and on top of it there were food ration coupons and limits for dollars which every expedition member could exchange.

Nevertheless, the Lhotse expedition lead by Adam Bilczewski set off. After they reached the base, some of the alpinists asked Bilczewski to make an attempt to attack Lhotse with a new, so far virgin variant. However the leader, afraid of suffering defeat, decides for a simpler, classic route. For some of the alpinists this task was not ambitious enough, therefore they came up with an idea to ascent without oxygen. Initially, four alpinists decide to follow this variant. After a few days of struggle with the mountain, the alpinists reach base IV from where they want to attack the summit:

“We get up in the morning and it absolutely high time to say one, essential thing.

- What about oxygen?

Andrzej Czok was tough right from the very beginning so it was no surprise for us when he said:

“I am going without.”

“I am not going to risk. I am switching on the apparatus” – said Skorek.

“Me too.” – Zyga said dryly.

I came up with something between. Without saying a word, I take the whole apparatus on my back, the cylinders and the mask which weight about 10 kilograms altogether but I decided not to put all these things on. (…) Janusz and Zyga set off first. After an hour of walk I can see that l am starting to stay behind them, just a bit so this difference is hardly alarming. Therefore, there comes a moment when I make up my mind and I say to Andrzej:

I getting rid of this ballast…
I leave the oxygen cylinders and feeling lighter I keep on walking.

After three hours the difference between us is growing. They are an hour ahead . We were already above 8 thousand metres (…)

Slowly, slowly… Ten steps, than a rest during which I hang with all my body on an ice axe dug in snow and I am waiting for my lungs to quiet down. Ten steps again. The rhythm of the altitude fight begins. I count ten steps I set my body “clock” on and after a while I force myself to make another ten steps. The worst thing is to give up and sit down because the “clock” stops working. Then you irretrievably lose this salutary rhythm and it takes a very long time to set it on again.”

All four of them manage to reach the summit. This is the first eight-thousender conquered by Jerzy Kukuczka. It is a special mountain in his career, which comes back on numerous occasions, the first one and the last one…

*All quotations are taken from the book “My vertical world” by J. Kukuczka.


tłum. Katarzyna Fałkowska