It is 24 October 1989, Jerzy Kukuczka dies climbing the south face of Lhotse.
The news making the round of the world, the man considered to be the only one capable of competing with Reinhold Messner end his life trying to reach the Lhotse summit through the south face. The extraordinary life of this extraordinary mountaineer end forever.
Who was Jerzy Kukuczka
Born in Katowice( Poland), 24 March 1948. Of the young Jerzy, there is no much news. Just we know the life in Poland at that years was very hard. Poland was in great economic difficulties and even who had a job was absolutely not rich. So for the Polish climber to find money to finance the expedition maybe was harder than climb. He was an employed in the mining agency of his town, married and he had two sons.
His nickname was Odysseus, that is enough to understand what his friends and the Poland people thought about him. He loved to smoke a lot of cigarets and drink alcohol, but in the expedition was very strictly.
Some numbers about Jerzy Kukuczka
Year Location Mountain Route Comments.
1979 Nepal LhotseWest Face Normal Route.
1980 Nepal Mount Everest South Pillar New Route.
1981 Nepal Makalu Variation to Makalu La/North-West Ridge New Route, Alpine Style, Solo.
1982 Pakistan Broad Peak West Spur Normal Route, Alpine Style.
1983 Pakistan Gasherbrum II South-East Spur New Route, Alpine Style.
1983 Pakistan Gasherbrum I South-West Face New Route, Alpine Style.
1984 Pakistan Broad Peak Traverse of North, Middle, Rocky and Main Summits New Route, Alpine Style.
in 1985 Nepal Dhaulagiri North-East Spur Normal Route, First Winter Ascent.
1985 Nepal Cho Oyu South-East Pillar Second Winter Ascent.
1985 Pakistan Nanga Parbat South-East Pillar New Route.
in 1986 Nepal Kanchenjunga South-West Face Normal Route, First Winter Ascent.
1986 Pakistan K2 South Face New Route, Alpine Style.
1986 Nepal Manaslu North-East Face New Route, Alpine Style.
1987 Nepal Annapurna I North Face Normal Route, First Winter Ascent.
1987 China Shishapangma West Ridge New Route, Alpine Style, Ski Descent.
1988 Nepal Annapurna East South Fac New Route, Alpine Style.
He’s the only one climbed two eight-thousanders in winter.
He climbed the fourteen eight-thousanders just in 7 years.
Many of him eight-thousanders by a new route.
The four eight-thousanders in winter
Was the first to climb four eight-thousanders in winter but this performance has divided the international mountaineering community.
There are two ascents in the discussion, one is the Kanchenjunga expedition that begins before 21 December. And one is the Cho Oyu ascent, that Jerzy summit three days after his expedition partners.
At the time of Jerzy performance was considered winter ascent the summit of the mountain and not the arrival to the base camp. So for us to say now that ascents are not valid as winter is not correct.
About the Cho Oyu is another barren controversy. When the members of one expedition arrive at the summit is not important if are arrived together or divided even by days. When they are part of the same expedition they are considerate arrived all together at the same moment.
Maybe if I use the timeline to describe the events will be easiest to understand the concept.
Jerzy according to his expedition manager reach the summit of Dhaulagiri 21 January 1985 and he’s transferring to Cho Oyu base camp.
15 February 1985 3 days after his expedition partners he is on the summit of Cho Oyu. Two eight-thousanders in the winter season in 32 days!!!
11 January 1986 Kanchenjunga.
3 February 1987 Anapurna.
So for us, Jerzy Kukuczka is the first reached the summit of four eight-thousanders in winter.
The death of Jerzy
As all the bigs even Jerzy was vulnerable. His limit was the attitude to resolve the situations without money. But this attitude requires some luck. Before the to try the Lhotse in 1989 he has stopped to Katmandu as usually and to buy some used materials. Used material mostly time don’t show his life before the deal. He has bought a small used 6 mm rope. At the altitude of 8200 mt in a very difficult step, Jerzy fly down and the rope breaks.
Was an error to trust in the 6 mm rope, even if new his not ok for active security. Just can be used for resting or transport of materials. His partner said the main rope was blocked so they decide to use the 6 mm. But as the events have demonstrated was been not a good choice.
Maybe an excess of confidence with the risk. Or maybe just unlucky.
The Jerzy legacy
Jerzy had a great impact in the mountaineering. If Reinhold Messner has demonstrated that even the impossible sometimes is possible, Kukucka demonstrates that is possible to do even more or in a different way. He is like a hero in his homeland because he represents the force and the ability to resist extreme cold of the Polish community.
There is a foundation created to remember him, follow this link
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I embed two videos, the first is very nice and you can hear Reinhold Messner explain who was Kukucka in a few words.
The second is like a very nice documentary about Kukucka but is in the Polish language.