Jerzy Kukuczka – Tribute to a Himalayan Giant

Polish climber Jerzy Kukuczka would have turned 64 today. To me, he was the ultimate athlete, the real thing. His mental toughness was legendary even among the finest climbers in the world. “Jurek”‘s list of mountaineering achievements is arguably the most impressive in history (from Wikipedia):

  1. 1979 — Lhotse – West Face, Normal Route.
  2. 1980 — Mount Everest – South Pillar, New Route.
  3. 1981 — Makalu – Variation to Makalu La/North-West Ridge, New Route, Alpine Style, Solo.
  4. 1982 — Broad Peak – West Spur, Normal Route, Alpine Style.
  5. 1983 — Gasherbrum II – South-East Spur, New Route, Alpine Style.
  6. 1983 — Gasherbrum I – South-West Face, New Route, Alpine Style.
  7. 1984 — Broad Peak – Traverse of North, Middle and Main Summits, New Route, Alpine Style.
  8. 1985 — Dhaulagiri – North-East Spur, Normal Route, First Winter Ascent.
  9. 1985 — Cho Oyu – South-East Pillar, New Route, First Winter Ascent, Second Summit Team.
  10. 1985 — Nanga Parbat – South-East Pillar, New Route.
  11. 1986 — Kanchenjunga – South-West Face, Normal Route, First Winter Ascent.
  12. 1986 — K2 – South Face, New Route.
  13. 1986 — Manaslu – North-East Face, New Route, Alpine Style.
  14. 1987 — Annapurna I – North Face, Normal Route, First Winter Ascent.
  15. 1987 — Shisha Pangma – West Ridge, New Route, Alpine Style, Ski Descent.
  16. 1988 — Annapurna East Summit – South Face, New Route, Alpine Style.

There you go. All summits except Everest without oxygen. Second to climb all 8,000ers and in less than half the time it took Messner. Not to mention all of those were climbed wither via a new route, alpine style or in the winter…

…except Lhotse. 10 years after climbing his first 8,000er, Kukuczka went back to Lhotse, the world’s fourth highest peak at 8,516 m, to reclimb the mountain by the still unclimbed and highly prized south face. Approximately 300 m below the summit, Kukuczka fell and the mountaineering world lost a legend.

Here is a photo tribute to the man I consider to  have been the finest climber in history. Happy birthday Jurek!

PS Make sure you check out “Freedom Climbers” by Bernadette McDonald if you are interested in the history of Polish mountaineering.

Everest viewed from the west. I believe the South Pillar climber by Kukuczka and Czok is the prominent sunlit diagonal in the centre-right of the photograph.

West side of Makalu. I believe the route climbed by Kukuczka roughly follows the left skyline.

Northeast ridge of Dhaulagiri – right-centre of photograph.

The south face of Cho Oyu. The first winter ascent route roughly followed a diagonal from bottom right directly towards the summit.

North side of Annapurna, climbed during the 1987 first winter ascent.

Fury on the South Face of Lhotse.

Memorial to Kukuczka and fellow Polish climbers below the South Face of Lhotse.