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with Stefan Nestler

Everest winter pioneer Wielicki: “Acclimatization is the key”

Krzysztof Wielicki

Krzysztof Wielicki

Krzysztof Wielicki is skeptical. “I think they can have a problem because they only slept in Camp 3 and not at 8,000 meters,” answers the Pole when I meet him at the trade fair ISPO in Munich and enquire him about the chances of the Basque climber Alex Txikon on Mount Everest. Txikon, who wants to scale the highest mountain of the world this winter without bottled oxygen, is currently waiting in Everest Base Camp to set off for his first summit attempt. “In my opinion, you should have slept at the South Col, if you want to push to the summit,” says Wielicki. “I wish him good luck, I hope that nothing happens. It’s most important that they’ll come back safely. It doesn’t matter if they climb to the summit or not.”

Wielicki about Txikon: They can have a problem

Empty bottle at the summit

Wielicki (l.) and Cichy after their successful climb

Wielicki (l.) and Cichy after their successful climb

The now 67-year-old knows what he is talking about. On 17 February 1980, Wielicki and his countryman Leszek Cichy had succeeded on Everest the first ever winter ascent of an eight-thousander. Above the South Col, they had used bottled oxygen “We didn`t know that it was possible to climb without,” says Krzysztof. “Our leader [Andrzej Zawada] said, here is the bottle. You have to carry it. One bottle, nine kilos. When we climbed to the summit, we realized, that the bottle was empty.”

Never again with breathing mask

Despite a flow rate of only two liters per minute, the bottled oxygen lasted only for three or four hours. “The mask was frozen. I even didn’t feel that I was using oxygen,” says Wielicki. “It was horrible. I never again used oxygen afterwards.” Even without breathing mask, the Polish climber remained a pioneer. In 1986, he and his compatriot Jerzy Kukuczka managed the first winter ascent of Kangchenjunga (8,586 meters). In 1988, Krzysztof scaled Lhotse (8,516 meters) not only for the first time in winter, but also succeeded the first solo climb of the mountain. In 1996, Wielicki became the fifth person who had stood on all 14 eight-thousanders. Bottled oxygen “is not necessary, if you are well acclimatized,” says the Pole. “That’s the key.”

Wielicki: It was horrible

Still financing problems

K 2

K 2

In winter 2017/2018, Krzysztof Wielicki wants to lead a Polish winter expedition to K2, the only eight-thousander that has not yet been successfully climbed in the cold season. The planned financing by Polish government companies has not yet been finalized. “We are a little disappointed with the government”, says Wielicki. “But we fight and I hope that we can overcome the problem.” According to Krzysztof, at the moment 14 climbers are still on his list of candidates, in the end he wants to assemble a team of eight.

Wielicki: I hope we can overcome the problem

“The most difficult challenge”

Denis Urubko

Denis Urubko

Adam Bielecki, who succeeded the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum I (8,080 meters) in 2012 and of Broad Peak (8,051 meters) in 2013, will surely belong to the team, says Wielicki. And also Denis Urubko, first winter ascender of Makalu (8,485 meters) and Gasherbrum II (8,034 meters): “He wants to go and we want him to join us. I think he will go with us.” Urubko was born in Kazakhstan, but now he has a Russian and a Polish passport. Already in winter 2002/2003, Wielicki and Urubko had been together on K 2, with an height of 8,611 meters the second highest mountain on earth. Wielicki had then also led the expedition on the Chinese north side of the mountain. Urubko had reached an altitude of 7,650 meters before he and his rope partner had been stopped by bad weather and the expedition had been canceled. This time, the attempt is to be made on the Pakistani side of K2. “Either via the Abruzzi Ridge or the Cesen/Basque route, depending on the conditions in the wall,” says Krzysztof Wielicki. “I think, if we talk about winter expeditions on 8000 meter peaks, it is the last and most difficult challenge.”

Wielicki: K 2 the last and most difficult challenge


9. February 2017 | 1:01