We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2006. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.
And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in the year of 2006.
Today number 2: Piotr Pustelnik and the Himalayan Trilogy team
"You will hear from me soon, I am not going to retire yet," Piotr Pustelnik dispatched before returning home from Broad Peak last summer. Forced to retreat at the foresummit of BP, the Polish ace climber had led the way, breaking trail and fixing ropes in very bad conditions. But then Piotr and his team were diverted and got involved in a three day-long rescue.
The expedition helped down winter climber Artur Hajzer; climbing partner of the legendary Jerzy Kukuczka. In the eighties, Jerzy and Artur nailed a number of new routes on the 8000ers, some in winter, before an old rope snapped on Jerzy ending perhaps the greatest Himalayan saga of all.
After a prolonged break Artur returned to Himalaya last year, at the urging of his wife who told her mountaineer husband: Artur you are getting old and fat. Go back to the mountains and come home a skinny boy." Now Artur lay high up on Broad Peak, with a broken leg after a freak slide, and fellow Polish climber Piotr Pustelnik was helping him down.
The same wall again and again
BP was not the only failed summit for Piotr in 2005. He had already attempted Annapurna from its highly difficult South side together with Piotr Morawski.
Since Manaslu in 2003 where he reached the summit in hellish conditions, Piotr had hit the same wall again and again; retreat on Annapurna and Broad Peak - the only two peaks preventing him from achieving all the 14 8000ers.
For 2006 therefore, a first class Himalayan trilogy was set up. Acclimatize on Cho Oyu, move to Annapurna; and finally back to Broad Peak in Pakistan. The expedition would include Piotr Morawski again but also Slovak Peter Hamor, Piotr's climbing mate on Annapurna in 2004. There would be no porters, no oxygen - just a small band of 5 friends, including an American and a Tibetan climber.
SMS to hell
The trilogy kicked off well. On April 24, Piotr Morawski and Peter Hamor made the season's first summit of Cho Oyu after virtually making a run for Tibet, and fixing all the ropes.
But Annapurna was an entirely different game. Everest, the world's highest peak, is no match to deadly Anna, where difficulty and danger take on a whole new meaning. With an overall summit/fatality rate of 40%, most 8000er collectors leave Annapurna for last and fail there often.
Piotr Pustelnik had retreated on Annapurna two times already and 2006 would turn no less dramatic. The expedition climbed the East Ridge, via the descent line that Kukuczka and Artur Hajzer took after their winter ascent of the mountain.
Nursing his healing leg Artur Hajzer kept in touch with the climbers from home, offering advice over SMS to the expedition satellite phone:
-"Piotr, pls Remember pls. It's not easy between East and Main summit. It's not possible to do it just like that. You have to have bivouac and climbing equipment with you. Plan bivouac somewhere below east summit pls."
-"We know that. But the col below Roc Noir did not allow us."
- "You have to go more to the right - the right side of the Glacier Dome up and the left traverse (400) to the col just below Glacier Dome Top Band. We had 300m fixed ropes here. You can go through the top of Glacier Dome as well - Alberto Soncini did it that way."
- "That was 20 years ago. We have to find our own way. But thanks."
- "Janusz said that there is a plateau between Fluted Peak and Glacier Dome. Camp II was there. Let's go there."
- "We will see tomorrow."
- "Where are you?"
- "Back on 6200, below Glacier Dome"
Behind him, Lotse went blind.
The line merged with the Swiss (Loretan-Joos 1984) line at Roc Noir. "The first part up to 6200, through the glacier and up to the bottom of Glacier Dome and Roc Noir is uncomfortable," Artur told ExplorersWeb. "The ridge from Roc Noir to East summit is easy but the part between East Summit and Main Summit is difficult."
Piotr Pustelnik described their ascent, We started climbing along the edge of the ridge. By Roc Noir the route was steep and loaded with snow. Then came a very sharp snow ridge. It took us two days to climb it, reach the East summit and find the ridge leading towards the middle summit."
Fierce winds arrived, pinning the four men (Pustelnik, Morawski, Hamor and Tibetan Lotse) for days in high camp by the ridge. When conditions finally cleared, their supplies had run out.
Knowing it was now or never, the climbers made their way to the top. Peter Hamor broke trail. Behind him, on Annapurna's east summit at 8010 meters, Lotse went blind.
Shelter on Annapurna's East Ridge
While Peter disappeared out of view scouting the route to Middle summit, the remaining climbers turned back to high camp and eventually helped Lotse down in a nightmarish descent with their snow blind team mate.
Unaware of the problems Peter Hamor continued the climb; headed for the tough part between East Summit and Main Summit. Night falling, Peter was on his own for the most difficult section of the climb - the 7, 5 km (4, 4 miles) long East Ridge.
He reached the summit at 9.15 pm, solo without gas, food or a radio. The joy was brief. A terrible night descent was ahead, and Peter was left alone to negotiate Annapurna's death zone.
He could only go on one hour. Just below the summit on 8000 meters - right at the hard section described by Artur between the Middle and the Main summit - Peter couldn't go on without rest. With no supplies, he began to dig a bivouac in a snow cave.
5 hours after his summit, the cave was ready at 2 am the next morning. Peter had spent 4 hours to dig it. Freezing to the core, he spent three hours in the bivouac, until by 5 am he woke up and used the light of dawn to climb back to the expedition high camp.
Piotr: "I hope I will never have to go through something like this again.
Piotr Pustelnik reported, The three of us were sitting in the tent. Piotr Morawski and myself in pretty good shape, Lotse crying all the time. Peter arrived after his bivouac. I sent him down on his own; he was well and couldnt help us anyway.
All our food reserves were finished by that time. We had to descend it was clear that Lotse wouldnt recover his sight, and soon become too weak to go down. We had thought of returning to the East summit in order to retrieve our fixed roes there and use tem to help Lotse down but we were too weak. It was an extremely difficult situation; we couldnt count on anyones help in the middle of the ridge.
We decided to free climb down. It took us about 12 or 13 hours to get out of the mess, hours of watching every single step. By the evening, we finally saw Peter and Don by the deposit, preparing a place for us. My legs trembling, I thought to myself: 'Jesus, we did it'. We had managed to descend without belay, and didnt have to cope with the moral issue of leaving a man behind on the mountain. I hope I will never have to go through something like this again.
Humanity before ambition
In these days of resourceful Everest climbers defending their decisions to leave less fortunate and injured climbers behind, the old Polish veteran explained his views: Piotr (Morawski) and I told ourselves, we had two options: Behave like humans and stay with Lotse, or leave him and shoot for the summit. The second option would have never allowed us to look in the mirror again. We had to decide who we wanted to be. Today, I can speak calmly of it, but those conversations were not calm in the least.
Weakened from exposure and lack of food, the two men finally made it back to BC with their injured mate. But the rescue came at a price: Two words echoed in Pustelnik's mind: It's over.
Last call of the grey wolf
After 16 years of amazing climbs in the Himalayas, Pustelnik, 54, decided to retire from 8000er peaks. This mountain [Annapurna], which I tried to conquer for the third time, sucked up all my climbing skills, my humanity, he said on his way to Broad Peak, the third and last stage of his mBank Lotto Himalayan Trilogy expedition, I want to bid the mountains farewell in the Karakorum, where I started my climbing adventures."
His capacity for high mountains was coming to an end, he felt, and he had wanted to go out in style summiting Broad Peak via a new route in alpine style, with two of his closest climbing partners beside him.
Tragedy on Broad Peak
The third and last stage of his 2006 mBank Lotto Himalayan Trilogy expedition was for all three 'Peters' to reach the summit of Broad Peak together via a new and difficult route on BP's southern ridge in alpine style.
But as the three Polish friends made their final acclimatization summit push on the normal route of Broad the morning of July 8, fate intervened again. They found a climber from an Austrian expedition - Sepp Bachmair - in trouble high up on the trail. Sepp had summited the day before with his climbing mate Markus Kronthaler. Both climbers were exhausted after a night of desperately trying to cross the ridge to the foresummit. Fatigued and dehydrated, Markus died in Sepp's arms on the summit ridge (8030 m) in the early morning hours of July 8.
Sepp continued down alone, reaching the col at 7,800m in a mere 3.5 hours after having been on the go for over 24 hours. That's where, by 10:00 am, Pustelnik, Morawski and Hamor stumbled across the frostbitten climber.
"Piotr Morawski, the strongest amongst us, got to the col first," Piotr Pustelnik wrote. "I was still below the pass when he looked over the rocks and I could see from the expression on his face - something was wrong.
"Go on up, I'll take him down"
He said something more or less along these lines: Piotr, youre not gonna like this. But I still didnt know what he meant. As I reached the col, still rather calm, I saw someone lying in the snow. Piotr M. said: It doesn't look good.' It was an Austrian climber in a very feeble condition, but thats not all. There was another one somewhere ahead on the ridge, probably no longer alive.
Well, what can I say, my heart sank and I teared up - out of helplessness, or perhaps just generally. It was my fourth time on this mountain and each time something had happened and prevented us from making it to the summit. Obviously I didnt use the word prevent in a literal way as when there is an emergency, it goes without saying that one needs to do the best one can do to help - but I just knew that something was wrong and that we were going to have to alter all our plans a lot.
The picture was all too familiar to Piotr. This was his fourth attempt on Broad. He made his first bid there in 1998 with Eric Escoffier, until Eric disappeared on the summit ridge. Returning to the peak the next year with Mr. Park (Korea), at Camp 2, one of the Korean climbers fell to his death and the expedition was aborted. Last year, Piotr's third attempt ended with the rescue of Artur Hajzer.
But this time, Morawski volunteered to give up his summit to save the Austrian climber and give Piotr a chance for his summit at last. "Go on up, I'll take him down," he told Pustelnik. "You carry on up and look for the other climber.
Time had come for Piotr to bag Broad Peak at last.
Trekking poles wrist straps flapping in the wind
So this is what we did," Piotr said. "We gave the exhausted Austrian a large dose of Dexamethasone, which made him feel better, helped him up and he started slowly abseiling. Peter Hamor and I continued our ascent. It was apparent, however, that neither of us had the same physical or mental strength than before. Everything felt different, Piotr recalled.
The ridge seemed longer, more difficult, and unpleasant. We were expecting to see the other Austrian behind every little hill on the ridge. The ascent took long time, but after Annapurna, we were used to ridge climbing, and technically it wasnt a problem for us. I was also surprised to find no significant difficulties between the Rocky and the main summit.
About 20 minutes below the main summit, on the top of the last mound we saw trekking poles wrist straps flapping in the wind and we knew that they would not be there on their own. This is where we found Markus. We did all we could in such a situation to safeguard him against well, against human eyes actually. It was awkward to do anything half-decent as the ridge was flat, and there was no snow or stones, nothing (to cover the body).
We took from his pockets some of his belongings for his family. This will remain with us as our main memory of Broad Peak. The mountain is technically easy, but theres always something happening there. We summited together and this was our short-lived moment of jubilation."
When Morawski a few days later went back up and also summited, all three climbing buddies had topped out on Broad - the last stage of their Himalayan trilogy - but gave up the new route in alpine style they had hoped for.
"Time to sum things up"
Piotr Pustelnik looked back on his final 8000er with bitter-sweet memories. Nevertheless, he had climbed 13 of the worlds tallest and only one had eluded him: Annapurna. Back in BC, after all his climbers were down safe, Piotr opened his computer and typed, "Its time to sum things up." Looking back at his life and towards the future, Piotr compiled his Himalayan letter of resignation:
"Well, Broad Peak is quite an exceptional mountain for me, as Im here for the fourth time. I myself had a serious accident here and have taken part in more than one pretty grim ceremony - its not a lucky mountain for me. Hence my thoughts are revolving around a single reflection: Im glad I dont have to come back here for the fifth time."
"If somebody asked me whether Im pleased with this expedition Id say yes and no at the same time. Yes, because four out of five members of our team have reached the summit. But for us, the three Peters, it was a part of a broader plan, which unfortunately fell through, so I definitely feel somewhat dismayed about it."
"But thats what life is like in the mountains; you cant always get what you want."
Nothing left to bind me to this place
"Frankly speaking, while abseiling down the slopes for the last time yesterday, I was extremely happy that these were my final steps on this mountain. Im not going to come back again as I definitely dont want to return. I have done what I needed to do here in terms of reaching the summit, even though (it was done) in a rather unplanned manner, and theres nothing else left that binds me to this place."
"I think that all three of us (Piotr Morawski, Peter Hamor and I) feel slightly dissatisfied as we were hoping for the kind of mountaineering experience that we had on Annapurna. But as Ive already said, its not always possible to stick to the plan and achieve the goal you were hoping for. Still, there are umpteen other spectacular mountains. We can always find different climbs to provide us with the enjoyment that weve missed out on here."
"So, its the end of our 'Triptych', our plan which was rather extraordinary for me - a superb experience at the end of my career in the highest mountains. From a satellite phone in Broad Peaks base camp,"
By their performance, the awarded expedition members have proved themselves outstanding in all of the following:
- Self reliance
- Respect towards competition
Previous in the countdown:
3. Rune Gjeldnes, Antarctic crossing
4. Denis Urubko & Serguey Samoilov - new route on Manaslu
5. Nives and Romano, K2
6. Kazakh young guns Maxut & Vassiliy, Dhaulagiri/Annapurna
7. Alex Bellini, Atlantic Ocean crossing
8. Iñaki Ochoa, Shisha Pangma climb
An additional 4 expeditions have received a special mention award:
Japanese K2 kids Yuka and Tatsuya
Serap Jangbu - 14 x 8000ers, the Sherpas' way
Colin Angus and Julie Wafaei: Human-powered circumnavigation
Borge Ousland, Mike Horn: North Pole unsupported through the Arctic night
More about Pustelnik and the team:
This year, Annapurna was summited only by Peter Hamor and the Kazakh climbers Maxut Zhumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov (from the north side).
Piotr Pustelnik has been involved in many rescues; several only on Broad Peak. On K2 in 1996, he saved the life of an Italian climber. Pustelnik administered an adrenaline shot to the injured Italian while both were hanging from a rope. Then Piotr helped him back down with the help of Rysiek Pawlowski. Afterwards, Pustelnik managed to climb back up and reach the summit. When he got home, the Polish Olympics Committee awarded him with the Fair Play Award.
But Piotr has commented: Humanly behavior shouldnt be the subject of awards.
Piotr Pustelniks 8000+m summits: Gasherbrum II - July 19th, 1990; Nanga Parbat - July 12th, 1992; Cho-Oyu - September 24th, 1993; Shisha Pangma - October 6th, 1993; Dhaulagiri - September 26th, 1994; Mount Everest - May 12th, 1995; K2 - August 14th, 1996; Gasherbrum I - July 15th, 1997; Lhotse May 15th, 2000; Kangchenjunga May 15th 2001; Makalu May 16th, 2002; Manaslu May 17th, 2003, Broad Peak July 8th, 2006.
All in all Piotr has climbed 13 main summits and 8000m peaks 16 times. He did Broad Peak fore summit July 21, 2005; Annapurna East summit May 20, 2006; and Gasherbrum II main summit in a second ascent July 21st, 1997.
Piotr Morawski achieved the first winter climb on Shisha Pangma on January 14, 2005. Also on the summit was Italian Simone Moro, who describes Morawski as one of the best Polish climbers today.
Besides Annapurna main and Broad Peak, Slovak Peter Hámor has summited Everest (1998) and climbed "the Alpine Trilogy" the difficult north faces of Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses and Eiger.
August this year, Piotr's sons Adam and Pawel climbed Ak-Su peak, in Kyrgyzstan.
Polish Artur Hajzer is currently on Nanga Parbat attempting to do the first winter ascent of the Pakistan giant.
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