(MountEverest.net/K2Climb.net) "He fingered my new, shining wedges. 'Expensive.' he commented. His tone had a hint of envy, and no wonder: from his harness - itself a backyard special of leftover materials - hung home-made wedges fashioned from rope and common nuts. 'From auto' he said, proudly explaining that his climbing gear came from the scrap yard of his hometown."
This excerpt from the 2007 Peak Perfomance catalogue features Swedish Jorgen Vikstrom's meeting with a Polish climber on a Norwegian cliff back in the 80's.
The Polish were underdogs, and it made them tough. They became the world's hardest climbers, but far from the most famous. One of the few left today, Artur Hajzer 45, sat down with ExWeb to talk about old friends and changing times. In this first part of the interview, Artur recalls his winter climbs (in plastic boots and no down), and the latest Nangpa Parbat winter attempt.
ExplorersWeb: How do you feel? How's the leg? Does your wife let you back in the house now or are you still fat and grumpy?
Artur: I'm fine, although my leg is still not at 100 percent. I'm not fat and grumpy anymore - my wife did let me back in the house, but she hasn't accepted my next expedition program yet. I mentioned I was considering Winter Broad Peak for 2007-08. It was a mistake to tell her about it so early :-).
After my "adventure" (ed note: a broken leg at high altitude) on Broad Peak, my wife understands what Himalaya and Karakorum climbing is about. Yet it's hard for her to be alone and wait while I am away climbing.
Karakoram winters climbs harder than Nepal's
ExplorersWeb: How was the Nanga climb, harder or easier than you remember from your last winter climb? Was it fun to be back off-season?
Artur: It was fun to be back off-season. My last winter climb was Annapurna summit, back in 86-87 season. It took us only 16 days to reach the top. We were a light, 4-person team: Wanda Rutkiewicz, Krzysztof Wielicki, Jerzy Kukuczka and I - plus a doctor and a cameraman.
I am still surprised how quick and "easy" it was. We had no down suits and only plastic shoes, but we ended up with no frostbites. 12 months before I had been a member on a Kangchenjunga winter expedition. Kukuczka and Wielicki topped out back then. I recall Kangchenjunga as a much more difficult climb, in colder and windier conditions. However, we were a large team so that we managed to fix a lot of ropes.
The winter in Karakorum and Nanga Parbat is different than in Nepal - temperatures are lower in Pakistan's winter, and hard snow and ice sections start much lower down. That's why no one has climbed any Pakistan's 8000ers in winter yet. So definitely climbing Nanga Parbat was harder than my previous winter climbs - difficulties (snow, wind, temperatures) that we had on Annapurna and Kangchenjunga at 6,000-7,000m, we found on Nanga Parbat already at 4,000-5,000m. That's why our progress was slower. In addition the Schell route is technically more difficult than Kangchenjunga or Annapurna's normal routes.
Light style already back in the 80's
ExplorersWeb: There seemed to be debates spurred by a generation shift. Young guns wanted light and fast, the veterans slow but sure. Where lies the future? And in hindsight, what would you have done differently?
Artur:My winter climb on Annapurna showed that light and fast style is possible (4-person team, 16 days). Maciej Berbeka and Aleksander Lwow climbed in similar style up to Broad Peak's foresummit in 1988-89, and so did Piotr Morawski and Simone Moro on Shisha Pangma (winter 2005). In my opinion, a "slow but sure" style offers better chances of success in Pakistan, but "light and fast" is not a bad idea either. I think that "slow but sure" makes sense now, and "light and fast" is for the distant future.
There is also a money factor to take into account: Climbing Nanga Parbat this 2006-2007 winter was relatively cheap, so we could afford a big team. If things change, next time we launch a winter expedition in Karakorum we might have to manage with a smaller team for financial reasons.
ExplorersWeb: Will you guys try again?
Artur: Yes, we will probably try again. Next goal may be Broad Peak, GII or Makalu. Our only limit is - money.
ExWeb interview with Artur Hajzer, part 2: "He fell and now an invisible line seems to keep me away from the summits"
ExWeb interview with Artur Hajzer, part 3 final: "Climbing competition debates raged already before the WWII"
Artur Hajzer has three main 8000er summits to his name, 2 of them via new routes (Manaslu's NE face in 1986, Shisha's east ridge in 1987) and the first winter climb of Annapurna on Feb. 3, 1987. Plus, he also summited Annapurna East (8010m) via a new route up the SE face in 1988. All these climbs were done together with Kukuczka, without O2 or Sherpa support. Artur also attempted Lhotse South Face thee times reaching 8200 m in 1985, 8300 m in 1987 and 7200 m (alpine style) in 1989. He is also known as organizer of a "thunderbolt" rescue operation on Everest's West Ridge for Andrzej Marciniak in 1989.
Krzysztof Wielicki led the 5th Polish attempt on winter Nanga Parbat in 2007. The team members added up not only many years of experience - but also an amazing number of 8000ers summited - including winter first ascents:
Wielicki was the fifth climber to summit all 14 8000ers. Among his climbs; the first winter ascents of Everest, Lhotse and Kangchenjunga. Dariusz Zaluski, has 4, 8000ers summited and winter attempts on K2, Makalu, Nanga and Shisha. Jan Szulc led the team who first climbed Shisha Pangma in winter, and has a K2 winter attempt. Only rookies were Przemyslaw Lozinski and the team doctor Robert Szymczak.
Polish climbers have all the first winter ascents on Himalayan 8000ers, most achieved in the eighties. All their ascents took place in January and February - except for Lhotse on December 31, 1988 by Krzysztof Wielicki.
17 years went by before a new first winter ascent was a fact: On January 14, 2005, Polish Piotr Morawski and Italian Simone Moro summited Shisha Pangma. The expedition leader was Jan Szulc (member of the recent Nanga Parbat winter expedition).
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