ExWeb interview with Artur Hajzer, part 3 final: "Climbing competition debates raged already before the WWII"

Posted: Mar 21, 2007 01:10 pm EDT

(MountEverest.net/K2Climb.net) With freedom and Democracy, the country's climbers now too swim in the mainstream. Poland is losing it's superior climbing power and there appears to be a significant gap in the country's alpine mentality. "Why?" Jorgen Vikstrom asked Wielicki. Naming various issues such as career hunting and limited spare time in the politically and socially changed Poland, Wielicki finally concluded that a new era is up, "for the first time in almost 200 years, Poles have nothing to fight," Krzysztof said. And then he added, "I'm concerned about this."

A veteran climber who has seen trends come and go since the '80s, Artur Hajzer sat down with ExWeb to talk about old friends, changing styles in alpinism, his burgeoning business, and plans for the season. In this final part of the interview, Artur gathers bits of his rather intense 45 years - how he became rich and then lost everything, his love/hate relationship with mountaineering, and his projects for the future..

ExplorersWeb: Climbers today go for increasingly lower peaks, fewer new routes and only in the warm season. Why do you think that happens?

Artur: I think that there is lack of leaders such as Messner and Kukuczka, and a lack of mass public attention because of it. This leads to no sponsorship and financial difficulties. We have many fantastic climbing goals in the mountains but they are not as easy to understand for the public as the 14, 8000ers or Everest without oxygen. Generally the mountains have become smaller (as has the entire planet, due to globalization).

The 8000+ meters peaks are now attainable for thousands of amateurs. Satellite technology, oxygen technology, GPS, modern gear, commercial companies, Sherpas services, etc All these things have reduced the achievement and adventure into travel and holiday.

So life and reality are as they are. The difficult goals wait for those few climbers who have motivation and money, and who climb for themselves - Wojtek Kurtyka was like that. Still we can find a few more - House, Anderson, etc., etc.

ExplorersWeb: You guys had to make a manifest to the younger generation. But should you really have to? Did you guys have a manifest written to you?

Artur: No. We did not have a manifest written to us. But Andrzej Zawada and the Polish Alpine Assoc. wrote a Winter Himalaya program strategy in the '70s. It wound be nice if somebody continued that work and vision/strategy.

Piolet d'Or

ExplorersWeb: What do you think about Piolet d'Or?

Artur: After saying "Fame is a bitch," Marko Prezejl will probably become the most famous climber during this off-season period. The discussion about competition and prizes in alpinism is so old - that it is already boring for me. I had to hear the words, fights and discussions between Kukuczka (competitive) and Kurtyka (officially non-competitive, with arguments similar to Markos) for so many hours and days in base camps that it was enough nonsense for me already 20 years ago. All the best climbers in the world met together in Messners Juval Castle to discuss the same in the '80s, and nothing came out of it. I only found a lot of hypocrisy during those discussions.

The debates are boring to me - and they were boring to Kukuczka as well - he simply ignored them and did his job/climbs. Kukuczka's opinion was that alpinism is not and will never be free from competition. Kukuczka was competitive and wanted to be the first to summit all 8000ers. He pushed Messner to hurry I guess.

Climbing with Kukuczka, I was a witness of this competition - so I know what I'm talking about. Both Kukuczka and Messner got Olympic medals. As I remember Messner refused to collect it, and the discussion about prizes in alpinism started all over again. Such debates took place already before WWII in the '30s, so it's nothing new.

My opinion is: Let everybody do what they want and let the media or the event's organizers do their work - media will not change. We are citizens of free countries, so everybody has a right to have his own opinion and everyone should be accepted with respect. I do not accept Marko Prezejl describing others as "clowns" or "gladiators" - so I suggest more respect even for "reality shows" and "soap operas."

The business of climbing

ExplorersWeb: How and why did you start to climb?

Artur: I was active in the "Scout's Mountaineering Club" at school, Kukuczka was a member too. At 12 years old they took me on a climbing trip to Polish Jura crags, and I stayed with them. At 18 years old, in 1980, I did my first Scout's expedition to Spitsbergen and climbed in the Himalayas for the first time in 1982, when I was 20 years old. I don't know why I started to climb, I just enjoyed it.

ExplorersWeb: Tell us about HiMountain Inc.

Artur: I stopped climbing in 1990 for a number of reasons. In short: The Political system in Poland was changing, I had some problems with my knees, many friends were dead and I (together with Wielicki) was sure that we were next up.

I started to think that extreme mountaineering was completely nuts. I started to hate it. For some years, I didn't even care to follow what was going on in the high mountains. I missed the mountains, but I didnt want to be a professional climber, and my opinion was that it made no sense to be an amateur climber. I had never climbed just for the pleasure of it Ive always been a competition-oriented athlete. My philosophy was " to climb and forget." I tried to stay in the mountains/walls only as long as necessary to achieve my goal and then escape as quickly as possible. In fact, I always found mountain walls an unfriendly environment.

In 1990 I visited Munichs ISPO Fair with two offers for the exhibitors. The first one was to sponsor the '14x8000ers in one year' project. The second was to invest in a joint-venture company in Poland. The first offer was ignored by all potential sponsors, but the business proposal on the contrary was very, very successful. I got the money - not for climbing, but for production facilities :)

So, I went into business. Over the following 10 years, my friends and I built a huge company, the biggest in Eastern Europe. I was completely absorbed by this new hobby - and became rich. Then suddenly, I went bankrupt. I lost everything. All my millions were gone, down to the last cent. It was a big trauma for me. I had to find a new sense of life. I found some of it back in the mountains.

HiMountain is a new project which I am partly involved in. It is a small design company producing and selling outdoor products and outdoor brands. In addition the company has 50 shops in Poland, so we distribute European brands in Poland. The company is well known thanks to the HiMountain Team (a sponsored group of climbers) who are doing the best Polish expeditions and climbs.

ExplorersWeb: What's your life like today?

Artur: I have learned to balance activities and stay steady on both my legs - not just one: Leaning on just one leg could prove dangerous; in the mountains as well as in business. I bought a dog to remind me - so I won't get stuck behind a desk in the office for too long. The dog needs me at home and you can't explain to him as you can to a son or wife that you are busy. So I am under dog's therapy.

My interests are the outdoor business, mountains, films, ecology, mountain rescue an the Kukuczka Foundation.

Dream Expeditions

ExplorersWeb: You're still young, only 45, what's your dream expedition? Who would be member in your Dream team?

Artur: My dream expedition is to climb all 14, 8000ers in one year. But it's a dream only, and will stay that. Christoph Profit was the first to hatch the 14-peaks-in-one-year idea (in the '80s) - I was the second. I started organizing it in 1989 but failed for a few reasons; one being a refusal from Pakistans Ministry of Tourism.

A more realistic dream expedition is winter K2. Really realistic are BP, G II or Makalu in winter. As far as the Dream Team, it would really be a pleasure to climb with Piotr Pustelnik, but he hates winter climbs and low temperatures. So the dream partner remains Kukuczkano other choice

ExplorersWeb: Any immediate plans?

Artur: I am considering BP or G II or Makalu in winter.

ExplorersWeb: What would be your main message to the new generation?

Artur: To be or to have - that is the question. Make your own decision.

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.

Artur's timeline:

1974 - started to climb at 12 years
1976 - completed climbing course
1978 - completed the high Tatra climbing course
1978/80 - climbed different walls in Eastern Europe Mountains
1980 - member of Spitsebergen expedition in Atomfiella - new routes, virgin peaks
1981 - climbs in the French Alps. Completed Club Alpine Francaise climbing course
1981/1982 - winter climbs in Tatra
1982 - Himalaya Expedition to Nepal Rolwaling Himal - among others did a summit via new route of Gaurihanka-Go 6126 m
1983 - climbed to the main top of Tirich Mir 7782 m - the first and only Polish ascent in Hindukush
1983/84 - winter climbs in Tatras, big wall climbing. Completed Polish Alpine Assoc climbing instructor course.
1984 - climbs in French Alps on popular standards including Directe Americane on Petit Dru
1985 - Lhotse South Face expedition, climb up to 8200 m
1985/86 - member of succesfull Kangchenjunga Winter Expedition
1986 - Manaslu 8126 m new route
1986/87 - first winter ascent of Annapurna 8091 m
1987 - Shisha Pangma 8027 m new route
1987 - Lhotse South Face Expedition, climb up to 8300 m
1988 - Annapurna East 8010 m via the south-east face
1989 - member of succesfull Mt.Everest West Ridge Expedition
1989 - member of Reinhold Messner's expedition to Lhotse South Face, alpine style atempt with Wielicki up to 7200 m
1989 - Everest rescue action
1990/1998 - climbs in rocks and Tatras up to VII + degree
2000 - Spitsbergen Expedition
2005 - member of normal route Broad Peak expedition, climbed to 8000 meters but broke his leg very high up on the peak.
2006 - Ama Dablam
2006/07 - member of Winter Nanga Parbat Expedition

#Mountaineering #Mountaineering

"I stopped climbing in 1990 for a number of reasons," Artur told ExWeb last year. "In short: The Political system in Poland was changing, I had problems with my knees, many friends were dead and I (together with Wielicki) was sure that we were next up...I built a huge company and became a rich man. And then suddenly, I lost everything. I had to find a new sense of my life, and I found it partly back in the mountains." (Click to enlarge).

"[My message to the young generations:] To be or to have - that is the question. It's up to you." In the image, Artur sharing high camp on winter Nanga Parbat with the young and restless Jazek (click to enlarge).
"I was active in the 'Scout's Mountaineering Club' at school, Kukuczka was a member too. At 12 years old they took me on a climbing trip to Polish Jura crags, and I stayed with them. At 18 years old, in 1980, I did my first Scout's expedition to Spitsbergen and climbed in the Himalayas for the first time in 1982, when I was 20 years old. I don't know why I started to climb, I just enjoyed it." Second from right in the image; a young scout named Artur (click to enarge).
"Many friends were dead and I was sure I was the next to go (together with Wielicki). I started to think that extreme mountaineering was completely nuts. I started to hate it." (Click to enlarge).
Currently Artur is in strict dog's therapy, thanks to Yosai (in image). All images courtesy of Artur Hajzer/HiMountain (click to enlarge).

Visit our new website