2012-13 Polish Winter Broad Peak: Details of the climb

Posted: Mar 20, 2013 11:09 am EDT

(Press release March 19, 2013, translation from Polish. Ed note: updated Mar 20, 2013 09:40 am EDT ) On March 5 at dawn (5:15) the summit team, Maciej Berbeka, Adam Bielecki, Tomasz Kowalski and Arthur Malek, left Camp 4 at 7400m. They decided to make the attempt because the conditions were very good, as well as the weather forecast for the next day was favorable.

On the way to the top they had to cross three most challenging areas. Adam Bielecki and Maciej Berbeka took the lead. At an altitude of about 7900 m mountaineers reached the pass and the ridge at 12:30; first Bielecki, then Berbeka, then Malek and Kowalski together.

From the pass up the four climbers climbed in two groups, Bielecki-Malek and Berbeka-Kowalski, because of the difficulty to the Rocky Summit (8027 m). They followed each other in two different rope teams.

Bielecki-Malek climbed in front. From the time they reached the pass at 12:30 till they got to the top, took them longer than they had initially planned. This was due to unforeseen technical difficulties before Rocky Summit, which did not occur during the summer climb.

At 16:00, at the Rocky Summit (8027 m), both Adam and Maciej contacted the manager at Base Camp, Krzysztof Wielicki. They decided to continue the summit attack.

The team topped out (verified times previously reported were different):
- Adam Bielecki at 17:20
- Arthur Malek at 17:50
- Maciej Berbeka and Tomasz Kowalski at 18:00

There was a time difference of 40 minutes between the first and the last climber at the summit. After topping out the climbers turned around immediately and descended without waiting for the others. Waiting during winter conditions at this altitude, according to Bielecki and Malek, is not possible - it may cause hypothermia and have other health consequences.

On the way to the top, none of the climbers reported any signs of weakness. The descent, accompanied by the slower conditions at the height of winter, was very difficult and very risky.

Despite the seemingly late hour of reaching the top by the first climber (purpose of the expedition reached - top scored), the summit bit continued, albeit in the name of "holding together", it could be interrupted. Climbers have the right to such a decision - objectively and weather conditions were exceptionally favorable.

The temperature ranged from minus 29 to minus 35 (at night), there was almost no wind, completely clear, with a full, clear view. This was perfect conditions for climbing in winter, and made the chances of success possible.

Unfortunately, after gaining the summit, Tomasz Kowalski was in trouble and showed signs of energy depletion and rapid pathological changes associated with altitude and low temperature. He was unable to descend.

Normally the stretch down to the pass takes an hour, but it took him 12 hours, where he presumably remains. Repeated radio communication was established with Tomasz. With Maciej Berbeka, after gaining the summit, there was no communication. Maciej and Tomasz climbed together. It is not clear if even for a moment, they descended side by side. Maciej went down in front, and Tomasz had seen him a few times (according to what he said to Wielicki, but he was in very bad shape then, so we cannot say for sure that he have seen was Berbeka or it was just his imagination as it happens in these circumstances).

Also, in the case of Maciej Berbeka it can be assumed that he was exhausted and ran out of energy. Therefore in the area with so many technical difficulties he could have fallen into the crevasses or fallen off a cliff (on March 6 in the morning after an extremely difficult night, without any camping equipment at an altitude of about 7700 m, where he was seen the last time).

Adam Bielecki returned from the summit to Camp 4 at 22:10, and Arthur Malek at 2:00 in the morning. They united during the descent, not for technical reasons but for radio communication reasons (there were a frequency shift in Adam's radio and difficulties in getting Arthur on the radio). They were not united during descend. Bielecki was faster. Malek had descent difficulties after dark alone with a headlamp and had to change batteries in the headlanp during descent. It took him some time.

After resting, the same night, Adam Bielecki left the tent to meet Arthur Malek on his descent. He managed to climb just a few meters and had to turn back after 40 minutes and ascent of only 30 meters because of the physical exhaustion after the summit attack.

After he rested, Arthur Małek also made an attempt to search for the other two that morning. Equipped with liquid in a thermos, etc. he went up towards the pass. He managed to climb only a few dozen meters, and like Adam Bielecki, because of the general weakness, went back to Camp 4.

On March 6, Pakistani climber Karim Hayat left Camp 2 to continue the search. He reached the crevasses at an altitude of about 7700 m. Despite the very good visibility he did not see any signs of Berbeka or Kowalski. According to what Wielicki said, Karim had seen Maciej Berbeka far away for some short time.

The next day, the leader of the expedition, Krzysztof Wielicki, decided the chances of survival of the two missing climbers were zero after spending two nights camping without equipment in extremely difficult conditions.

The expedition was completed on March 8 in the afternoon. After a symbolic farewell prayer for the dead they began the descent into the valley.

Medical issues are described separately in the form of an opinion by Dr. Robert Szymczak, MD - a specialist in emergency medicine and high altitude, and a member of the medical committee and a prominent PZA mountaineer.

Chances of using helicopters and other search aids (Satellite Tracker) is described in separate material available at the Polish Winter Himalayan Mountaineering. This material is for information purposes, and detailed analysis and the final evaluation of the whole trip will be done by a special committee of the Polish Association of Mountaineering. END

The Jerzy Kukuczka Polish Mountaineering Support Foundation has started to raise funds for Maciej Berbeka’s family. The money is going to be given to the widow and his sons, including the two who are still financially dependent on their mother (Jasiek is 14 years old and Franek is a 23 year old student). Social fund raising for the relatives of Tomasz Kowalski is not going to be organized – he was a childless bachelor.

Contributions for Maciej Berbeka's family can be made here.

25 years ago Maciej Berbeka attempted Broad Peak (8047m) in Winter for the first time. March 6th, 1988 he reached his highest point then on the mountain, Rocky Summit, already over 8000m on the route, and turned around. He summited Broad Peak in Winter; on MArch 5th, 2013 and on March 6th, 2013, he is reported missing.
Bob A. Schelfhout Aubertijn gives more detail: "Maciej Berbeka made the summit of Broad Peak, 2013.03.05, and it is his third First Winter Ascent; Manaslu [FWA] on 1984.01.12 with Ryszard Gajewski, Cho Oyu [FWA] on 1985.02.12 with Maciej Pawlikowski, and now Broad Peak [FWA] on 2013.03.05."

"Adam Bielecki made the summit of Broad Peak [today, 2013.03.05] and it is his third Pakistani 8000er within the space of one year, two of which are First Winter Ascents; Gash I [FWA] on 2012.03.09, K2 on 2012.07.31, Broad Peak [FWA] on 2013.03.05."

"It is the twelfth 8000er to be summited in winter, of which this is the tenth that was claimed as a FWA with Polish climbers involved, and the ninth as a FWA exclusively by Polish climbers!"

The 2012-13 Polish Winter Broad Peak expedition (8047 m) is part of the Polish Winter Himalayan Mountaineering 2010 - 2015 program (PHZ).

On March 5th, 2013, Maciej Berbeka (58), Adam Bielecki (29), Artur Małek (33) and Tomasz Kowalski (27) bagged the first Winter Broad Peak (8047m) in the Karakorum, Pakistan. They summited between 17h20 and 18h00 local time.

After the summit Artur Małek and Adam Bielecki went down to Camp 4 at an altitude of 7400m, while Tomasz Kowalski and Maciej Berbeka bivouacked (without a tent) on the pass at 7900m. On March 6th Tomasz Kowalski and Maciej Berbeka were officially declared missing.

Krzysztof Wielicki is the Manager of the Polish 2012-13 Winter Broad Peak.
Shaheen Baig, Amin Ullah and Karim Hayyat are Pakistani climbers/HAPs of the ground support.
Artur Hajzer is the Program Manager of the Polish Himalayan Winter 2010 - 2015 Project.

Broad Peak links:

Polish on FB

Polish winter climbing news

Polish 2012-13 Broad Peak route

Winter expedition of Polish Mountaineering Association to Broad Peak - topo of the route to the summit

Altitude Pakistan

Broad Peak weather

Polish support agency: Jasmine Tours Pakistan

6 previous Winter Broad Peak attempts


2012-13 Polish Winter Broad Peak: Farewell to the two climbers and the peak

Winter Nanga Parbat: Joel Wischnewski search February 21st & 22nd


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Krzysztof Wielicki and the Broad Peak team at a press conference in Poland. Wielicki, Adam Bielecki, Arthur Malek and Artur Hajzer gave details about the first Winter Broad Peak summit and about the two climbers who perished, Maciej Berbeka and Tomasz Kowalski.
Image by Screenprint by ExWeb courtesy TVN24
Maciej Berbeka and Tomasz Kowalski.
Image by Screenprint ExWeb courtesy TVN24
The Winter Broad Peak summit and the summit team.
courtesy FTP / Polish Himalayas

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