(By Raheel Adnan) "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." Artur Hajzer told Explorersweb in March 2007, right after Nanga Parbat winter attempt from Rupal side. It was his first winter expedition, since the Annapurna-I ascent with Jerzy Kukuczka in winter 1986-87.
Born in 1962, Artur Hajzer started climbing at an age of 12. By 1982, he had climbed several peaks in the Tatra Mountains and Alps, including virgin summits and winter climbs. Year 1982 marks his first arrival in Himalayas, when he climbed a Nepalese 6000er Gaurihanka-Go (6126m) via new route. In August 1983, Artur along with Rafal Cholda reached the main summit of Tirich Mir (7708m), the highest peak in Hindu Kush Range, located at Pakistan-Afghanistan border. They reached the top by a combined route - new variant to South col (6500 m) and Japanese route to summit.
Artur’s first eight-thousander expedition was to notoriously difficult Lhotse South Face in autumn 1985. The wall was unclimbed at that point. He had to retreat from an altitude of 8200m, only 300m short of summit. In following years, Artur accomplished some of the finest feats in mountaineering history.
In winter 1985-86, Artur Hajzer was part of winter expedition to Kangchenjunga that put Jerzy Kukuczka and Krzysztof Wielicki on top.
Next year, in 1986, Artur Hajzer and Jerzy Kukuczka reached the summit of Manaslu on November 10, via new route on Northeast Face. Summit was reached after 62 arduous days in extreme cold, since their arrival at BC. “Though the effort was enormous, I shivered the whole time”, recalled Kukuczka.
Couple of months later, the duo bagged first winter ascent of Annapurna-I (on February 3, 1987). It was a small expedition consisting of only four members (Wanda Rutkiewicz and Krzysztof Wielicki were other members). The summit was achieved within 16 days of reaching BC. “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” Artur wondered two decades later.
In September 1987, Artur and Kukuczka ascended the unclimbed West Ridge of Shishapangma (8027m) in a three days alpine-style climb, starting from C-1a. On the way to the top, they also made a first ascent of Western Peak (7966m). It was also the 14th eight-thousander for Jerzy Kukuczka. Before the Shishapangma climb, the duo climbed a 7365m virgin peak north of the Shishapangma massif.
Right after Shishapangma, Artur joined Krzysztof Wielicki for his second attempt on Lhotse South Face. By October 29, they had overcome the difficulties of the wall and were on the summit ridge only 200m short of summit (8516m), when strong winds forced them to retreat.
In 1988, Kukuczka and Artur reached Annapurna East (8010m), via the East buttress of the South face (new route).
Artur Hajzer returned to Lhotse South Face for a third time, in spring 1989 with an expedition led by Reinhold Messner. He managed to reach 7200m this time.
Artur Hajzer is also known for organizing an incredible unprecedented rescue to save Andrzej Marciniak on Everest’s West Ridge in 1989.
On the disastrous day of May 27, an avalanche struck the Polish team in C1, resulting in the deaths of five Polish climbers (Eugeniusz Chrobak , Mirosław Dąsal , Mirosław Gardzielewski , Zygmunt Andrzej Heinrich and Wacław Otręba). Having wandered in a snowstorm without glasses, Marciniak lost his vision and was stranded alone without food and shelter. With support from New Zealanders Rob Hall and Garry Ball, Artur was able to save Andrzej Marciniak.
Escape from Mountain Life
Artur Hajzer’s life changed completely in 1989. After the deaths of his five fellow climbers on Everest, his mentor, climbing partner and close friend Jerzy Kukuczka perished on Lhotse South Face in autumn that year.
“The climbs with Kukuczka were fantastic. I barely had to take any decisions, and I could count on him 100% to never give up (only once - on Annapurna East summit - did he not continue to the main summit). I climbed all four of my 8000ers with him. Since he perished, an invisible barrier seems to be keeping me away from the summits now.” Artur remembers his great friend in 2007. “We were equally strong - I was better on technical climbs, he was better in deep snow, but together we made a perfect team. I can proudly say that I've never climbed an 8000+ meter peak via a normal route. OK, I did on Annapurna - but that was winter!” – It was before Artur’s return to altitude climbing.
When asked, why he quit climbing at an age of only 28, Artur replied. “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 didn't 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. I have 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.”
But the return to big mountains was inevitable. “Over the following 10 years (after 1990), 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.”
Artur returned to altitude climbing in 2005 and bagged three more 8000m summits - Dhaulagiri (2008), Nanga Parbat (2010) and Makalu (2011)
In 2002, Krzysztof Wielicki delivered a "Winter Manifesto" to younger generations of Polish climbers. He called upon the "young, angry and ambitious" to conclude of winter ascent of remaining peaks. A series of unsuccessful attempts followed on K2, Nanga Parbat and Broad Peak. All of these peaks are in Karakoram, the western Himalayas where it is colder, windier and more remote than Nepal. Artur Hajzer was part of 2006-07 winter expedition to Nanga Parbat.
Based on Wielicki's work, Artur Hajzer started a campaign in 2009 to finish first-winter-ascents of unclimbed peaks. The project called “Polish Winter Himalaism 2010-2015” aims to complete the objective between 2010 and 2015. A return to the fundamentals of winter climbing was essential to the plan. Winter training in the Tatras and Alps prepared the younger climbers for winter in the Himalaya. Expeditions in the summer months built the national teamwork that enabled the success of the 1980s.
Artur Hajzer himself led three expeditions to Karakoram, Broad Peak (2008-09), Broad Peak (2010-11) and Gasherbrum-I (2011-12), whereas Wielicki was leader of the Broad Peak (2012-13) expedition. They were successful in the last two attempts.
This year, Artur Hajzer and Marcin Kaczkan were on an expedition to climb GI and GII, without returning to BC. They were climbing without oxygen and porter support. On July 7, Artur and Marcin attempted to reach GI summit but had to retreat from 7600m due to strong winds. As per Marcin, Artur fell while descending Japanese Couloir and died. Precise details about the accident are not available yet.
Based in Lahore, Pakistan, telecom engineer and mountaineering enthusiast Raheel Adnan is a reporter for ExplorersWeb's mountaineering sections. He shares regular updates on Twitter and runs his own blog at AltitudePakistan posting initiated climbing news from Himalaya and Karakoram.
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