A run-over snake

We decided with Wojtek that we’d stick to our welltested team of two. It also emerged that at the same time Janusz Majer from Katowice was organising a small expedition to the same area. Four of them were to tackle Broad Peak, so it was only sensible to join organisational forces with them. To organise a mountaineering expedition for meat-eating participants was indeed a challenging test. I have a vivid recollection of one scene that took 87 Challenge Vertical MAIN 12-3-2015_Layout 1 21/03/2015 14:28 Page 87 place in a Very Important Office, where our expedition should have been granted an extra allowance to buy extra meat. After a time-, and energysapping struggle to get to the right door, I was admitted into the presence of the Director himself. He sprawled behind his desk and looked at me with illconcealed displeasure.

‘So! High time to put an end to it! You know what? Before I make an excursion to the mountains, I take a year to save up on my meat vouchers and then buy tinned meat. How come you expect to be given some extra allowance?’

Much more relaxed now, I drove along an empty and narrow road, keeping more or less to its middle. I could sense that the lorry was packed a bit above its allowed capacity but it wasn’t so important on this stretch as it had been on the hairpin bends earlier. In places where the road was underncut by small water ducts, it became even narrower. I was approaching one such tight place and decided to swerve slightly to the right in order to stay in the middle of the road. It was a routine slight turn of the steering wheel but I noticed to my infinite horror that the lorry hadn’t reacted at all. In the few seconds available, I had no time to adjust the steering and a front wheel hit a low wall by the side of the duct. The impact jolted the steering wheel out of my hands and the lorry landed in a ditch.

With all our gear and supplies packed onto a lorry, we were ready to set out. The lorry, an old Mercedes 506, belonged to Rysiek Warecki and Tomek Świątkowski who agreed to drive our loads as far into Pakistan as possible, in return for a daily allowance of several dollars and an opportunity to see the Baltoro Glacier. It all worked like clockwork.

We left Islamabad at four in the afternoon and drove through the night. One side of the road was a steep slope and the other a precipice falling some two hundred metres to a river bed. The road was called “Karakoram Highway” but neither of us sitting behind the wheel felt like making jokes about it. We were still one hundred and fifty kilometres from Skardu when we came to an abrupt halt. The road ahead was closed due to a stone avalanche that was just being cleared. It could take as many as four days. So I reversed the lorry and drove back towards the nearest town, about forty miles away from Gilgit.

Jerzy Kukuczka's account of the course of the accident

Base Camp was made at the bottom of the south ridge of Broad Peak. Wojtek and I had no interest in merely climbing to the top of it, especially since there was no other route on the mountain except the original one, so we looked at a traverse of all the Broad Peak summits, starting with the irresistibly-appealing, and virgin, south ridge. We pitched our tents close to it in order to have a good look at possible approaches and ascent lines. From a distance all those cracks, aretes, ice-walls and rock towers looked encouraging but were too far away to be clear. It was high time we saw then at close quarters.

Even on our very first reconnoitering climb, we had to fix ropes and protect every pitch with an anchor. At the end of the next outing we decided to bivouac on a steep icefield. Almost immediately we heard a light tapping against the sheet, as if someone had thrown a handful of dried peas onto the tent. There were two dull thumps and then silence. Cowering with our eyes screwed shut, it took us a few seconds before we were ready to really look around us. In front we could see starry skies and around us the tatters of our tent. In the middle of the tent, in the place where I had squatted cooking, only a couple of minutes before, lay two stones; each as big as a human head.

We completed the traverse during the following five days, starting from the north side. The North Summit put up a fight with some very difficult technical climbing but the ascent of the Central Summit was easier. All in all our original ideas had been fulfilled without any greater difficulties and despite some delays. We were in a peak of fitness and excellently acclimatised after the earlier reconnaissance of the south ridge. Wojtek was right that the traverse from the north side was easier, but wouldn’t it have been more beautiful, if we had started from the south side?

The ice was so hard than it gave the points of our crampons no hold. Our spirits sank but we were far from giving up.

‘As a beginning of the whole traverse, it’s a bit too difficult, I think —we might as well do the ridge for its own sake and just climb to the top. But if we were to complete the full traverse, the summit would be only half way…’ Wojtek was thinking aloud

I could hear in his voice that he was losing faith. I was of a different opinion but said little. eluctantly and through gritted teeth I said,

‘If we’re going to be condemned to each other’s company, then so be it, we go up from the north side.’

8051 m.a.s.l
July 17, 1984
Relaxed and in high spirits, with mission completed despite all adversities,we descended from the summit to Base. Shortly before Camp II, while traversing at about 6,400 metres, I lost sight ofWojtek. Hewas going down, carefree and happy over the easy terrain, when he spotted arope sticking conveniently from the snow, so he grabbed it and continued hisdescent. At one point he put some pressure on it and it snapped, probablyweathered, torn or both, and he had started to slither down an ice-coveredslope. He made another desperate attempt and came to a halt not far away from aprecipitous drop. Was it God’s finger admonishingly reminding us to be careful till the very endof a climb? I think so. And with the new line traversing the summits of Broad Peak, we were just half-way through our plan.


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