Jozef Jerzy Kukuczka was an alpine and high-altitude climber from Poland. Jerzy was born on 24 March 1948 in Katowice, Poland. He was a brave adventurer and climbing enthusiast, who absolutely loved climbing mountains. Jerzy Kukuczka is counted as one of the most extraordinary mountain climbers in the world.
Jerzy Kukuzka is widely known for climbing all the fourteen eight-thousanders and becoming the second man in the world to do so. This took him less than 8 years to accomplish. His passion and bravery were clearly seen in his works. He was a dedicated person who became an avid mountaineer and climbed numerous peaks across the world.
In this article, we will go through the journey of the life of Jerzy Kukuczka.
Jerzy Kukuczka’s Early Life
Born on 24 March 1948 in Katowice, Poland, Kukuczka’s family belonged ethnically to Silesian Goral. He completed his primary school and trade school in Katowice. He was always keen to know about mountains and to feel what it’s like to climb mountains.
Kukuczka began climbing at the young age of seventeen. There were plenty of mountains in Poland for Kukuczka to spark his adventure. He was first introduced to climbing by his friend at Podlesice. It was a climbing spot which was 25 meters high. This climbing marked his first step in the climbing journey. Kukuczka knew climbing was gonna be a very important thing in his life, so he sent an application to the Mountaineering Club in Katowice.
He took climbing seriously and started from the nearby Tatra mountains and slowly moved to the Alps. After the Alps, he then moved to Alaska expanding his range and skills. This prepared him for the Himalayas where he shined.
Jerzy Kukuczka’s physical strength and courage were admired by many. His attitude never allowed him to give up on anything. He also became a part of the elite group of Polish Himalayan mountaineers. The group consisted of climbers like Wojciech Kurtyka, Wanda Rutkiewicz, and Krzysztof Wielicki. Starting from an early age he gave it all to mountaineering.
Kukuczka’s Mountaineering Career
Kukuczka started climbing at the age of seventeen after his friend introduced him to climbing. He sent an application to the Mountaineering Club in Katowice and in 1966 he passed a mountaineering course in Tatra mountains. Every year after that he would climb to a higher level, surpassing his own records and limits.
With Kalla and Zbigniew Wach, Kukuczka did his first winter ascent of Kurtykówka VI. It was the hardest climbing route in the Tatras at that time. He completed his ascent and the following year he also set a new route on the North Pillar of Maly Durny Szczyt with Andrzej Machnik. Kukuczka was highly appreciated by elite members of the Mountaineering Club.
Kukuczka was sent to the Dolomites in Italy for a climbing trip. He approached a new route there with his partners but during this ascent, he was hit by a stone and all members ended the journey on that route. He was hospitalized for 6 days and he came back to mountaineering shortly after that. Kukuczka then went to Mount Blanc Massif in summer of 1973 with Wojciech Kurtyka and Marek Łukaszewski. They accomplished four first ascents during this trip and set new records. Kukuczka also ascended Mount McKinley in Alaska in 1974.
Jerzy Kukuczka expanded his expedition to the fourteen Eight-thousanders after his early climbs. He became the second man to climb all fourteen Eight-thousanders and that also in less than eight years. This feat was a huge accomplishment in the history of mountaineering.
Winning The Crown Of Himalayas and Karakoram
Jerzy Kukuczka is known as one of the best high-altitude climbers in entire history. He fearlessly ascended all fourteen eight-thousanders in just seven years, eleven months, and fourteen days. Some people take a lifetime to climb just one mountain but Kukuczka was extraordinary. He accomplished what many thought would be impossible. He held the world record for the shortest time to summit the eight-thousanders for nearly 27 years. During his career in mountaineering, Kukuczka established ten new routes on the eight-thousanders and climbed four of the peaks in winter. His group was called Ice Warriors, specializing in the winter season ascents.
His journey was filled with challenges and troubles but he overcame them all and set so many records in the mountaineering world. Kukuczka started his climb of eight thousanders from Lhotse in 1979. He traveled a normal route in the post-monsoons season. He reached the summit without supplemental oxygen. After Lhotse, Kukuczka set foot on Mount Everest. In 1980 with Leszek Cichy and Krzysztof Wielicki, he did the first winter ascent of Mount Everest. The expedition was led by Andrzej Zawada. The team followed a normal route as everyone does.
Mount Makalu was the next stop for Kukuczka. He reached a double goal on Makalu in 1981: A variation on Makalu La- the huge saddle between the main peak and Makalu II and the NW Ridge, solo. After Mount Makalu, Kukuczka followed the normal route to summit Broad Peak in 1982. Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II were ascended in alpine style in 1983. Kukuczka and Kurtyka climbed new routes both on Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II.
Kukuczka returned to Broad Peak in 1984 to open a new route including the traverse of the Three Broad Peaks summits. 1985 started out spectacular for Kukuczka, he climbed Dhaulagiri with Andrzej Czok. In the same year, he ascended Cho Oyu. This was his second winter ascent. He was supported by other climbers from Poland and it was the first time a new route had been opened on an eight-thousander in winter.
In the summer of 1985, Kukuczka teamed up with Andrzej and other members of his team to summit Nanga Parbat in a new route. After his successful summit, he went on to ascend Kanchenjunga in 1986. The same year he also climbed K2 in alpine style. This was a very huge challenge for him as K2 is very dangerous. He successfully summited K2 and also opened a new route on the South face of K2.
With only a few eight-thousanders left, Kukuczka was filled with high spirits. His next ascent would be Manaslu in the same year in harsh winter conditions. He made the first ascent of the Manaslu NE face. After his early climb on Manaslu, Kukuczka and Artur Hajzer summited Annapurna North Face in 1987. He returned to the mountains with Artur again in September of that same year and made a first ascent of East Ridge ShishaPangma on September 18, 1987.
Jerzy Kukuczka summited all the fourteen eight-thousanders with his will and passion. His show of courage and determination are a great source of motivation for climbers of the new generation. He has summited some of the mountains twice as well. He is a real hero of the mountaineering community.
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Death of Jerzy Kukuczka
Jerzy Kukuczka died on 24 October 1989. He was attempting an alpine-style climb of the unclimbed South Face of Lhotse with Ryszard Pawolowski. Kukuczka was leading a pitch at an altitude of about 8,200 meters on a 6mm secondhand rope. He had picked up that rope in a market in Kathmandu.
According to Ryszard Pawlowski, the main single rope that was being used was too jammed and the climbers decided to use a transport rope instead of the main single rope. When Kukuczka lost his footing and fell. The cord snapped, causing him to fall around 2,000 meters to his death. Kukuczka was in his 40s at the time. His body was never discovered and he was lost in the mountains forever.
Jerzy Kukuczka’s death was an immense loss to the mountaineering community. The death of the second man to climb the eight-thousanders released a really sad wave. His work and his passion are what define his journey as a mountaineer and avid climber.
“In the moment of being on top there is no explosion of joy.” Happiness is felt when you have everything in front of you, when you know that you have only a few dozen meters towards the goal. That’s exactly the moment of happiness. In other words, happiness is in the aspiration, not in the attainment.
– (Jerzy Kukuczka, 1948-1989)