The story of the first woman to ascend K2
In 1989, when Wanda decides to climb all the eight-thousanders, as she claimed in her submission to the IMM, Kangchen- junga was the first point in the “Caravan of Dreams” program she crafted in 1990 for conquer- ing the Crowns of the Himalayas.
“I call my plan the ‘Caravan of Dreams’ because I am trying to make something that seems pure fantasy come true,” she says. “I’ll be hiking from valley to valley, through the various peaks, just as the caravans once did.”
She realizes this is her last chance to conquer all the peaks. “I haven’t got time, are you fucking aware how old I am?!”, she explains to Andrzej Paczkowski.
In 1989, she is forty-six years old. She plans to conquer the Crown of the Himalayas in 1991, taking the eight eight-thousanders she had not yet climbed in the course of a single year.
In a letter she sent to her sponsors in late 1990, she writes: “My project encompasses eight major stages. Each requires enormous amounts of skill, courage, and enough endurance for the whole business; that is the greatest challenge.” She also stressed: “To this day, no woman has been up to this challenge; I’ll be the first. (…)”
The “Caravan” is a ground-breaking program never before accomplished in the history of Himalaism. Wanda seeks to conquer all the remaining peaks of the Crown of the Himalayas in such a short time, she says, to avoid the difficulty of acclimatization. For eve- ry time she set off on one or two expeditions in the course of a year, she fell ill on the march back to base; upon returning from the mountains she became weak- er, her body unable to readjust. (…)
In 1990, Reinhold Messner had conquered the Crown of the Himalayas, followed by the late Jerzy Kukuczka. (…) “I will not be the third, coming after Messner and Kukuczka. I will be the first to try something new,” she tells reporter Barbara Rusowicz. “The whole point is to attempt to use constant acclimatization. That is some- thing no one has ever done, man or woman.”
In Poland, many Himalaists just shake their heads in disbelief upon hearing of the “Caravan to Dreams.”
“At the height of her career, Wanda painted herself into a corner,” says Aleksander Lwow. “She came up with a program to conquer eight eight-thousanders in a single year. Doing five in one year was not feasible, Wanda was almost fifty years old. My colleagues and I knew from the very beginning that she had no chance of pulling it off.”
“The program and the idea were good, but Wan- da wanted to do it too quickly,” Krzysztof Wielicki now comments. “One year was getting carried away. It would have been possible if she had gone about it differently. (…) All of us in the community knew that it could end badly.” (…)
In a letter fishing for sponsors in 1990, Wanda fore- saw how her community would react to her project. “Without a doubt, some people will suppose I’m only after danger and thrills,” she warned. “But this is a mistake, and only I know the risks involved. If I were not convinced that I could do it, I would not be making the attempt. (…) I would not be putting myself in a situ- ation that would be tough to survive, but the mount- ains are an inextricable part of my life.”
Excerpt translated by Soren Gauger
The story of the first woman to ascend K2
Wanda tells the story of the grande dame of Polish Himalayan climbing – Wanda Rutkiewicz (1943-1992), the first woman to reach the summit of K2, and the third to climb Mount Everest. Yet this is more a book about a person than a climber, about an intriguing woman who attracted crowds of admirers and stoked fierce emotions, ahead of her time, both as a Himalaist and as a woman.
Her life and achievements have often been described. Nonetheless, Anna Kamińska’s book assembles and illuminates a great deal, such as why Wanda abandoned her promising career as an athlete. Some entirely new themes emerge, such as the tragic deaths of her father and brother. When we read about her childhood, we learn the source of her inflated ambition. The everyday reality in socialist Poland is illustrated in the fragments where Wanda takes several-month- long vacations from work to join expeditions.
One important chapter covers the conquering of Everest (the first Polish attempt); it makes for a stand- alone story, full of brilliant anecdotes describing Wanda Rutkiewicz’s greatest accomplishment. Kamińska describes earlier expeditions more succinctly, though there, too, she uncovers new facts. The author gained access to every living soul who had tales to tell about Wanda, and she managed to breach the mistrust of the mountaineering community.
The book contains this statement about Wanda: “She was focused on her goals, but equivocal in her close relationships.” Anna Kamińska’s book takes the reader into the heart of this equivocality. It is worth noting, however, that at no time does the author strip the protagonist of her intimacy.
This book is valuable for those who know little about climbing as well as for those who are quite knowledgeable. This is part of what has made the book a bestseller in Poland.
Andrzej Mirek, translated by Soren Gauger
She climbed her first peaks in a headscarf at a time when women in the mountains were treated by climbers as an additional backpack. It was with her that female alpinism began! She gained recognition in a spectacular way. The path was considered a crossing for madmen. Especially since the tragic accident in 1929, preserved … Continue reading “Halina”
First, Marysia, a student of an exclusive private school in Warsaw’s Mokotów district, dies under the wheels of a train. Her teacher, Elżbieta, tries to find out what really happened. She starts a private investigation only soon to perish herself. But her body disappears, and the only people who have seen anything are Gniewomir, a … Continue reading “Wound”
A young girl, Regina Wieczorek, was found dead on the beach. She was nineteen years old and had no enemies. Fortunately, the culprit was quickly found. At least, that’s what the militia think. Meanwhile, one day in November, Jan Kowalski appears at the police station. He claims to have killed not only Regina but also … Continue reading “Penance”
The year is 1922. A dangerous time of breakthrough. In the Eastern Borderlands of the Republic of Poland, Bolshevik gangs sow terror, leaving behind the corpses of men and disgraced women. A ruthless secret intelligence race takes place between the Lviv-Warsaw-Free City of Gdańsk line. Lviv investigator Edward Popielski, called Łysy (“Hairless”), receives an offer … Continue reading “A Girl with Four Fingers”
This question is closely related to the next one, namely: if any goal exists, does life lead us to that goal in an orderly manner? In other words, is everything that happens to us just a set of chaotic events that, combined together, do not form a whole? To understand how the concept of providence … Continue reading “Order and Love”
The work of Józef Łobodowski (1909-1988) – a remarkable poet, prose writer, and translator, who spent most of his life in exile – is slowly being revived in Poland. Łobodowski’s brilliant three- volume novel, composed on an epic scale, concerns the fate of families and orphans unmoored by the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war and … Continue reading “Ukrainian Trilogy: Thickets, The Settlement, The Way Back”