Legendary Polish mountaineer dies on Gasherbrum I

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 11/07/2013
Climbing in the Japanese Couloir during the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum I. Adam Bielecki - Polish Winter Gasherbrum I expedition.

Descending from a failed attempt on Gasherbrum I in the Pakistan Karakoram, the famous Polish mountaineer Artur Hajzer has been killed in a long fall.

Former climbing partner of Jerzy Kukuczka, veteran of Himalayan winter ascents and new routes on 8,000m peaks, 51-year-old Hajzer was the second of Poland's 1980s mountaineering elite to die on the high peaks this year.

With the younger Marcin Kaczkan, Hajzer planned to climb both Gasherbrum I and II without returning to base camp.

The two were on the Normal Route, generally referred to as the Japanese Couloir after its key feature.

From Camp 3 (ca 7,150m), above the couloir, Hajzer and Kaczkan had set off for a summit push, only to be stopped at 7,600m by very strong winds.

Returning to camp, they contacted base camp to say they were fine but would descend to Camp 2 (6,400m).

Kaczkan set off first, using the extensive line of fixed ropes in the couloir. The going was difficult due to the strength of the wind but he made it safely to Camp 2. However, for reasons that will possibly never be known, Hajzer fell the full length of the couloir and was killed.

Born in June 1962 Artur Hajzer first became involved with climbing the highest peaks when aged 21, completing a variation to the original (Norwegian) and Japanese routes on the south side of Tirich Mir (7,708m, Pakistan Hindu Kush).

In 1985 he took part in the first of three expeditions to Lhotse South Face, reaching 8,200m via a line on the right side of the great couloir. He returned in 1987 to reach 8,300m on the same line, and again in 1989 as part of an international team led by Reinhold Messner. This time poor weather never allowed him above 7,200m.

In the winter of 1985-86 he took part in the Polish expedition to Kangchenjunga which put Kukuczka and Wielicki on the summit for the first winter ascent.

Successive years would see him at the forefront of world mountaineering at the highest altitudes. History would place him as the youngest, but also one of the most motivated, from the Polish "old guard".

In November 1986 he climbed a demanding new route on the northeast face of Manaslu with Jerzy Kukuczka, and then profiting from their acclimatization, the two made the first winter ascent of Annapurna just a couple of months later, in a remarkable 16 days after arrival at base camp.

In 1987 Hajzer and Kukuczka made the first ascent of Xixabangma's west ridge, in the process making the first ascent of the west summit. It was Kukuczka's 14th 8,000er and it seemed Hajzer planned to follow suit (and at one point announced he would try to climb them all in a year).

The following year the pair made a new route on the right side of the south face of Annapurna, and continued up the east ridge to reach 8,010m Annapurna East.

While in Nepal in 1989, Hajzer was instrumental in organizing and executing the rescue of Andrzej Marciniak, who was stranded on the Lho La at the base of Everest's west ridge after an avalanche killed his five companions, some of the best known activists in Poland.

At that time Tibet was closed, forcing the Poles to make the far more difficult approach from Nepal. However, with pressure from the embassies, Hajzer, with New Zealanders Rob Hall and Gary Ball, was allowed into China and rescued Marciniak from the Rongbuk side.

In 1990, after the death of Kukuczka the previous autumn on the south face of Lhotse, Hajzer gave up climbing, realizing that after the recent great tragedies involving Polish climbers, he was not immortal. Instead, he developed a very successful outdoor equipment business.

He finally returned to climbing in the middle of the last decade, summiting Ama Dablam in 2006, Dhaulagiri in 2008, Nanga Parbat in 2010 and Makalu in 2011. He also led winter attempts on Broad Peak, and the successful 2011-2012 Gasherbrum I expedition.

Coming after the death of Maciej Berbeka on Broad Peak last winter, the accident to Hajzer has again rocked the Polish mountaineering community.



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1) Anonymous User
14/07/2013
A beautifully written and fitting tribute to a real mountaineering great. He will be sorely missed, not only for his mountaineering achievements as you so well pointed out, but also for his humour and support of the younger generation of climbers. Rest in peace Artur.
2) Anonymous User
05/04/2017
He came back what he loved most...Mountains!.. It was his destiny...God dwell in High Mountains..He end up in his arms...

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