Record crossing of complete Tatra Ridge

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 03/08/2016
Typical High Tatra terrain. Adam Pieprzycki climbing the Rumanove Pinnacles (UIAA III). Artur Paszczak
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Between July 21-25 the Polish alpinists Artur Paszczak and Adam Pieprzycki report making what is likely the fastest crossing of the complete Tatra Ridge by a roped pair.

The two took 106 hours and 38 minutes to travel from Zdziarska to the Hucianska Pass, across the main ridges of the Bielskie Tatra, the High Tatra, and the Western Tatra; about 100km with 22,000m elevation gain.

The pair used as a benchmark the so-called Kurczab Variation, defined by  Janusz Kurczab and Marek Woloszynski in their 1991 book, The most beautiful peaks of the Tatras.

The Kurczab Variation is the most widely accepted ambitious crossing of the entire main ridge, at least by Polish climbers, and involves difficulties up to UIAA V-.

The project took four years and two previous attempts, the first in 2014 when Paszczak fell due to loose rock on the first day and ended up with spinal injuries, and the second in 2015 when the pair gave up in very hot weather on the second day due to slow pace and blisters to the feet.

After these unsupported attempts the two realized that this strategy just wouldn't work for them, so opted to have a team establish their bivouacs. But they adhered to the maxim of having no gear or food/water caches placed on the ridge. They carried climbing gear, ropes, and water and snacks for the day.

The ridge can be broken down into three distinct sections: the Bielskie, easy and grassy but with large ups and downs; the High Tatra, technical, exposed and often loose ridges; and the Western, again easy but tiring and running for over 50km.

The pair were slow on the Bielskie, taking five and a half hours due to muddy conditions after previous days of rain. The High Tatra took 76 hours and involved three bivouacs, while the Western took 25 hours and eight minutes and required another bivouac.

Unfavourable conditions on the first day made them radically behind schedule but the sky then cleared, the sun arrived, and for the next two days they pushed on for 17-18 hours per day to reach their rendezvous points with the support team. These teams were led by Paszczak's wife, who is herself a notable mountaineer.

At noon on the fourth day a storm moved in and after waiting it out at a cable car station, they continued through miserable conditions to arrive at their fourth bivouac site 30 minutes after midnight.

On the last day the weather remained stormy, but thanks to some - perhaps divine - help they moved along the crest in a window of sunshine.

Both Paszczak and Pieprzycki consider this the hardest outing of their careers, and despite considerable ultra trail running experience, found it touched their limits.

However, their time comes nowhere near the two outstanding records set in 1975.

In that year Kryzsztof Zurek completed the integral crossing, solo, in a mere 70 hours, though he did have rappel ropes and food deposits in place on the ridge and a support team for the bivouacs. Wladyslaw Cywinski completed the traverse, also solo, in three and a half days, and also with rappel ropes and food/water caches on the ridge.

Zurek repeated the traverse in the winter of 1978 with two other climbers, the enterprise taking 10 days. He is best known outside Poland for his 1977 speed ascent of Noshaq (7,492m), Afghanistan's highest summit, in 11 hours round trip from base camp, and for his 1978 ascent of the south face of Changabang with Voytek Kurtyka, Alex MacIntyre, and John Porter. He followed this by being a member of the Polish expedition that made the first winter ascent of Everest.

Wladyslaw Cywinski, who died, aged 74, in 2013 while climbing on the northwest face of Tepej in the Tatra, was a long time member of the rescue team and the first climber to summit all the named peaks in the Tatra, regardless of prominence.

The first team to achieve a complete traverse of the entire Tatra was Zbigniew Hegerle, Zbigniew Krysa, Jerzy Piotrowski, Ryszard Wiktor Schramm and Jan Staszel over 11 days in 1955. Before this year the last time the feat was achieved may be as long ago as 1990.

The main section of the High Tatra was first crossed in 1946 by Adama Gorke and Kazimierz Paszuchę, the first winter crossing by Matras and Mlezák in 1953, and the fastest time to date by Vladimír Plulík, in 27 hours during 1999.

However, quite recently Andrzej Marcisz, a great mountaineer from the golden era of Polish climbing, made the High Tatra traverse, reaching all named topographical points, in four and a half days, entirely free solo, but with support teams for the bivouacs. He too admitted to it being one of his hardest mountain experiences.
 


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