Polish Himalayan-Karakoram Expedition, 1971


This cruel giant of the Hispar Mustagh was quite well known by the alpinists looking for high difficult virgin peaks. Cornices and windslabs on its long south ridge have rejected two expeditions in the past; the British-Pakistani of Maj. Mills in 1962 and the Japanese of Prof. H. Shiraki in 1965, claiming a total of three victims in the process.

Our attention was turned to that mighty 7,852 m. peak in early spring 1966 from the fabulous photographs from the western side presented generously by Alfred Gregory (attempt on Dista- ghil Sar in 1957).

Karakoram had long remained a region untouched by the Polish climbers ; however, this area was visited many years ago by Polish born scientists. In the 1880s Gen. Bronislaw Grabc- ziwski, the famous Polish geographer to the Tsar, during his travels in Central Asia, came from Sinkiang to the Hunza and met the Mir of the then 6 Khanat of Kanjut'. In 1908 the well known Himalayan explorers Dr. Hunter Bullock-Workman and his wife were accompanied on their Hispar-Biafo Glacial System Traverse by the Polish and Italian researchers, Dr. Maciej Koncza and Dr. Cesare Calciati (the book Call of Snowy Hispar, London, 1910). They produced the detailed maps of Hispar glacier, which were in use till Eric Shipton's surveys of 1939.

In 1939 the small Polish Himalayan Expedition, of Adam Karpiniski made the bold ascent of Nanda Devi East (7,434 m.) in the Garhwal—the sixth highest summit climbed until that time. It was considered to be the preliminary step in preparing for a major expedition presumably to K-2. Unfortunately this pre-war plan couldn't be continued. In 1969 the Polish Mountaineering Club rich with experiences of successful expeditions to the Hindu Kush, Andes and other mountains managed to get the Pakistan Government's permission for climbing in the Karokoram. The Central Board sent a four-man recce party that made the first ascent of Malubiting North (6,843 m.)1 and discovered a feasible route from the Chogo Lungma glacier via Polan La (5,840 m.) to the main summit West Malubiting (7,453 m.), which was afterwards used successfully by the Austrian Expedition of 1971.


  1. H.J., Vol. XXIX, 1969, p. 161. Himalayan Journal


The experience and observations of this first Polish expedition to the Karakorams helped greatly in preparing for a strong national expedition scheduled for 1971. In March 1971 our alternative application for Gasherbrum III (7,952 m.) or Khinyang Chhish (7,852 m.)—both high unclimbed summits—was positively answered from Islamabad with a permit for Khingyang. This decision, when first reported by the leader to the members of a thirteen-man expedition, caused a little embarrassment.

Khinyang Chhish is an imposing mountain and it will not be easyso wrote Dr. Karl Stauffer, member of the British- Pakistani Forces Karakoram Expedition 1962 to us, and we were all quite aware of the difficulties and hazards that we would have to encounter on it. Our primary intention was to avoid, if possible, the dangerous and long climb along the south ridge, which proved tragic during the attempts of the two previous expeditions.

Hispar Glacier

Hispar Glacier

The name Khinyang Chhish or Kunyang Chhish (in Pakistan) means 'the corner peak' in the Burushaski-nagari language, we were instructed by the local people. This definition seems to be very appropriate to its audacious, snow-and-rock silhouette as seen from Hispar village. There is also another name for this massif; Khiangyang Kish (as described in French, Polish and German literature), which G. O. Dyhrenfurth (Alpinismus, December 1971) derives from the Tibetan ‘wild donkey'.

But let us approach the mountain itself. By mid-May 1971 after a thorough preparation our expedition was ready to leave for Pakistan. The team consisted of Andrzej Maria Zawada (43—leader), Krzysztof Cielecki (36), Eugeniusz Chrobak (32), Jan Franczuk (27), Andrzej Galinski (34—cameraman), Andrzej Heinrich (34), Bogdan Jankowski (33), Andrzej Kus (31), Jerzy Michalski (40), Jaceb Poreba (32), Jan Stryczynski (40—doctor), Ryszard Szafirski (34) and Stanislaw Zierhoffer (46—deputy leader).

All the 5-5 tonnes of total baggage comprised most modern equipment, including the Polish made oxygen gear taken for medical reasons and the special high altitude boots from high- landers felt, which proved to be a very warm and comfortable wear. The expedition travelled to Pakistan in three groups. J. Michalski together with three other members drove overland, starting on 16 May in a 6 Star A-29' truck with all equipment; the leader and secretary came there earlier by air on 31 May and the rest of the team came also by air on 8 June, which coincided with the truck's arrival. The early arrival of the organization group was a good idea and we could quickly arrange at Islamabad everything that was necessary for quick progress of the expedition. We were ready to set out for the mountains together with our liaison officer Capt. Mohammad Rashid on the morning of 10 June.

The PIA-aerial link to Gilgit was very crowded at that time and we decided on vehicle transport via Swat and the Indus Valley Road, same as the Czechoslovak Expedition did for Nanga Parbat. Two robust 6 Bedfords ' with brave Pushtoo drivers Kim and Badshah Gul brought us to Gilgit via the impressive but dangerous mountain road in three days of continuous motoring in the heat and dust. In Gilgit, further arrangements had to be made about jeeps and here Ryszard, the last member of our expedition travelling by air, joined us after becoming a happy father of a daughter Joan-Laila born a few hours before his leaving Poland.

We spent seven days in Gilgit in the shade of the PWD rest house where we met Trevor Braham who was passing by. There were very useful discussions late in the evening about the Karakoram and our mountain venture. We left for Nagar on the morning of 20 June by 11 jeeps provided with the help of Mr. Babur Khan, the local Superintendent of Police. Gilgit was at that time overcrowded with many international tourist groups and it was rather a hard task to get the lift for the tiring and dangerous trip into the interior of the mountains. The old, narrow road that we were permitted to go was in very bad condition and it took us all day to pass by Nomal, Chatt and some passport clearance on the barriers along the hilly road. We were compelled to stay overnight in a lovely situated rest house between the green fields of Minapin village. The travel through the Hunza valley provides beautiful views of snowy Rakaposhi and the abrupt Batura group.

At Nagar our expedition was solemnly welcomed by the Mir Brig. Shaukat Ali Khan accompanied by the 'court-orchestra' whose wild music created quite an exotic atmosphere. While organizing the caravan we played a volleyball match with Nagar representation, winning 2:12 We were in general the winning party in competition with the Nagar porters also which, like the experience of previous expeditions, did not add to our joy. We lost a lot of our equipment during the return caravan composed of Hispar village people, but nearly all was regained thanks to our scrupulous supervision and the Mir's helpful co-operation in the name of the law.


  1. Himalayan expeditions are advised to include a few sportsmen in their team for just such local competitions! A British caving expedition finding no caves in Himachal Pradesh, in 1970 spent their time playing football with the local population. The Editor was shamed into playing hockey with the jawans at Kalpa (9,000 ft.) 'to prove his worth' during his attempt on Leo Pargil in 1966.


The 160-porter caravan moved from Nagar up the Hispar valley on 24 June and on successive days, split in four groups due to lack of porters and troubles connected with overpacking of our loads according to the 48 lb. ' hilly track' carrying standard. Moving with the first 82-porter group I observed how inconvenient was this track along the Hispar River gorge even for alpinists but the porters were overcoming it with great natural ability, cutting steps in scree slope with their original stone axes.

There was still a problem of discovering a feasible approach to Khinyang Chhish and we sent a five-man recce party two days in advance. The leader Zawada and Franczuk went on the west side of the mountain on the Khinyang glacier while Szafirski and Hein- rich penetrated the Pumarikish glacier, a tributary of the 56 km. long Hispar. Jankowski stayed at Bitanmal being in touch with both recce groups and the caravan. The first reports from the reconnaissance were not promising and the south ridge seemed to be the only possibility but at noon of 28 June the optimistic news came from Pumarikish. From the left lateral moraine of Pumarikish glacier Szafirski and Heinrich discovered that there was a chance for a direct climb by the South Face of 4 Ice Cake ? that would bring us immediately to the upper parts of the eight mile long and difficult ridge. This critical decision about the route of ascent was communicated to our caravan and after coming to Budurumbum—one hour above Bitanmal—which was the place of the British and Japanese Bases, we negotiated with the porters for an additional day of employment. Some were ready to carry, others were not. In effect we worked a few days at 6 transfer-point' Budurumbum shifting all loads up with only 40 porters.

The Base Camp was finally established on 2 July at 4,400 m. in a place called Phishdandala. The name of that lovely meadow means 'dust of a stone stream' in Burushaski and there was indeed a sound of stone avalanches thundering every day somewhere over Pumarikish. The Base was soon comfortably arranged with electrical lighting, eight big living tents, laboratory and kitchen to give us full recreation after our efforts on the mountain.

The climbing of the South Face began on 7 July after establishing an intermediary Equipment Store at 4,900 m. taking into account that the South Face would not provide many possibilities for a safe camp. The direct climb to the snowy 6 Ice Cake Tower' on the south ridge spared us the efforts that the previous expeditions had to do but on the other hand required facing the technical difficulties and hazards from the beginning. Due to that we did not employ any high altitude porters. Camp I, shifted to 5,900 m., was established on 9 July. The panorama from Camp I began to be quite Himalayan and complex. Just opposite were the treacherous cornices of the Snow Dome where Maj. Mills and Capt. Jones were lost in 1962. The weather frequently bad did not support the snow on the slopes of 50 degrees average inclination; however we were leading our climbs as near to the protecting rocks as possible.

Camp II was established on 23 July at 6,500 m. on a safe platform under the very top of Ice Cake. Thus the first essential technical problem of connecting with the south ridge at its upper part was solved and we were happy to have Camp II at a safe place, where the Japanese had their Camp VI. The distance between Base and Camp II was covered with over 900 m. of fixed rope, that helped very much in overcoming the laborious pitch. The time of traversing this two-day stretch had always to be regulated according to the actual conditions, because there was still a danger of Eiger-like stone or serac avalanches. It was mostly used during the late afternoons or even by night.

The route from Camp II along the Ice Cake, opened during three successive days of good weather, was in part the same as that of the Japanese and their footprints could be found at many places. An exposed, horizontal ridge with cornices was again safeguarded with 400 m. of fixed rope. We were moving along the ridge on the Khinyang glacier side on an ice slope frequently of more than 60° inclination, because the ridge is completely exposed on the Pumarikish glacier side. The last part of the Ice Cake ridge creates a vast plateau and the Camp III (6,450 m.) was established among the seracs and crevasses in a real labyrinth of snow and ice under the Triangle Peak after traversing of the Rock Peak on Pumarikish side. Here a tragic accident suddenly interrupted the tricky course of our expedition.

On 28 July as Chrobak, Stryczynski and Franczuk left Camp III and proceeded to establish a further route up the mountain, a huge snow bridge over an invisible crevasse suddenly collapsed. Jan Franczuk fell down and was followed by a mass of snow and ice. His two partners, one of them a doctor, tried to save him but when they found him after 30 minutes all that they could do was to confirm his decease. This violent death of the youngest companion depressed the whole team. All the members came down to the Base Camp the same day. The transporting of the corpse down the mountain was recognized as not possible.

On a granite block near the Base Camp on the symbolic grave of Jan Franczuk an inscription was hammered a few days after the accident. After deep reflection and discussions the decision was made to continue the climb in his honour. But the weather was still very bad and prevented us venturing out again. On 6 August a simple cross and fresh flowers marked the tragic place in the vicinity of Camp III...


The establishing of Camp IV at 7,200 m. near a saddle below the Tent Peak followed on 8 August after a very original approach via the Ramp. This was a huge snow-lip on the southern slopes of Triangle Peak, probably much better than the 'razor-sharp' ridge much criticized by the Japanese. Four climbers: Zawada, Stryczynski, Heinrich and Szafirski were then compelled by bad weather to stay there—Camp IV—for four days and finally made a very dangerous descent in fresh, loose snow to Base. The next move up from Base was possible on 22 August. On 25 August Zawada, Stryczynski, Heinrich and Szafirski were again in Camp IV ready and determined for a strong attack on the summit. They went on the west side of the Tent Peak ridge and traversed three snow-fields of the western cwm of Khinyang Chhish. After a very technical pendulum-traverse of rock bands excellently guided by Heinrich, they met a difficult (III) mixed- lce-and-rock climb. The climbers were about 150 m. below the main summit as darkness compelled them to a bivouac in only duvet jackets and trousers but without any sleeping bag or tent The night was luckily windless but very frosty and Stryczynski unfortunately got frost-bitten feet because he decided not to take off his boots.

Next day, 26 August, at 8 a.m. the virgin Khinyang was climbed Flags of Pakistan, Poland and the Polish Mountaineering Club bound to the ice-axe fluttered in the increasingly strong Himalayan wind. A direct voice from the summit transmitted by radio-telephones to all camps allowed us to experience simultaneously this great joy, relief and satisfaction. We remembered our lost companion Jan Franczuk and to his gentle memory we were devoting this ascent.

A four-man support team met the summiteers above Camp III about 11 a.m. the next day, appearing as ghosts from a thick fog and snow. The descent of all members of the expedition from the upper camps to the Base followed in very bad weather Un 7 September the expedition reached Nagar village where we were solemnly welcomed by the Mir and the local population. The return of the team to Islamabad followed by a PIA- chartered plane from Gilgit on 12 September. However, the rest of the language could be retrieved only on 20 September. After that we left Pakistan, split in five-man aerial and seven- man motor car groups, that came back to Warsaw respectively by the end of September and mid-October 1971.

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