EAST-WEST Precipice Fellowship1 Voytek Kurtyka attempted in two consecutive seasons of 1981 the same objective, the west face of Makalu. The spring team consisted of 4 European climbers and 2 Nepalese climbers: Kunda Dixit (Nepalese), Cormolius Higgins (Scottish), Pietr Kimtopf (doctor-Polish), Voytek Kurtyka (leader-Polish), Alex Maclntyre (English) and Padam Ghaley Gurung (Nepalese). Very poor weather conditions hindered the progress of acclimatization and the spring trip turned out a fiasco. The only success was the solo ascent of Makalu II (7640 m) by Nepalese climber Padam Ghaley Gurung. This probably was the first Himalayan solo ascent done by Nepalese. We turned back with heavy hearts and without faces. This was the kind of the expedition infecting your mind with doubts and dissipating the greatness of the mountains.

The autumn team consisted of 3 climbers: Jurek Kukuczka (Polish), Voytek Kurtyka (leader-Polish) and Alex Maclntyre (English). The base camp was established on 4 September 1981 at 5400 m. The weather was very poor up to 11th. From this day on it cleared up and remained good except for two short snowfalls - though soon after October set in it was getting very windy. We acclimatized very quickly and easily. On our first acclimatizing trip - merely 13 days after setting up the base camp-we reached Makalu La (7400 m), on 20th day of activity we were at 8000 m and but for the extreme avalanche danger further progress 'would have been made.; Unfortunately on the previous day while moving on the original route at about 7800 m Kukuczka stepped on the huge eastern snowy slope and triggered a breathtaking snow avalanche which disappeared 1000 m below in Tibet. Luckily enough the avalanche, which broke into pieces, the kilometres of Chinese snowfields slid down just from below Kukuezka's feet leaving the team confused and motionless. For this reason the original route was abandoned and we followed more steep but safer short cut spur coming up to the unclimbed north ridge at 8000 m. After wonderful bivouac with the widespread clouds down below and annoyingly great Everest we found the snow conditions too dangerous to continue the climb and we descended to the base camp. This we agreed to be our acclimatizing. After 4 days of rest we started off for the west face. We hoped to climb it alpine style without any preliminary work on it. We took between of us 13 rock pitons, 4 ice-screws, 80 m of rope, 2 gas stoves, 10 gas cartridges and nearly 3 kg of food per person.

1, See note at the end,-Ed.

Photos 9-10

For bivouac we took, except down equipment the special three- person bivouac sack constructed by Karrimor and designed for platforms cut out in ice. We calculated our provisions for 6 days on the face and one extra day on the descent anticipating one or even two hungry days during the descent.

The consecutive bivouacs were spent on:

6000 m - at the bottom of the face

6700 m -at the top of the hanging glacier ('hanging garden')

7300 m -just below the second rock band

7600 m - just above the third rock band

7800 m-just below the crux rock barrier

7300 m -during descent.

The weather during the climb was clear, though it was very cold. Temperature at the highest point must have been as low as - 30 °C. The technical difficulties up to 7800 m were mostly on ice. Only 4 pitches were climbed with the assistance of the rope on the ice and mixed ice and rock ground, including 5 metres of vertical ice at 7400 m. The remaining terrain was soloed prevailing on ice of 50° and occasionally up to 60°. The crux of the face is the vertical and partially overhanging rock barrier beginning at 7800 m. This is in its middle section about 550 m high. We attempted the right hand depression hoping to get to the French Pillar at 8200 m ('French connection'). The bottom of the depression appeared to be overhanging. We chose the sort of iced up crack - chimney. Alex joined this season. It was he who took on the gasping task on the icy runnel, though after one afternoon and one morning of the very awkward, free and artificial climbing he got only 40 m higher. The crack was poorly protected and the ice runnel going up all the time slanting right over the smooth rock made any quick progress difficult and tiring. This was the time we began to look more down than up, facing the prospects of 2000 m descent. We obviously required 3 or 4 more days to get over the rock barrier. We still were fit but was it possible? Besides we had the cooking gas only for 2 more days. When Alex in distress examined even more repulsive rocks above, one of his crampons broke - this all of us immediately accepted in good alpine fashion to be the reason of our ill-fated retreat. We were relieved to give up all the calculations about cooking gas, fitness, gray cells and oxygen. At noon we started the descent, the most brilliant hours of this seven days. It took one and half days. We abseiled only 4 pitches. Actually we descended free the huge 2000 m face bringing off it an enormous feeling of being free. We looked up at the abandoned face with great sadness. For Alex and me this was the collapse of two seasons of dreams, calculations and overhearing all signs on earth and heaven. Now the autumn winds started - it was booming over the mountains and the plumes spread over the ridges.

My feet were slightly swollen. Alex the westerner rushed down in hurry to Kathmandu for some tour in America. Jurek and me were still contemplating the face. In my innermost I took the farewell with the mountain, though I was still one with the shining face, still on its glassy icefields and yellow rock bands. But there was no farewell for Jurek. Jurek was greeting the mountain. He was in quiet harmony neither affected by the winds furiously tearing the tents in the nights nor by the singing ridges. He was acting against the logic -- but there was higher order ruling over him and bringing him each time finally to the lucky close. His decisions were spontaneous and perfect, devoid of doubts and calculations. It was unwise to go out but he has gone. Jurek packed 2 kg of food, 1 gas stove, 3 gas cartridges, 2 rock pitons, 1 ice-screw, 9 m of rope and bivouac sack. On 12 October when Alex was disappearing far down below on the scree of the Barun glacier, Jurek was leaving the base camp at 1 p.m. This night he reached at . . . midnight the site of Camp 2 on the shoulder on 7000 m - 1800 m above the base camp. The evening and the night were very windy, he even could not pitch up the bivouac sack. Finally he used for shelter the blown- down shreds of the Austrian tent. Late in the night when he was struggling for a cup of tea, came for the first time the thought of retreating. But the next day was quiet, and Jurek lay down in the tent up to 2 p.m. After the morning indecision the afternoon found him walking towards the Makalu La (7400 m) that he reached in the evening yet by the daylight. Here he found the small Salewa tent deposited during the acclimatizing, by now crushed down by the snow. He managed to pitch it up. The next day was again an ordeal. The mountains turned into roaring emptiness. I was oppressed by the visions of Jurek struggling through the blizzard behind the north ridge. Jurek feared the avalanches on the original route and decided to attempt the unclimbed north ridge recconnoitred partly during acclimatizing. Soon he noticed through the spindrifts that another half of the eastern slopes has already avalanched. When, exhausted, he reached in hurricane our camp site at 8000 m he thought for the second time his climb was finished. Moreover the bivouac was terrible. But the next day and the last one on the way to the summit was again . . . windless. He started at 8 a.m. Having climbed the distinct 200 m prow on the ridge on its east side he followed the snowy ridge towards the summit. At 8300 m he made use of 9 m of rope and 2 rock pitons to climb the sharp gendarme of grade IY. This equipment was just enough to do that. At 5 p.m. he reached the conical snow-summit. He found there 2 French Simond pitons and the ladybird toy. Having taken pictures he started down urged by the coming darkness. At 9 p.m. he was back in the last bivouac at 8000 m. On the next day I was greeting him on the scree. Jurek was tired out, his face in spite of an intensive tan gray, and his usually stout posture shrunken and tiny. There was neither excessive joy in" his, face nor, .sadness. Jurek was simply perfectly quiet. Inhere was great harmony between him and the huge rocky desert spread around. He said: 4Yes, I’ve been to the summit'.


East West Precipice Fellowship is an international climbing group. It includes as yet some climbers from Poland, England, United States, France and Nepal. It is equally driven by two different mountaineering approaches - the western one characterized by reflection and calculation and by the eastern one more intuitively inclined. These two different attitudes leave the gap of mentalities, one would say: east west precipice which is to be filled up with" the clear and unspoiled mountains and mutual understanding - good chance for the friendship! EWPF does only alpine style climbing and it tends to choose its" objectives among steep and technically difficult precipices. These are two vital prerequisites preserving the essence of alpinism. The climber attached to many kilometres of the fixed ropes, fed by squads of Sherpas and sheltered from the rough nature by tons of sophisticated layers of the camp cities, remains still with one foot on the streets of Warsaw or Tokyo. He is still partly an 'animal of society' with all its ranks and powers - though he has come to the mountains to set aside all the dirty and untrue infusion from the valleys and to regain the clear insight. Only the man totally abandoned to the precipice and confined to his own instincts and ability to overhear and to understand the signs of the face will emerge from it purified (and detached from the nervousness and blind ambitions contaminating the world). The precipice is an ' area to move freely and spontaneously like an animal. Such are the circumstances and the value of alpine-style climbing - the huge liberating and purifying catharsis which changes you from subject to ranks and rules into the lord of them.

EWPF found its beginning in 1977 on the train from Moscow to the Afghanistan border carrying Anglo-Polish team of climbers going to Hindu Rush. Polish party managed somehow to put the Britons on the train in Moscow. On the border crossing to Afghanistan on the Amudaria river the Russians were no less frightened than the Britons after having found them here in the heart of Russian Asia. In any case they confiscated the British cameras. The talk followed when an amicable Tadshiki Officer to soften the impression said :

It's hot here, isn't it.’


'Why . . . you mean no hot'?


'Then how it's here.’

'Funny and frightened, like the tiger mating' was the final reply,

On the train there was a calm English Alex MacTntyre and an. American John Porter who had fled some years ago to Britain to avoid recruiting for Vietnam. During three days of not very eventful rolling through Kazakhstan deserts I persuaded two to split from the main team and. go to the central Hindu Kush to attempt the greatest objective in Afghanistan - the east face of Kohe Bandaka (6864 m). The landscape did not change, the idea ripened. We look at each other' and it began. The story of 2500 m of Kohe Bandaka east face is short. After one acclimatizing trip we came back to the base camp and shivered with fear for another three days before finally entering the face. On the third day evening suddenly while watching the sunset on the face the fear passed away. It disappeared so ultimately and amazingly that I will for ever be longing for that moment to- come again. We climbed it in a 6 day single push. The face proved to be the most dangerous we have ever been in. With all respect to- the well known bravery of the Japanese routes, probably this one belongs to the most dangerous climbs in the world. This is definitely the face where you come from with a better sense of reality. It opened to us the proper vista in the Himalaya.

Next autumn 1978 we met again under the south face of Changabang. The team of V. Kurtyka, A. Maclntyre and J. Porter joined by another climber from Poland Christoph Zurek. This time the face was relatively safe but extremely ' difficult technically. We spent on it 8 days and another 2 days on descent. Three consecutive bivouacs were in the single point hanging hammocks. We used many modern climbing inventions like 'Friends', Goretex gear, latest ice-tools etc. More than half of 46 pitches were of grade V and more. The climb reached its climax on the last days. Christoph was suffering bad stomach illness. He did not take food for three days. During the last bivouac he experienced hallucinations, at times he thought he was at home, his wife was around. . . . The descent was all the hazard. Very airy and forbidding east ridge of the original route awakened once more in the tired out team the necessary sobriety. We descended lucky and alive. The climb was the essence of alpine style. I will ever be longing for Changabang's bright and rough granite.

1980 - it was the east face of Dhaulagiri (8167 m)1. Alex came with the French mountain guide Rene Ghillini and I brought to the team another Polish climber Ludwik Wilczynski. Again this time we were lucky enough to climb the east face alpine style-though the first push ended in very bad weather at the junction with the original east ridge route on 7800 m. We regained the highest point along the easier route and finished it to the summit. The east face is a very fine 50 degree ice-triangle of 2500 m. Three days on the stormy face, swept by the spindrift growing up at times to light avalanches, hovering over the measureless icefields between the clouds passing by was quite a new experience, We learnt the lesson of being nowhere and going to nowhere. The long hours were devoid of sense of reality but surprisingly of fear as well.

See H.J. Vol. Q6, p. 36.-Ed.

Perhaps this was the reason that we soon reached too far. In the mists over Dhaulagiri east face dissolved - our intuition and deliberation. We were now brooding over the rock bands and glassy icefields of Makalu west face. We were imagining it, guessing its passages until . . , we found twice in 1981 how difficult it was. We failed twice, though we didn't come back with empty hands. EWPF was joined this year by two Nepalese climbers Kunda Dixit and Padam Ghaley Gurung and by famous Scottish climber Con Higgins. In the autumn to the team came Polish climber Jerzy Kukuczka. It was the newcomers who made the success possible. In the spring 1981 Nepalese Padam Ghaley Gurung soloed for the first time in Nepalese mountaineering the serious mountain of Makalu II (7664 m). In the' autumn 1981 Polish climber Jerzy Kukuczka soloed the unclimbed north ridge of Makalu.

Finally I'd like to say that EWPF is nothing like a .formally organized and shaped group of people. It's as long alive and vivid as there are the bonds between the people and the mountains stand with its mysteries reflected in faces of climbers. And I hope one day it will be joined by somebody from India.

The line of attempt on Makalu West face.

The line of attempt on Makalu West face.

Makalu as seen from Makalu La 7400 m. The route of solo climb by Jerzy Kukuczka. The original route traverses the eastern slopes on the left and goes up the last ridge bisible on the left skyline.

Makalu as seen from Makalu La 7400 m. The route of solo climb by Jerzy Kukuczka. The original route traverses the eastern slopes on the left and goes up the last ridge bisible on the left skyline.