THE WEST FACE of Makalu (8481 m) being 2500 m high from the bottom to the top, was the aim of the expedition.
In 1981 the face was attacked twice: by Voytek Kurtyka — Poland and Alexander Maclntyre — Great Britain (in pre-monsoon season together with Con Higgins — Great Britain, in post-monsoon season with Jerzy Kukuczka — Poland). Both the attacks conducted along the right side of the steep rock band, got stuck at the height of 7800 m — in the fore-part of a large rocky barrier reaching up to the top.
Our group decided to attack the face along the left rib leading under the downcast of the north ridge. The rib begins at the height of 6300 m. The steepness of the lower, icy part is 40 — 50°, over 6600 m it steepened — in some places — to 90° and the face takes a slabby character. At the height of 7400 m the rib leads to a snow-field (200 m) which is cut with the rocky barriers.
The field reaches a second, much more spacious field of the shape of a capital delta. The second field declines at the angle of 50° and is also cut with rocky barriers. At the height of 8000 m the second field comes to the north ridge.
We called the first field 'the delta's tongue', and the second field was called 'the delta*.
The difficulties of the rocky parts of the way between the Camp 3 and 'the delta' are rated at V+ Ao, and between Camp 2 and Camp 3 are rated at IV.
In addition there are some vertical icy parts on the rib too.
Using 3500 m of the fixed-ropes all the way up to the ridge was secured. The way was relatively secure in respect of exposure and from stones and avalanches.
The expedition was organized by Gliwice Mountaineering Club.
Members of the Katowice Mountaineering Club, the Krakow Mountaineering Club and first of all the members of Club Alpino Paulista in Brazil, were invited to take part in the expedition.
The base camp was set up on 30 August, at the left moraine of the Barun glacier, at the height of 5400 m.
The Camp I was placed on 2 September at the height of 6000 m, over the icefall. There were 6 tents in the camp — four living tents and two warehouse tents.
The Camp 2 was placed on 11 September at 6600 m. There were two tents in the camp. They were fastened on the shelves that were cut in the ice and additionally secured with canvas.
The Camp 3 was set up on 19 September at 7100 m. At first one tent was placed on the top of a snowy hump (the tent was very much open to the winds). Then, 50 m lower, Andrzej Czok dug out a cave in the brow, and a second tent was placed there. While setting up Camp 4, the tent from the snowy hump was wound up and carried upwards.
Generally, all the fixed ropes in the difficult parts were fixed by Czok and Skorek. But on 26 September, a difficult part in the entrance of 'the delta's tongue* was done by Miroslaw Kuras and Tadziu Szulc. On that evening, at the height of 7400 m, Szulc died suddenly, because of an acute failure of the circulatory and respiratory system.
I parted with that couple only the previous evening in Camp 3. On the day of accident in the afternoon, I was observing the action through a fieldglass from my tent in the base camp. The boys worked deftly. About 3 p.m. I saw a dot moving along the white field of 'the delta's tongue*. So they climbed the last 50 m of the barrier. The wall was opened. Now — going through the relatively not large barriers of 'the delta's' icefields and ridge.
The spot reached a full length of the rope and started to lower himself. I thought, the evening is here and they go down.
Then nobody noticed a figure climbing up again. Nobody noticed that there was only one coming down to the Camp 3.
In the evening we were paralysed with Mirek Kuras' radio telephone: 'Adam, I returned alone. Tadziu is dead. He must have died suddenly. There was no contact between us for 30 — 40 minutes — it was the time for placing the fixed rope on the 'tongue's field.' Tadek felt well and he was hurrying me. After getting over the difficult cut that was leading to the easy area, I set up a piton and I fastened Tadek's rope stiffly. I told him that he had already his rope fixed, that he could go further and I would place a new one for protection on the snowfield. When I slid down I noticed him about 5 — 8 m below the field. It seemed to me that he was resting. Meanwhile, he was not alive. He did not react to my callings, obviously. I could not load the rope that he was hanging on — my newly installed fixed rope had its end there. I had to go upwards again, to unfasten the rope from the 'deadmen' and to return down. I drove in an ice-screw and I put a new runner. Then I got at Tadziu. Everything was much too late — the body was getting stiff. I am a mountain rescuer and I could not make any mistake here. It was dark when I reached Camp 3. Immediately I got the connection with you'.
Kuras comes to the base on 27 September.
We decided to continue the action in spite of the death that was a big shock for the members of the expedition. We had a strong will to climb a mountain. The more so as Tadziu Szulc made the biggest sacrifice in the struggle for this mountain.
On 2 October Dzok, Kuras, Sonelski and I made the corpse secure and then we followed a variant that was passing round (the bow of 50 m) the place of tragedy.
The next day we placed 160 m of further ropes on the field of 'the delta's tongue'. On 4 October — Kuras, Sonelski and I came to the base, while Czok remained in the Camp 1.
On 5 October Czok returned rapidly to the Camp 3. Janusz Skorek was waiting for him there.
On 6 October they were seen together moving along 'the delta' and leaving a thread of the fixed ropes after them. But they did not reach the ridge. They slid down for the night to Camp 3 and continued the struggle next day. This time they were assisted by Andrzej Machnik. He was carrying a sleeping bag and an oxygen cylinder. Camp 4 (one tent) was placed on a plateau on the north ridge, at 8000 m. The group had only one oxygen cylinder. Those who made use of it were Skorek and Czok — having the biggest chances to succeed. In the morning, the three of them went out towards the top (without using oxygen). After about an hour, Machnik retreated to the camp. At 2 p.m. (being at the distance of about 1 hour from the top) Skorek and Czok returned in a strong hurricane. Skorek's feet was frostbitten.
After a night in Camp 4, Skorek and Machnik slid down to the lower camps.
Czok remained intending to attack the summit alone and I gave him my permission because I knew his power. I told him during the radio telephonic contact:
'Andrzej, you are experienced enough Himalayan climber to decide to attack or retreat. I believe that you will not make a mistake and if it is necessary you will withdraw soon enough.' The day of 10 October was for me the day of hope and the terrible fear. I took all responsibility on me, didn't I?
Did I make a mistake or not, consenting to the lonely attack? I am sure that I did not, or I am convincing myself of that. Yes, I am convinced that I took everything into consideration. Will reality confirm my feelings?
At 12.45 p.m. a voice in the base radio telephone:
'My good morning to you from the top. Andrzej Czok is speaking, after getting over the west face and going the Tadziu Szulc way. I am all right, though it is awfully windy here. I shall take some pictures, and I shall fix the flags: Nepalese, Polish and Brazilian. There's an old oxygen cylinder that is lying some metres below the peak. I shall fix the flags to it, and I am coming down.'
My eyes were filled with tears. This time they were the tears of joy. Now and then someone was hugging me, clapping me on the back. At 4 p.m. Andrzej was already in Camp 4. He wanted to spend the next (fourth) night there. I was afraid that his organism might not resist it, more because he was short of fuel. I asked him to leave everything and to slide down to Camp 3. Twenty minutes later we saw him on the fixed ropes of 'the delta'. Next day he was in the Camp 1 and on 12 October in the base camp. Then I got to know that he took two sleeping bags with him. He regretted leaving them there ...
In a clearing operation the Camps 1 — 3 were wholly removed. All the fixed ropes were left on the wall.
On 17 October a return caravan which lasted 12 days began. We overcame one of the most difficult Himalayan steep rock faces. The group gained an entry to the summit, setting up four camps, fixing 3.5 km of the fixed ropes and using one oxygen cylinder (the first night in Camp 4). All the other attacks were done without oxygen.
The expedition did not use Sherpas on the mountain. Only Sirdar Ang Kami reached Camp 1 with a load.
The achievement of Andrzej Czok, after the Lhotse climb in 1979 (without oxygen) and the ascent of the south pillar of Everest in 1980 (using no oxygen from the South summit), places him among the best Himalayan climbers all over the world.
Did we really win a victory over the mountain?
Unfortunately, we were defeated by the mountain. Our friend's body that had to remain on the mountain leaves a stamp of tragedy on the whole success.
Yet, it was also his success.