The Art of Abseiling into the Hell
In summer 1984

I wandered with the friend

Over the desert wasteland

Which was barred with three great mountains.

Here, we have just crossed them

The landscape changed

But the horizon remained equally distant.

THE STORY OF the first ascent of the Broad Peak north ridge is simple and devoid of dramatic adventures. We were accompanied not exactly by unusual events but rather by particular atmosphere, the part of which was that we had the great luck.

After all, one can hardly acknowledge the monotonous and patient plodding towards the summit over thousand meters of rough and beloved rocks and ominous streaks of blue ice to be an event.

Here is the story of those days.

On 15 July, just before the daybreak, at the hour of the full moon, bang O'Brothers, the heart of the Godwin Austen glacier has broken. The piercing crash was followed by the dead groan.

I jumped out of sleep and stared at the darkness. I drew the tent flap away. The icy stream of air shimmering with the light of dying stars rushed in. The tea pots frozen to the bottom reflected the rim of the moon. I touched with bare fingers the bristled and frosty stones, they bit like the frightened animals.

Silence. Suddenly the uneasiness returned. High up in the darkness I sensed the huge ridge. 'Knuckle', I whispered. He slowly opened the eyes, the vigilance lurking in his look.

'Brrr . . .', I said shivering. The hoar-frost dropped from the rcy roof. The Knuckle smiled.

The blue gloom retreats into the glacier hollows. The far away ridges, are towering over each other, their edges lit with the first sun. Too distant to think of them. To make the first step.

No single hint. The sky is pale. Even the silence here is too much.

The perverse whispers push us straight into the dirty gorge of the gully topped with the barrier of the hanging ice-pinnacles.

Photos 31 to 35
This is the easiest way. But the most dreadful. The slow steps burdened with the patience of many days, lead us carefully between the black patches of ice. The fearful traces - the snowfield swept away, the ash grey spots of the stone blows, makes the silence and the echo of the steps deeper. At about 10 a.m. the sun emerges over the ridge and the sharp shadows cut across the avalanche trail. Unexpectedly there grows the strange murmur from inside the gully.

Easy, easy! It's just the snow-stream. It's the good snow that flows.

Suddenly the ice-pinnacles stirred!

Easy you fool, easy! It's only the sky that moved.

At noon, hardly having grazed at the hanging towers, we get over the barrier. The snow-balls are rolling from under the feet. The icicles are chirping on the rocks.

When we reach the little col on the ridge, evening comes stealthyly and quietly. All anxiety withdraws from these parts of the world. We put up our first bivouac in the shadow of the great rock, on the shining surface of the frozen lake, reflecting the calm of the evening. It was 6300 m.

Two consecutive days O'Brothers, make the hardest trial. High over us there are looming the crags of the north peak, further beyond it there is the forbidding middle ridge.

Each step cut us off from the world. Deep o ho ho are sinking the valleys.

The far away and gentle glacier arcs express the tranquility and safety.

Two kilometers of the precipice are glistening between the crampons points.

We do not touch the rope. The rope misguides you.

Hooked on our own distress we climb slowly and lonely, as though we were wandering in two different ways. There are few scared and harsh words.

'Good snow', I say in a trembling voice on 14 July, while scrambling over the steep rock slab, covered with snow, the grafting of crampons vibrating in my throat. The gorgeous phew, two kilometers beneath my feet.

On the same evening, I'm looking helplessly over the steep rocks. After the day-long climbing we can't remember seeing a single bivouac site. The sun is touching the Hispar ridge. The frost is crawling in with long shadows. When the blue gloom thickens in the deep valleys, here we are on the tiny snow-crest. Here we dig out our nest.

I'm moaning on 15 July. We are standing on the North summit (7600 m), at our feet is the north col (7300 m). The central ridge looks frightening. Hopeless!

Now we are right in the heart of the trap! There is no retreat from here. But the fear, that was leading us many days over the rocks suddenly abandons us. The col, where we spend third night glittering with the late sun is a spellbinding place. We forget the loneliness and look quietly down to the valley where we came from. The violet night creeps out from here onto the northern deserts. And pity, that the long shadows do not say a word. I'm circling over the pass, weary but peaceful and trustful. (Photo 32)
The next morning we touch the rock and ice-step of the central ridge. Having climbed the easy snowfield we move into the very steep ice-gully. The sun is sneaking between the rock spires. No flash on the glassy ice. At noon we reach the gentle but very long summit ridge.

It's easy. Very easy. The uneasiness and foreboding overcome us again. The wind is increasing. Hollow is sounding in each step. What an echo! There must be the strange chasm inside this mountain. We take out the rope and put it on. The uneasiness grows. Yes it grows. I'm dodging the suspicious snow-patches - why the hell they change their white? Strange are those snow-characters drawn by the wind. Suddenly from underneath on the west shoot up the silver cloud with the black rim. It hit us surprisingly, angrily and disappears over the brown mountains merging into the violet sky.

In the afternoon we start to sense the vicinity of the Central summit. The consecutive ups and downs make us more and more disappointed. Shame, for the lack of patience. Again in front of us rises the white. I know bitterly, it's not the summit. But the Knuckle . . . gone mad? He is waving his arms over the head. Chasing away the wind? Yes, he's taking possession of the vast world spread out underneath. He's on the summit!

The gale is tearing at our weariness stronger and stronger. The cold gusts are thrusting through the body like the icy knife, I feel it penetrating deeper and deeper, the guts and blood freezing around it.

Without delay we set out along the tiny and very airy crest,, towards the vertical step, which falls down 200 m to the summit col - the last one before the Main summit. The col is overflooded with the maze of eddying clouds. From under the feet, good snow is swishing into the void. The little, tiny step one and two - phew the emptiness! Here is the yellow rock. It drops down right to the col. The ridge is trembling in the hurricane. I look over it into air.

On the east below opens the depth. The hell, rather than the depth. It's wriggled into the convulsive snow-lines, stripped to the purple ice. The icy devil is howling, he's carving the painful and hating shapes with the frost and wind.

'Hey . . .', the Knuckle roars, buried in the snow up to ears.

Hush. You Knuckle. Stop your roaring. Nothing's here. Just the hell. I know, we've got to abseil down to the saddle exactly along the border of hell. The col should be, if we haven't gone mad, somewhere just little west of the hell. Here 9 years ago, only two of the five Polish climbers survived in the snow-storm while struggling on their way home after the first ascent of the Central summit.

O'my thoughts! The wind sweeps them away into the hell. I try to concentrate on the simple works, which are escaping the hands with inconceivable obstinacy. I embrace the loose rock spire, with the cold arms, the furious gust snatches it and throws it into the hell.

Underneath, the whirling clouds. Here we've got to start abseiling. The first unknown star already glitters for one hour on the sky. Over the mountain Paiju - that means 'Salt'. You ignorant, there is the plume. Bad sign said once the old porter, his features sharp like the gorges of this country were smiling. At last we are swinging in air, fixed to the loose stone. The wind presses like the living creature, the pink gloom behind the back. Then came really weak pitons and again poor pieces of rock. The rope writhers and slithers round the oval edge. Between the clouds there is the white saddle looming. Suddenly in the murk there shines the splendid, steel blade, awkwardly stuck in the snow. It's pointing falsely to the sky over Sinkiang. From this ice-axe, years ago, the first climber fell into the hell. A bit higher, beneath an overhang the Knuckle discovers the piton with the carabiner. It's singing between the rocks. It's shining.

Soon it's getting dusk, the sky becomes quite violet. The clouds retreat down into the valleys. When the fourth night sweeps over us, I'm hugging the snows of the col happily.

It's the howling gale. The bones are twittering. Calm. Great calm. Next morning, 17 July, after two hours of wearisome plodding we stood on the Main summit.

Now there is the frosty morning

The splendid past and the great deeds are over.

I tread lightly the frozen earth

When I trip over the stone

The frightened eye chases the rime

Spread over the ground.

Summary: The first ascent of northwest ridge of Broad Peak, by Voytek Kurtyka and Jerzy Kukuczka. They traversed the North, Central and Main Summits from 13 to 18 July. Descent by the normal route.

Polish-Austrictn Ascent of the Shining Wall
DURING THE DAYS of 13-20 July 1985 the Polish-Austrian team of Voytek Kurtyka (Poland) and Robert Schauer (Austria), climbed the virgin, west face of Gasherbrum IV (7925 m). The descent was completed on 20-23 July on the unclimbed north ridge. The face, 2500 m high, called often the 'shining wair, gained the reputation one of the most beautiful and challenging mountain walls in the world. It has already been attempted 5 times by strong Japanese, American and British expeditions.

The ascent was done in alpine style, after primary acclimatization on the north ridge up to 7100 m, where the food cache was deposited. The climb was accompanied by very dramatic circumstances, which unfortunately at the later stage of the ascent, prevented us from reaching the true summit of the mountain after completing the climb of the face. The direct reasons for such an annoying finale were the appalling weather and physical conditions on the face and consequently, due to the delay during the climb and the dangerously prolonged period of hunger and thirst which we suffered. On 20 July, after coming out of the wall onto the summit ridge exhausted, we abandoned the apparently easy, horizontal traverse towards the summit and immediately started the abseils on the north ridge descent route. (Photo 31)
The mountain seemed to be ruled by the unfriendly spirit which was opposing every move of our attempt and our intentions. Surprisingly it ceased to harass our faltering minds, when we abandoned the way towards the summit. However we came out of the face alive, the climb was the perfect and very instructive example of all possible and essential traps and hazards of alpine style on the high mountains. These are the most striking and oppressive circumstances of the ascent.

Just before the summit, on 18 July (6th climbing day), at the altitude of 7800 m, when we ran out of our provisions and fuel, we were trapped by the horrifying weather breakdown. We spent two hard nights on the small snow-ledge, protected only by the modest bivouac sack, swept by the avalanches and torn by the hurricane. The place was buried in the huge masses of snow that was suffocating us. The whirling and blinding wind was so oppressive that we could only fend off the snow by crawling on all fours.

Thank you, angry sky, you cleared on the second night!

The bivouac conditions were less than miserable. The 2nd and 3rd night we were sitting almost sleepless and separated from each other, very uncomfortably on the spiky, rocky pinnacles. The sleeping bag was the only shelter from the cold sky.

Thanking you Karakoram, you were windless these nights.

All the following nights we were troubled by furious winds and impetuous spindrifts. Again little sleep in the bivouac sack, buried in the snow on cut out ledges.

The physical conditions on the face proved to be very difficult and dangerous. The rock sections, built either of completely rotten or completely compact marble, offered very poor protection. It was the common practice, due to the total lack of belay, to extend the pitches from 40 m up to 80 m - though some of them were of sustained grade V. Altogether 4 pitches of grade V were climbed, two of them at 7100 m and 7300 m in the very sustained difficulties on the extremely compact marble slabs, without a single runner.

Ha, ha, how beautiful, the horrifying long rope, swinging away!

The real nuisance was the very deep snow on the mixed ground which formed by tunneling practically all vertical barriers, demanding torturous work to overcome it.

The conditions described caused the slower progress then expected. We carried the food for 4 bivouacs and fuel and drinks for 5 bivouacs, while the complete action lasted 11 days. Finally we were saved by the food depot, reached on the evening of 9th at 7100 m, left during acclimatization on the north ridge.

Oh how wet was the tea, how sweet were 30 bonbons!

We endured 4 days without food and 3 days without drinking.

The physical exhaustion, hunger, thirst and lack of sleep caused the number of astonishing psychic sensations.

Particularly amazing was, known from the high altitude experiences, the feeling of the presence of the 'third person*. It was so intense, that at times both of us instinctively awaited the reactions and the participations of the 'third person' in the current events.

Who were you dear friend, who did not appear?

For the long periods I was hearing the strange sounds like the music or sounds of birds or whispered talks. Sometimes it was easy to discover them as the transformed other real sounds and to trace them down to where they came from. For instance the very beautiful and passionate women singing, something between B. Streisand and Santana heard at 5 a.m. on the 11th day was the transformed sound of the rope sliding over the rough snow-surface, timed by our steps.

I would never guess, you came out of the rough snow, Barbara Streisand! Uncommonly intense and almost importune was the amazing inclination and ability to associate all the forms of rocks, snow or clouds with the human figures and shapes. They were transformed into very real images.

Who made you, lovely and quiet figures?

Particularly painful was the effect of sudden and unchecked falling asleep on the belay stances followed by the equally sudden awakening with the sense of terror.

Oh ! Its so nice to sleep!

Equally unpleasant were the tormenting visions of food and drinks.

Oh you rice, you bread!

Though it was the most beautiful and mysterious climb I have even done, I am feeling miserable to fail to reach the summit. I can't resist the conviction that this mountain and its shining wall is too splendid and too perfect to consider any ascent of it, without its most essential point - the summit, as really completed.

Gasherbrum IV: Polish route on west face.   (V. Kurtyka)

Gasherbrum IV: Polish route on west face. (V. Kurtyka)

Central summit of Board Peak from col with North summit.    (V. Kurtyka)

Central summit of Board Peak from col with North summit. (V. Kurtyka)

Broad Peak from Masherbrum la.  (J. Kukuczka)

Broad Peak from Masherbrum la. (J. Kukuczka)

Broad Peak: Polish traverse route.  (V. Kurtyka)

Broad Peak: Polish traverse route. (V. Kurtyka)

 Broad Peak: North, Central and Main summits seen from north.   (V. Kurtyka)

Broad Peak: North, Central and Main summits seen from north. (V. Kurtyka)