Polish Winter Himalaya Expedition
ON 21 JANUARY 1985 in the middle of the Himalayan winter, the Dhaulagiri summit was reached by the Polish team after seven weeks of dramatic struggle.
One step from tragedy
It was 3 December when we were pitching our tents on the Tsaurabon meadows (3800 m). Almost a hundred of the porters were placing down the loads and lighting fires while we were stretching up the parachute canvas which had to protect these lightly dressed and bare footed people. In the clear air of the early evening the west face of Dhaulagiri was well visible and seemed to be close to us. Looking at its steep rocks and barriers of overhanging serracs I couldn't believe that our plans could come true. The time of despair was past, when three days before our planned departure in our loaded truck I had received the cable from our Brazilian co-organizers 'We have no money and no possibilities to get it, sorry'. That message meant that from that time we were on our own. All the plans, almost two years of hard work suddenly could turn to waste. Then there were the sleepless nights, calls to friends for help and finally our truck with four of us left for Nepal.
Three of the members of our expedition were sent ahead up the Mayangdi glacier to recce. They informed us on the walkie-talkie that establishing a base camp there would be very difficult. They suggested to set it up on Tsaurabon and to equip an advanced base camp better than usual, under the north face of Dhaulagiri. The next day only part of the porters were to go up to that base. Having everything so well organized we quietly went to sleep. At 5.30 in the morning I was woken up by a terrible roar which could be nothing else but an avalanche of tremendous strength. A moment later the tent tumbled down on my head. It was the huge barrier of seracs torn out from a height of 6000 m from the west face of Dhaulagiri. Though the avalanche stopped about 300 m from our camp it's strong blast completely demolished the tents, covering everything up with masses of snow and ice. Afterwards, we were finding pieces of the equipment and the tents even at a distance of one kilometer from our site. Fortunately no lives were not lost, nor were there any injuries. However, the worst of all was the panic among the porters who refused to go up further. In that situation we had to remove the base about 100 m lower to the forest. After long negotiations 17 porters agreed to carry our loads up to the glacier, for double payment. During 3 days they transported 1200 kg up to the height of 4200 m. From there, they were sent to the place of our prospective advanced base camp. From there onwards we handled all loads by ourselves. The advanced base camp at 4600 m set up on 5 December lasted only four days. It was destroyed by stormy winds, so we removed the tents to an ice-gully protected from the winds. In the meantime the heavy snowfall made climbing on the north face impossible. Since the Japanese expedition attempting the northeast ridge gave up, we too decided to change our route to the 'normal' one.
Establishing of camps
On 15 December our Camp 1 was set up on the traverse at the bottom of the 'Eiger' face at 5200 m. The traverse proved to be very difficult. We had to surmount the vertical faces of rock of about grade IV/V.
The Camp 2 was established in the ice-crevasse above the northeast pass. It consisted of two habitable tents and one as the store. The two days of Christmas, the whole team spent at base camp.
On 27 December we resumed our activities. Four days later Jerzy Kukuczka joined the expedition. The last days of the year I spent with Baranek, Kubowicz and Witkowski in the Camp 2 fighting against the heavy snow-storms. In the face of an intensifying blizzard and frost of about - 40°C we removed the camp to the edge of a crevasse. Due to the ceaseless wand and snow of hurricane force, no action above the second camp was possible.
It was only on 7 January that Czok and Kukuczka could carry supplies up to a height of 6800 m. The weather kept getting worse all the time. We had to wait.
On 12 January, Camp 3 was established by Baranek and Kuras* and after two days Czok and Kukuczka pitched the tent of Camp 4 on an icy slope (7400 m). Next day they made the first attempt to reach the summit but as the weather broke down again they had to withdraw from a height of 7900 m to the third camp. On 16 January Skorek and Machnik set out for Camp 4 with the aim of shifting it higher and then repeating the attack. The heavy snowstorm and the very low temperature forced them all to go back to Camp 2. After three days Czok, Kukuczka and Kuras started up from the second camp, and as the third one was completely buried under the snow and ice they climbed straight to Camp 4* Early next morning, while they were putting on their clothes an avalanche fell on their little tent. The strongly fixed and well placed tent sustained the crash though it was badly damaged. Digging up the tent and its equipment Kuras froze his hands. In the violent wind
without any shelter Czok could not put on his overboots which were also ruined by the avalanche. When they finally managed to gather up their things Czok and Kukuczka transported the tent higher to 7600 m, Kuras returned to Camp 2, On 21 January Czok and Kukuczka set out from the new Camp 4 at six in the morning. This time there were no surprises at the moment of leaving, Czok could easily put on his overboots. The visibility was fairly good but the wind almost always appearing at these high altitudes struck them with all its fury. The deep snow considerably reduced the rate of climbing. They reached the ice-ridge after climbing the steep couloir. In the meantime clouds were forming and it started to snow. Feeling that they were close to the summit Andrzej and Jerzy continued to force their way up. The wind abated as usually happens during a heavy snowfall. Finally the small tonkin stick with the coloured ribbon stuck in the snow hump emerged from the heavy blizzard. It was the peak. They stayed only a quarter of an hour on the summit. When the sky became brighter for a few moment they took some photos. They took the tonkin stick with them. It was half past three and the winter night was fast approaching so that in the falling snow they could not find the couloir leading down. They had to spend the night at 7800 m without the tent and sleeping bags. It was terrible, especially for Czok. The previous day Czok had frozen his legs digging up the tent without the overboots. That night seemed endless. They survived owing to their good clothing and their strong will. At 9 next morning they reached the Camp 4 where they rested till 3 p.m. too exhausted to move. The early January night caught them again. In the darkness and snowstorm Kukuczka lost his contact with Czok at 6800 m. Czok found himself in the second camp at 10 at night. He hardly remembered his way down. Kuras went out from the Camp 2 to look for him. He met Czok and led him down. Kukuczka spent the second night in the open. He reached the Camp 2 at 9 in the morning next day. In the meantime we had started to evacuate the advanced base camp. On 21 January Czok and Kukuczka informed us on the walkie-talkie at 3.30 p.m. that they had been on the peak and were coming down. For the next seventeen hours there was no other message. These hours seemed to be everlasting. That night heavy storm was raging at the base and I didn't know what was happening higher up. After 25 years I started to smoke again.
On 26 January the whole team except Jerzy Kukuczka came down to base. Andrzej Czok packed up all the 25 kg of the valuable equipment and started the march on his crippled legs. He was accompanied by a heavily loaded doctor.
Jerzy Kukuczka set out from the advanced base camp forcing his lonely way through the French Pass to Marpha and Jomosom. Two long days he had to wade in the snow which reached upto his arms as he went over the pass. He went on to join the Cho Oyu expedition team. It was to be his second mountaineering expedition and his second 8000 m summit climbed this winter.
On 28 January we started the caravan back from the base camp to Kathmandu. Andrzej Czok was carried by a porter and part of the way on a horseback. Thanks to our 'health service* the effects of the frostbite were limited only to the tips of his toes. Andrzej Machnik had some black fingers too and that was all that we lost.
It was the second winter ascent of Dhaulagiri (8167 m), the first one without supplementary oxygen. We were acting during the worst winter that Nepal has ever had in 27 years. For the seven weeks of action there were only a few days without storms and snowfalls. The team operating above the Advanced Base Camp experienced very low temperature ( - 20 to -40°C).
Note: The expedition was organized by the Gliwice Mountaineering Club and consisted of the ten members: Adam Bilczew-ski (leader), Janusz Baranek, Andrzej Czok, Julian Kubowicz, Jerzy Kiukuczka, Miroslaw Kuras, Andrzej Machnik, Janusz Skorek (deputy leader), Waclaw Sonelski and Krzysztof Witkowski (doctor). Also Malgorzata Fromenty-Bilczewska from France participated in action of the expedition up to the height of the advanced base camp. The equipment of the expedition was transported by truck.