My Vertical World: Climbing the 8000-Metre Peaks.
By Jerzy Kukuczka, translated by Andrew Wielochowski
August 1992 edition, Mountaineers Books. Hardcover, 189 p.
My Vertical World is Jerzy Kukuczka's autobiography, translated from his native Polish into English. Even translated, the book reads like some heroic Norse saga with Jerzy striding through it like a doomed Odin.
In the beginning of the book, Reinhold Messner says of Jerzy, "you are not second, you are great". Great praise indeed for the second person, after Messner, to wear the 'Crown of the Himalaya', a title for those who have climbed to the top of all the fourteen 8000 meter peaks in the world, all in the Himalaya. Jerzy did them all and that too by either blazing new routes or in the winter, and always without supplemental oxygen.
The book is divided into chapters, the first, typical of Jerzy, it seems, describing his early days in Poland in a very brief manner. Then the next fourteen chapters describe his successful summit ascents to each of the 8000 meter peaks, from Lhotse, his first to Shish Pangma, his last.
The press played up the artificial race between him and Messner to be the first to do the 8000 m peaks. Jerzy is always humble and regards Messner as his superior. He is no jock mountaineer in search of glory, nor does he go into complex reasons that make him want to climb. He just seems to love to climb the high peaks, the Himalayas more than another.
Jerzy talks about being a young man desiring to travel to the far away Himalaya to climb. He describes the incredible privation and hardship that he had to undergo to scrounge money and food in the days of the Solidarity movement in Poland where he was in danger of being considered a food hoarder. However, all he was doing was salting away food for his next Himalayan trip. He talks about how he and his climbing friends would raise the precious zoltys by offering to paint rusting chimneys of factories and saving on the cost of scaffolding by using climbing ropes instead.
To me, the most incredible climbing done by Jerzy is his winter climb of Dhaulagiri. Here he describes his solo descent into a village in an unknown valley with feet rotting away from infection and frostbite. The villagers simply would not believe his story because no one had ever been in that valley before. Then without much rest, he met up with the Cho Oyu expedition and blazed a first winter ascent of Cho Oyu via the unclimbed South East Pillar.
A summary, in his own words, 'There is no answer in this book to the endless questions about the point of expeditions to the Himalayan giants.
I never found a need to explain this. I went to the mountains and climbed them. That is all.
*Reviewed by Arun Mahajan - http://peakclimbing.org/
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** zapraszam na relacje z wypraw polskich himalaistów.