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Interview with Krzysztof Wielicki

/ Mountain News

I think that Krzysztof Wielicki – a founder member of our club – doesn’t have to be introduced to anybody. If you want to learn more about him, why don’t you visit our expeditions section where links to the sites about him are listed. This interview was held at Wielicki’s company office in Dąbrowa Górnicza, which has become a logistic centre of his expedition. Telephones ringing continually, members of the expedition wishing to talk about some final things or ordinary clients who want to wish him good luck – that’s why, there is a mess in his words, and I didn’t change that because it expresses the last moment before the next, great Polish expedition in an interesting way. Being aware of the difficulty of his and other member’s aim of the expedition, we are looking forward to the news of their success. Wishing them good luck, I’m inviting you to read this interview.

Ingrid Bayens i Krzysztof Wielicki

Ireneusz Gosztyła: Instead of classical “what do the Himalayas mean to you”, something different: isn’t a high time to start a charitable activity or just run a business – like outdoor or guiding company taking people to some easier summits? With such well-known name you shouldn’t have problems with attracting the clients.

Krzysztof Wielicki: For sure, this time hasn’t come yet, because there’s nothing else what I can do. To be serious, I run a business – Himal Sport. I have a few ideas. By observing what’s going on at the market, I suppose that the technical underwear is the only hope for the next year or two. In my opinion, there is no real underwear company on our market, there is no company considered as an underwear one. We’d like to produce three types of polypropylene underwear, for which we have ISO 9001 certificate, and start to sell it at the supermarkets for 35 PLN in the future. I think it’s a good way.

IG: You are setting off to the next winter expedition to the hard mountains. What are the chances for reaching the top?

KW: Shortly, they are big. Expedition team is strong, we are enthusiastic and determined. Everybody wants to get to the summit.

IG: In connection with the previous winter Makalu expedition you were accused of wrong organisation, strategy (frequent route changes, tactic like “Krzysiek will grab the rucksack, will reach the top and the expedition will be over”) and too high age average among expedtion members. Are there any changes this year and did you draw any positive conclusions?

KW: This time this problem is not going to appear. There is only one route and, what’s more, it is very difficult. From the Chinese territory there are no easy routes. Will Krzysiek grab his rucksack and go to the top? Not necessarily Krzysiek, but I don’t exclude this possibility. However, for me as an organisator and expedition leader, responsibility for others is the most essential. I think that nothing is worth for the highest price, we all are to come back healthy. The average of age is lower, because two young climbers from KW Warszawa and five young people as a support group are going with us.

IG: Last year you thought that it is possible to organise a Polish-Eastern expedition to K-2 for less than 100.000 $ - have you made it? And if not, isn’t your expedition a repetition of Andrzej Zawada expedition 15 years ago for a million dollars?

KW: Yes, it is possible to organise, but then I thought that if there weren’t any sponsors to cover the costs of a typical big Himalayan expedition I would go to Karakorum or the Himalayas, reach the 8000-metres-high moutain in four-person team, then go to K-2 region, sit only in a basecamp and wait for 5 days of windless weather. The chance for it is poor but it is possible to succeed. In turn, the second option is an expedition where a lot of people take part in, sit in a basecamp for three months and wait for a good weather.

You have to choose one option. Costs of the last one are increasing and in order to organise it in winter on K-2, you need at least 200.000$ And that is what I meant while talking about organising the expedition for 100.000 $. But the logistics would be different. That’s the option, too. If you don’t have enough money, you will say: “We’ll try” – that’s the point. When you are acclimatised, you wait for 3 or 4 days of fair weather, I know the route, so you can climb in the alpine style, camp after camp, you reach 6000m, 7000m, 7800m, the top, then two days of descending and the expedition is over. Andrzej’s expedition wasn’t organised for a million dollars, but it cost a lot because it started in the Pakistan territory where the glacier is very long.

IG: In the eighties, Polish expeditions, not so reach as the Western ones, had successes just because they couldn’t say “it’s difficult, we’ll come back next year”. They knew that it was impossible. If they managed to go on the expedition, they were absolutely determined to reach the top. Don’t you think that nowadays Polish expeditions have this “Western” style?

KW: Yes, in some cases. It is because that besides climbing people can check themselves in other areas of life. Climbing is not the only thing they do. In the eighties it was extremely difficult to do something anywhere, to stand out, so climbing was the only chance for people who were ambitious, wanted to do something. But today you can found the business, become a wonderful manager. There are much more possibilities of self-developing and that’s why, for many people, alpinism has become an amazing, nice weekend way for spending some time. According to this fact, we can say that we are more like the Western climbers. But take notice, that to make our expedition’s team stronger, it is accompanied by four alpinists from the East. I thought, being aware of their hunger for climbing and achievements, that their motivation will be useful during the expedition, because they will be moving up all the time. I’ve found the solution based on the mixing the teams in order to introduce some elements of rivalry into the group, what can help to achieve our aim.

K-2

IG: Do you have any plans after K-2 expedition?

KW: Next 8000 m mountain which hasn’t been climbed in winter yet.

IG: During the chat on onet.pl after the previous expedition you mentioned about lack of young climbers willing to participate in a winter exploration – maybe the point is that the willing climbers would be found, but they have no money and the structure of PZA and mountain clubs doesn’t allow them to appear, because they set the rules and laws only instead of promoting the mountaineering sports.

KW: I must admit that I’ve changed my point of view lately. I faced with strange, as for me, reaction, because after announcing the expedition creation, I got plenty of e-mails from young people, expressing their willingness to take part in the expedition immediately. Asking for presenting their achievements in the mountains they could prove that they were not dreamers but experienced climbers. So I realised that my previous opinion came from the lack of knowledge. I was amazed and surprised by this fact. I got the e-mails like: “Mr Krzysztof I can go with you instead of cleaning, carrying things, loading the accumulator, I really must take part in this expedition”. Most of these people are members of the mountain clubs, who are young, ambitious, and they completed the climbing trainings. It is a good news for the future, but it also means that the club activities are dying out. In the past a club used to help young people. But not anymore. There are still a few guys who are organising something only for themselves and they say: “Why do we have to promote you, do it yourself”. Some time ago, the older were the inspiration for the younger, now there are some hermetic groups and this is the reason for these e-mails. My previous opinion came from the information, that a club, like PZA, knows nothing, there are no young climbers. It appears, that we need to find them. We made it thanks to media, which started to give the information about our expedition and suddenly it turned out that the young generation of climbers exists. The problem is, that they learn about the expedition thanks to media and not in their clubs or sport commitees.

IG: Last time you got 1000 PLN as a help to the previous expedition. Has something changed during the expedition preparations since that time?

KW: Actually, I don’t have nothing to accuse PZA, because I know its budget and I am aware of the fact how much they could help. I understand that.

IG: There is an intense discussion provoked by Grzegorz Skorek's article, released in “Góry”, accusing Jacek Fluder’s team of:

  • smuggling the excess baggage in the TAT airlines
  • because of their laziness they didn’t go to the Ruth Glacier where they had to be taken from
  • they cheated rangers and pretended that Stanisław Piecuch had his leg injured and they forced TAT to come to Buckskin glacier this way

What is your opinion of their behaviour?

KW: In fact, I don’t know the whole situation closely, so I prefer not to express my opinion on this subject.

IG: I would like to return to that terrible tragedy which happened last year in December. Lately, I’m quoting, “Aleksander Lwow, the second expert called by the Nowosądecki Prosecution, critisised the organisation and the proceedings of the rescue action in December by TOPR. Wielicki admitted that the action should have been continued, and the route to the avalanche area had been optimal. In order to be absolutely sure of his judgement, the second expert, Aleksander Lwow – the main editor of the monthly “Góry i alpinizm” – was called.His opinion is opposingly different – he called the expedition for the bodies as an unnecessary risk of life, and their attitude as inconsistent with the climbing ethic.

The TOPR chief Jan Krzysztof doesn’t want to comment the results of the second expert’s report”. (Dziennik Polski 19th October 2002)

Can I ask you for your comments?

KW: First of all, I would like to correct the mistake in the question or rather in the quote you’ve brought. I said that the route chosen by the lifeguards had been one of the possibilities, not optimal. According to A.Lwow’s report, well, everybody has a right to their own opinion, but I am “surprised” by the opinions about culpability of some activities, “surprised” by this courage and even determination in commenting the situation which wasn’t eyewitnessed by him. I hold my opinion that the strategy of the rescue action proceedings wasn’t culpable. Look at this action also from the point of view of the group coming to their friends being with the victims (probably dead then). Should they say them: “guys, we are coming back because there is dangerous here, so take care on your own”? If something wrong happened to them during the comeback, we would have a similar situation and Jan Krzysztof would be accused of cancelling the action. Besides, the group which was coming up to help, was also a support team for the lifeguards above. If a firefighter enters the burning house, because there can be somebody alive or if the ambulance driver exeeds the speed limit because there is a dying man – is it culpable? Mind you, that both the firefighter and the driver risk their lives. Saving others in extremal conditions will always be risky and it cannot be described in the rules or laws.

IG: The year 2002 is called by ONZ as a year of the mountains. According to that, do you think that something spectacular happened that year in the mountains?

KW: Unfortunately I have an impression that that year passed without any significant events. I can’t remember anything worth noticing.

IG: What is your attitude to Karta Taternika (Climber’s Card) in the background of our joining the EU?

KW: Well, I have this card, number 183, but I would follow the European standards way. What I mean is that the membership in the mountain club registered in PZA should be enough to allow the entrance to the climbing areas and allow for climbing itself. You cannot introduce any bans there; the civil rights should work. If somebody goes climbing without any rights and kills himself – this is his business. But in the national parks, especially in Tatra National Park, what I tried to say during the PZA members meeting – let’s notice, that national parks are everywhere in the world and it doesn’t depend on your card if you can enter there or not. You just buy a ticket and go inside. However, if a tourist sees the notice board informing that entering to a valley in the certain month is banned because of some reasons, he doesn’t enter there. But this is a matter of education, not of bans and writs. There is a similar situation in ecology. Its recovering should be introduced to us by education way, not by rules. Education, nothing more. The card should be the proof of the club’s membership. Our national parks authorities demand extra licence, but climbing should be allowed to every clubs’ members, because every club has its own status and the bans would be inconsistent with it. It can happen, that a club will confirm the membership of a bussinesman who doesn’t want to climb but wants to pay a fee and be a member of this club. Clubs shouldn’t divide their members into those with the licence and those without it. You are a club’s member and have a licence or you are not a member at all. The reason of the membership is not important. The tasks and policy of the club is not to let it change into the organisation, where everybody rules but does nothing. The example of a perfect organisation is CAI, which has 2 million members and everybody there is a member of UIAA if he climbs or not, if he can climb VI or II or he is a tourist – it has no meaning. Maybe it’s too early for us to change it but we could follow this way – not the way of rules.

IG: And the last question. What would you advise to young alpinists who want to start exploring high mountains regions in the world?

KW: To be in touch with me. I will tell them what to do.

IG: Thank you for this interview and I’m looking forward to the good news from Karakorum

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