Reaching the summit

In February 1980, Leszek Cichy and Krzysztof Wielicki became the first two climbers in history to reach the summit of Mt Everest in winter. Pictured left is the Polish expedition with Mt Everest in the background.
Nepal, 17 February 1980, first winter ascent of Mt Everest.

It’s a well known fact that Sir Edmund Hillary from New Zealand, accompanied by sherpa Tenzing Norgay of Nepal, were the first to reach the 8848m summit of Mount Everest. That the first winter ascent of the fabled peak was carried out by a team from Poland is not so well known, even amongst Poles. Led by the legendary Andrzej Zawada, who had been inspired by the first European woman to climb to the top, Wanda Rutkiewicz, the two who actually reached the summit were Leszek Cichy and Krzysztof Wielicki. These are the words of Andrzej Zawada from his later written account of the climb: “Then, finally at 2.25pm, the voice of Leszek Cichy resounded over the radio: ‘Guess where we are!’ We were out of our minds with happiness – totally spontaneous and unrestrained. It was the most wonderful moment of our lives.” In the account, Mr Zawada related how the government of Nepal had never before granted permission for a winter climb and, when the permission finally arrived (after almost being pipped to it by the Italians), it stipulated that only six weeks were granted to attempt the climb. To add to the pressure, the permit arrived unexpectedly on 22 November 1979 (the team had only a couple of months earlier been granted a spring permit, so they assumed the application for a winter permit had failed)… and was valid from 1 December! As it turned out, nothing – not even a serious lack of money – would stop them. In 2002 Wielicki issued his Winter Manifesto (manifest zimowy), challenging a new generation of Polish mountaineers to summit all 8000-metre peaks unclimbed in winter: “If you could pull it off, wouldn’t it be great? Can you imagine that? All 8000 metre peaks conquered for the first time in winter, all by Poles.”

Krzysztof Wielicki (l) and Leszek Cichy (r), the first two climbers ever to reach the summit of Mount Everest in winter, pictured shortly after descending from the top.

Krzysztof Wielicki will be guest of honour at the 6th CEE Summit Gala Dinner on 29 October in Warsaw. Register: theceesummit.com

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Written by: Richard Stephens