Monday 30 September 2013

Freedom Climbers

Bernadette McDonald is certainly one of the finest writers today on mountain literature which she has proven when first she wrote Tomaz Humar and then Freedom Climbers both of which deservedly won the Boardman Tasker Prize as well as the Grand Prize Winner of the Banff Mountain Book Festival.

The book is about the golden age of Polish Climbers who despite the oppression during the World War II and then under the suppression of communism proved themselves to be the best in the world in the 80’s and 90’s. By the time the Polish climbers started climbing outside Poland most of the bigger and famous mountains had already been climbed by the British, French, and Germans etc. So the Polish climbers excelled themselves in either climbing by new and difficult routes or climbed the high mountains in winters! The Polish climbers gave alpinism a new meaning to the climbs in the Himalayas.

The book should not be considered as a definitive history of Polish Himalayan climbing. The author has concentrated on certain personalities and specific climbs instead of cramming everything in one book and that is what makes the book very readable.

Freedom Climbers mainly covers the lives of the legendary Voytek Kurtkya, who proved that it is possible to climb difficult routes on big mountains in small teams. His climbs included 13 great faces in the Himalaya, six of which were 8000ers; Wanda Ruckiewicz who was the first Polish and the first European woman to climb Everest, she died climbing on the Kanchenjunga; Jerzy Kukkza who was the second person after Reinhold Messner to climb all 14 eight thousanders. But his climbs were considered better than Messner as most of these were either first climbs on new routes or were winter ascents! He died climbing on the Lhotse.

The book also delves on the climbs of Krzysztof (who climbed Broad peak in just 22 hours - fastest climb of an 8 thousander and the first one day ascent) and was the fifth person to climb all fourteen 8000ers after Messner, Jerzy Kuckza, Erhard Loretan and Carlos Corsolio.

Polish climbers proved to be a creative lot and devised a system of ‘trade’ during the communist rule. The items like food and climbing equipment that they got cheap in Poland were sold during the expeditions which fetched them a higher price and from that money either they brought other equipment not available to them or towards payment for their next international expeditions.

The Freedom Climbers by Bernadette McDonald, like Tomaz Humar, is definitely a book not to be missed by all mountaineers as well as persons interested in mountain literature.

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