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Scaling the K2 in full winter: Fr. Krzysztof, priest-mountaineer, roots for the Polish climbers

To date nobody has ever reached the Eight-thousand-Mt. peak of the Karakorum Range in full winter. It’s the goal of a team of Polish climbers, which, on the way, rescued a group of mountaineers from a dangerous slope. We spoke about it with the parish priest of Cieszyn Krasna, who in the past was among the courageous expert explorers of the Alps, Andes, and of mountain peaks in Africa and Asia

Don Krzysztof Gardyna in cima al Gasherbrum II (8035 m) nel 1997


Nobody has ever reached the peak of the K2 mountain (8611 meters), in the Karakorum Range of the Himalaya, in winter. The second-highest mountain in the world after the Everest was climbed for the first time in July 1954 by Italian mountaineers Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli, members of the expedition led by Ardito Desio. Since then many explorers have tried to climb the peak in winter months, but unsuccessfully. Now it’s the turn of a Polish group of 13 climbers led by Krzysztof Wielicki, 68. The group left from Warsaw past December 29. They have three months to meet their challenge. “The greatest difficulty of climbing the K2 is posed by the weather”, Father Krzysztof Gardyna, 60-year-old parish priest of Cieszyn Krasna, told SIR. The priest is an expert in this field: in fact in the past he was a climber of the Alps, Andes, of mountain peaks in Africa (Kilimanjaro in 2000), the Australian Alps and of the same Himalaya Range. He was the first mountain climber to conquer the summit of the KR-8 (6156 m, in 1994) and, four years later, of the Urusvati (6200 m). Low winter temperatures and cold winds can make it impossible to climb – and, while waiting for weather conditions to improve – force mountaineers to burn their energies in the base camp. The expedition resumed the attempt to conquer the K2 in winter on Monday January 29, when four members of the team (Denis Urubko, from Russia, and three Polish climbers Adam Bielecki, Jaroslaw Botor and Piotr Tomala) took part in the rescue operations on Nanga Parbat (some 100 km distance with the support of helicopters) of a French mountaineer, Elisabeth Revol. Polish climber Tomek Mackiewicz, who was climbing with Revol,  is still missing.

Technically the K2 is considered the most difficult mountain of the Karakorum Range. What are its objective difficulties?  Tiredness is the greatest problem. At high-altitude the human body regenerates very slowly and recovering after a strong effort, like the attempt to climb a steep slope, could be impossible. The group of K2 climbers will either be lucky enough and have good weather with enough energy to attempt to reach the summit or else they will have to give up. But it should be remembered that it’s not only a question of climbing up to the peak. It’s even more important to ensure a safe descent. I hope my colleagues will take the best decisions and that they will all make a safe return home, regardless of whether they will have reached the peak.

Having climbed the 8.035 Mt of the Gasherbrum II, you are familiar with the dangers and the difficulties posed by such altitudes. Don’t you think that climbers expose themselves to senseless risks? 
In life, dangers cannot be avoided. The ability to face a sustainable risk is the driver of human development, found in the intimation “fill the earth and subdue it”. If Abraham had not risked and had not trusted God’s word he would not have become the “father of all believers.Risks are part of human life, so it’s important to be able to face them in a sensible way.

Climbing the highest mountain peaks is motivated by vanity, obedience, or by the curiosity to know the work of God? 
These motivations are all equally valid. In my case, curiosity represents 75%, vanity 20% considering that ego plays an important role in each one of us. The remaining 5% is obedience to the Word of God. As a priest I bore Christian witness in that small, rather closed circle of mountain climbers. But I didn’t climb the mountains to be recorded in history books.


You received your priestly ordination in 1986 but you started climbing the Tatra Mountains earlier, in 1984. In 1992 you climbed the Pamir Mountains. Is there a better view of the Skies from such altitudes? 
High mountainous areas are an image of God because “by analogy through the greatness and beauty of the creatures is contemplated their Creator.” But not even an 8-thousand-metre peak brings us closer to the Skies …

If I want to feel “closer” to the Lord I kneel down before the Blessed Sacrament

that no mountain peak can replace. I had the opportunity of celebrating the Holy Eucharist on the Gasherbrum II and on the third highest mountain in South America Nevado Pissis, 6.882 Mt. At those altitudes good air and lack of wind are needed, along with a good amount of time to descend without risks for yourself and the members of the climbing team.

You climbed the Alps, you made a solitary climbing on the Mont Blanc, you climbed the Himalaya and many other mountains. Mountaineering is still “exploration” or has it already become a commercial phenomenon? Despite the possibility of exploring are increasingly limited, we must remember that already 100 years ago it was said that the era of mountain-climbing had ended. However, given the ongoing development of technology and human skills, I think that the era of mountain-climbing is far from over. If the Polish team should succeed to climb the K2 in full winter they will complete an era. But it will be always possible to climb those mountains. Everyone knows the names of the first Everest climbers, and perhaps also the names of the two Polish mountaineers Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy, the first to climb it in winter, but I think that nobody knows the name of the one-thousandth climber of the world’s highest mountain peak. Nonetheless, I think that this in no way lessens their satisfaction. I would also be very happy if I could climb the Everest, even if I were the 5.362nd person to reach the summit! Moreover, those who take part in organized excursions, described as “commercial”, should not be blamed. They should not be stripped of the joy of accomplishing their dream.

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