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EBOOK AVAILABLE

BERNADETTE MCDONALD is the author of ten

Art of Freedom explores the fascinating complexity of Voytek Kurtyka, an alpinist who was driven by aesthetics and by style to achieve some of the most notable ascents …

mountaineering books, including the multi-award-

SIR CHRIS BONINGTON, ALPINIST, AUTHOR OF I CHOSE TO CLIMB AND MOUNTAINEER

winning Freedom Climbers (2011). Among its international awards, Freedom Climbers won the Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Book Festival, the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature and the American Alpine Club’s H. Adams Carter Literary Award. Her other mountaineering titles include Tomaž Humar (2008), Brotherhood of the Rope: The Biography of Charles Houston (2007), Keeper of the Mountains: The Elizabeth Hawley Story (2012) and Alpine Warriors (2015). McDonald’s books have been translated into eight languages, and her international awards include Italy’s ITAS Prize (2010) and India’s Kekoo Naoroji Award for Mountain Literature (2008, 2009 and 2011). (2010), the Summit of Excellence Award (2007) and the King Albert Award for international leadership in mountain culture and environment (2006). She was the founding vice-president of Mountain Culture at the Banff Centre and served as director of the Banff mountain festivals from 1988 to 2006.

JIM PERRIN, AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR OF SHIPTON AND TILMAN

Voytek Kurtyka is a legend … Here, for the first time, we have full access to his travails and his musings. An absolute gem of a book. STEVE HOUSE, ALPINIST, AUTHOR OF BEYOND THE MOUNTAIN

It’s no exaggeration for me to say that Bernadette McDonald’s Art of Freedom is among the most eagerly anticipated mountaineering books of the decade – a work by one of the most respected writers in the genre about one of climbing’s greatest legends. KATIE IVES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, ALPINIST MAGAZINE

Bernadette McDonald has crafted a masterpiece in this biography of the dazzling and enigmatic genius of alpinism that is Voytek Kurtyka. DAVID ROBERTS, AWARD-WINNING MOUNTAINEERING AUTHOR

Regardless of your background, from the armchair to the alpine suffer artist, there is something that will resonate with being human, living by your ideals and enjoying life in its purest form. CONRAD ANKER, ALPINIST

With the accuracy of a musician and the sensitivity of a writer, Bernadette McDonald unveils the myth of the great Voytek. SILVO KARO, ALPINIST

Wonderfully strange, muscular, poetic at heart and brimming with curiosity, Art of Freedom portrays the towering but intensely reclusive Polish mountaineer Voytek Kurtyka. JEFF LONG, AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR OF THE DESCENT

Voytek taught us that the style by which one climbs a mountain is what it’s all about, and the summit is merely a stop along the way. Front cover image: Voytek Kurtyka on Lhotse, autumn–winter 1974/1975 expedition. Tadeusz Piotrowski/Danuta Piotrowska archive. Vertebrate Publishing, Sheffield – www.v-publishing.co.uk

014a Art of Freedom_OFC_PB_update.indd 1

GREG CHILD, ALPINIST

Bernadette McDonald

She has also received the Alberta Order of Excellence

Climbing legends don’t come more legendary than Voytek Kurtyka, nor their biographers more diligent, stylish and informed than Bernadette McDonald. This book is her best yet …

ART OF FREEDOM

ISBN 9 7 8 1 9 1 1 3 4 2 5 2 6

9 781911 342526 >

Art of Freedom

Bernadette McDonald Award-winning author of Freedom Climbers

Art of

Freedom

VOYTEK KURTYKA is one of the greatest alpinists of all time. Born in 1947, he was one of the leading lights of the Polish golden age of mountaineering that redefined Himalayan climbing in the 1970s and 1980s. His visionary approach to climbing resulted in many renowned ascents, such as the complete Broad Peak traverse, the ‘night-naked’ speed climbs of Cho Oyu and Shishapangma and, above all, the alpine-style first ascent of the West Face of Gasherbrum IV. Dubbed the ‘climb of the century’, his route on GIV with the Austrian Robert Schauer is – as of 2017 – unrepeated. His most frequent climbing partners were alpine legends of their time: Polish Himalayan giant Jerzy Kukuczka, Swiss mountain guide Erhard Loretan and British alpinist Alex MacIntyre. After repeated requests to accept the Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award (the Oscars of the climbing world), Kurtyka finally accepted the honour in the spring of 2016. A fiercely private individual, he has declined countless invitations for interviews, lectures and festival appearances, but he has agreed to collaborate with internationally renowned and award-winning author Bernadette McDonald on this long-awaited biography. Art of Freedom is a profound and moving profile of one of the international climbing world’s most respected,

The Life and Climbs of

complex and reclusive mountaineers.

Voytek Kurtyka

‘An absolute gem of a book.’ STEVE HOUSE

£14.95

10/07/2017 13:52


This biography of the enigmatic Voytek Kurtyka is intimate and poised, revealing much that we did not know about Kurtyka, but never dispelling the mystery that surrounds him. JOHN PORTER, AUTHOR OF ONE DAY AS A TIGER

Voytek Kurtyka is an artist and his art is alpinism. BARRY BLANCHARD, AUTHOR OF THE CALLING

McDonald pulls no punches in sharing her insights into Kurtyka’s complicated relationships with partners, the law, climbing goals, risk and lifestyle, resulting in a picture of a truly remarkable man. DAVID CHAUNDY-SMART, FOUNDING EDITOR OF GRIPPED AND AUTHOR OF A YOUTH WASTED CLIMBING


Bernadette McDonald

Art of

Freedom The Life and Climbs of

Voytek Kurtyka

Vertebrate Publishing, Sheffield. www.v-publishing.co.uk


Bernadette McDonald

Art of

Freedom First published in the UK and Ireland in 2017 by Vertebrate Publishing, under licence from Rocky Mountain Books, Canada. Vertebrate Publishing Crescent House, 228 Psalter Lane, Sheffield S11 8UT UK. www.v-publishing.co.uk Copyright © Bernadette McDonald 2017. Front cover: Voytek Kurtyka on Lhotse, autumn–winter 1974/1975 expedition. Photo: Tadeusz Piotrowski/Danuta Piotrowska archive. Individual photography as credited. Bernadette McDonald has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as author of this work. This book is a work of non-fiction based on the life of Voytek Kurtyka. The author has stated to the publishers that, except in such minor respects not affecting the substantial accuracy of the work, the contents of the book are true. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: 978-1-911342-51-9 (Hardback) ISBN: 978-1-911342-52-6 (Paperback) ISBN: 978-1-911342-58-8 (Ebook) 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 All rights reserved. No part of this work covered by the copyright hereon may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means – graphic, electronic, or mechanised, including photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems – without the written permission of the publisher. Every effort has been made to obtain the necessary permissions with reference to copyright material, both illustrative and quoted. We apologise for any omissions in this respect and will be pleased to make the appropriate acknowledgements in any future edition.  over design and production of this UK edition by Nathan Ryder, Ryder Design – www.ryderdesign.studio C Based on an original design by Chyla Cardinal, Rocky Mountain Books – www.rmbooks.com Vertebrate Publishing is committed to printing on paper from sustainable sources.

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Printed and bound in the UK by T. J. International Ltd, Padstow, Cornwall.


Contents Introduction ................................................................... 7

One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve Thirteen Fourteen Fifteen Sixteen Epilogue

Rock Animal .. ............................................................... 13 Alpinist in Training ............................................. 25 Hindu Kush – Unleashed ............................ 39 Troll Wall ........................................................................ 49 Bandaka – The Mordor Beauty .. ............ 61 Hungry for Hunger ............................................. 75 Dancing in the Moment ................................ 87 Enfant Terrible .. ..................................................... 105 Line Against the Sky ......................................... 121 The Shining Wall .................................................. 133 Fork in the Road .................................................. 149 Trango Tower ........................................................... 163 Night Naked .............................................................. 183 Dance of the Underclings . . ....................... 199 Chinese Maharaja ............................................. 209 Metaphysical Think Tank .. ......................... 219 The Crux ........................................................................ 233

Appendix Chronology of Selected Climbs ....... 238 Acknowledgements ........................................ 242 Notes ................................................................................ 245 Select Bibliography and Sources . . ... 249 Index .................................................................................. 253


Introduction Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ANATOLI BOUKREEV, THE CLIMB

One is fruitful only at the cost of being rich in contradictions. FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, TWILIGHT OF THE IDOLS

Voytek Kurtyka rose early. After brewing a coffee, he wandered over to the window to watch the dawn sky come alive. When the pastel hues faded to the colour of pearls, he moved to his desk. As usual, there were emails from suppliers and some problems with Polish customs that he would have to deal with later in the day. There were a couple of enquiries from climbers about route information and an unexpected message from someone named Christian Trommsdorff. “We would like to invite you as a jury member for the Piolets d’Or [Golden Ice Axes] event in Chamonix, April 22 to 25, 2009.” Known as the Oscars of the mountaineering world, the annual Piolets d’Or recognise the boldest, most innovative alpine climbs, as well as lifetime achievement in climbing. Christian Trommsdorff, a Chamonix mountain guide and chairman of the awards committee, wanted Voytek – one of the most respected alpinists of all time  – to help choose the best climbs. He couldn’t have anticipated Voytek’s response. Hearty thanks for your invitation au jury du Piolets d’Or. I’m sorry I can’t take part in it … I understand the world is suspended on a monstrous structure of wild competition and, consequently, of awards and distinction. But this structure is an enemy of true art. Where awards and distinction rule, true art ends. I sincerely believe that climbing can elevate the climber to physical and mental well-being and to wisdom, but awards and distinction elevate the climber to


vanity and egocentricity. Taking part in the game … is dangerous for the climber. I’m not ready to take part in this game and I can’t accept your offer. Apart from his philosophical discomfort with the “game”, Voytek was baffled by the prospect of ranking climbs in a “monstrous, wild competition”. How could anyone compare the traverse of Makalu by French alpinist Pierre Béghin with the forty-day solo ascent of Trango Tower by Japanese climber Takeyasu Minamiura? Or Krzysztof Wielicki’s winter ascent of Everest with Erhard Loretan’s “night-naked” climb of the same mountain? It seemed absurd to rank the pioneering spirit of Reinhold Messner against the superhuman stamina of Jerzy Kukuczka. According to Voytek, “This exercise made as much sense as asking which was better, sex or Christmas”. Voytek maintained that alpinism was far too complex to rank and compare. There were so many facets: aesthetic, physical, metaphysical, logistical, imaginative. And there was so much suffering. How could you measure the suffering of climbers? “The pressure of the media to create (for their own use) a number one star is an attempt to reduce alpinists to one dimension,” he said in his response. “And it means the degradation of climbing.” Christian laughs when he recalls the strongly worded email, but he wasn’t discouraged by it. The following year he wrote an even bolder letter, this time asking Voytek to accept the Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award. Once again, Voytek responded. Hello Christian, This is a devilish offer. I always had a sense of escaping to the mountains from everyday social bullshit, and now you propose to me to take part in it. I was always escaping to the mountains to find encouraging proof that I’m free from the social bonds of award and distinction, and now you offer it to me. I always ran to the mountains with the great expectation that I could elevate myself above my human weaknesses, and now you try to put on me the most dangerous one: the illusion that I am a person of distinction. My entire life is a struggle with that illusion. I’m very conscious that the desire for awards and distinction is the greatest trap of our ego and a proof of vanity. I’m sorry I can’t take part in it. I can’t accept the Piolets d’Or. To be frank, in my heart I’m very worried because in rejecting your award I might

8   art of freedom


be driven by … you know what? Unfortunately, also by vanity. Don’t even try to honour me. Climbers possess an exceptional awareness of freedom, and I hope you will understand my uneasiness in the face of such a great honour. It’s not just climbers who face this discomfort: poets do as well. Leonard Cohen wrote about his reluctance to accept a Canadian award recognising his lifetime work: “One of the reasons one avoids these things is because they summon some really deep emotional responses … this happens to an artist or a writer very rarely, where you have in front of you the unconditional acceptance of your work.” But Leonard Cohen did eventually accept, later telling the audience, “We shuffle behind our songs into the Hall of Fame”.1 Christian was nothing if not stubborn. It’s possible he thought that Voytek was just being coy. It was worth another try. In 2010 he sent a third letter, again offering the Lifetime Achievement Award. Voytek was confused. Had he not been clear? In his response, he tried to be more emphatic. Dear Christian, O dear, this is an impossible offer for me. I would have to go totally against myself … I admit that I … desire the friendliness and love of people but I fear very much their admiration. I humbly confess that I’m proud like a peacock when I’m admired, but exactly for that reason I can’t accept great awards … These awards border on blasphemy. Would you publicly award a hermit for years of spiritual practice? We are not hermits, but our experiences are sometimes close to a sort of enlightenment that changes our life … I want to preserve those precious moments unspoiled. I can’t trade these moments for public honours … Christian, I’m sincerely grateful for your offer and I’m ashamed not to be able to accept it. With friendship, Voy What Voytek didn’t know was that Christian was not alone in this all-out effort to award him the prize. The most respected alpinists in the world were puzzled that Voytek had not yet received this recognition, and they were pressing the Piolets committee to rectify the situation. In 2012 Christian wrote still another letter, offering the award. Voytek lost his patience.

Introduction   9


Dear Christian, Sorry. NO NO! I will not be talking about Piolets d’Or any more. I gave you my reasons. Don’t try to make me an idiot … Voy What kind of individual would repeatedly refuse the ultimate sign of respect from his peers? After all, the Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award is not determined by movie producers, politicians or alpine club presidents. It’s a recognition of alpinists by alpinists. Yet Voytek refused it because he claimed to want to avoid the trap of public admiration. His attitude seemed both admirable and ungracious at the same time. It was certainly intriguing, for it is hard to imagine a worthier recipient of the award. Voytek Kurtyka changed the trajectory of Himalayan climbing in the 1970s by proving it was possible to climb difficult routes with small teams on the highest mountains in the world. His record includes eleven great walls in the Hindu Kush, the Himalaya and the Karakoram, six of which are 8,000-metre peaks. Almost from his first contact with rock, his first glimpse of a mountain, Voytek took an idiosyncratic approach to climbing. At a time when most Himalayan climbers were approaching the mountains in traditional expedition style, he was climbing them in alpine style – or unleashed, as he called it. When alpine-style climbing in the Greater Ranges became the norm, he had moved on to one-day ascents and multiple 8,000ers in one trip. When he began free climbing former aid routes in Poland, he developed a new grading system to more accurately represent the level of difficulty, one that is still used today. While other Polish climbers were pushing the standards of rock climbing using ropes and racks, he was free-soloing their hardest routes. His style was visionary, and he always remained true to his vision. He refused to compromise his values for a summit. Even on K2, the mountain of his dreams, Voytek gave the summit a miss rather than climb it by a route that didn’t interest him. His approach was never one-dimensional. While he embraced the physical, athletic side of climbing, he was equally fascinated with the cerebral challenge, the constant decision making, problem solving and strategising that it demanded. Even more important to Voytek was the aesthetic aspect of alpinism, which, on some ascents, approached a spiritual level. He was an

10   art of freedom


ambitious climber, drawn to huge icy faces, technical rock walls and unbroken, high-altitude traverses. He had an eye for beauty and a hunger for boldness as he traced new lines on those bewitching peaks. He said: “Beauty is the door to another world.”2 I remember our first meeting in 2010, when he agreed to an interview for a book I was writing about Polish climbers.3 I was wary because of his reputation for avoiding the mountaineering community, particularly journalists. Yet he seemed polite and willing, even friendly, as he offered me cup after cup of (instant) coffee in his apartment and talked for hours about his climbs. We kept in touch, and I eventually suggested writing his biography. Many more cups of coffee followed (now from a shiny new espresso machine), together with days of poring over photos and journals. Now, as he celebrates his seventieth year, Voytek appears an elegant man, courteous and formal. Trim and slim and rather small, he is shockingly strong. Yet he moves almost weightlessly. He is intensely private, even shy. He is deliberate about his words, his actions and his thoughts, a self-admitted perfectionist. He is ruthlessly self-disciplined but can sometimes be as spontaneous as a child. He thinks deeply, but his sense of humour is never far from the surface. He is admired by the world, yet what he values most is friendship. A bundle of contradictions. As I would discover during our many hours of conversation, there is an intensity and power about him that can be unsettling. The challenge in writing the story of Voytek Kurtyka was not in collecting the essential details of his life or in presenting them in a logical sequence. The real challenge was to give shape and meaning to those facts in a way that revealed the core values by which he lives, all of which revolve around freedom. Remembering is also an act of the imagination, a malleable and imperfect activity. For Voytek, recalling those important moments that occurred years ago, even decades ago, was selective. At times, his memories seemed to be movable feasts. And finding the truth – the essence – of those memories was the key to understanding his character. Seven years later, as this book is about to be published, the journey of discovery has reached a resting point along the way – a literary bivouac on Voytek’s path in pursuit of the art of freedom.

Introduction   11

Profile for Vertebrate Publishing

Art of Freedom – Sample Chapter  

A short sample section from Bernadette McDonald's new book Art of Freedom, the biography of legendary alpinist Voytek Kurtyka. More informat...

Art of Freedom – Sample Chapter  

A short sample section from Bernadette McDonald's new book Art of Freedom, the biography of legendary alpinist Voytek Kurtyka. More informat...

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