It was the winter of 1988 when Maciej Berbeka decided to scale the Broad Peak for the first winter summit. Young and agile, brimming with confidence, he was able to reach 8,000 m on the jagged granite structure but had to retreat due to impending weather conditions.
That eventful day was March 6th, 1988.
25 years later, he overpowered his nemesis and successfully reached the top of the mountain in the late hours of March 6th, 2013. Although this time around, Berbeka never made it back to the base camp.
Wielicki addressing the press conference
The accomplished mountaineer lost his way during the descent. Tired and exhausted, he probably gave into hallucinations following the silhouette of Tomasz Kowalski as per the sketch drawn by Krzysztof Wielicki who remained in contact with him on the radio.
The Polish Mountaineering team held a press conference explaining and investigating the unfortunate circumstances where the two Polish climbers lost their lives after a successful first winter summit of the Broad Peak.
“Maciej and Tomasz climbed together.” said Wielicki addressing the press conference. “It is not clear if even for a moment, they descended side by side. Maciej went down in front, and Tomasz had seen him a few times (according to what he said to Wielicki, but he was in very bad shape then, so we cannot say for sure that he have seen was Berbeka or it was just his imagination as it happens in these circumstances).”
The team further explained the circumstances of why the helicopter was not utilised for the Search and Rescue Operation as the weather conditions and the probable site of the disappearance both were out of reach for a helicopter rescue. Wielicki also elaborated the other rescue attempts which were conducted by the Pakistani High Altitude Porters (HAPs) who were part of the expedition. Karim and Shaheen reached the height of 7,700m but were not able to detect any signs of the lost climbers.
Polish Winter Expedition for the Broad Peak reached the top of the mountain after a gruesome summit assault which lasted for 12 hours. The team of four climbers started their attack at 5 O’clock in the morning of March 6th and finally made it to the top at 6 O’clock in the evening. This was their second attempt of the peak during this expedition.
The Gilkey Memorial
Kowalski was unmarried and had no family while Berbeka is survived by 14 years old Jasiek and 23 years old Franek and their mother.The Jerzy Kukuczka Polish Mountaineering Support Foundation has started to raise funds for Maciej Berbeka’s family. Those who are willing to contribute can donate through
Bank Millennium SA
ul. Stanisława Żaryna 2A
BIC/SWIFT CODE : BIGBPLPWXXX
IBAN: PL 04 1160 2202 0000 0000 5515 5611
Poles’ amazing feat of conquering the Broad Peak for the first winter ascent, has now concluded on a catastrophic note where the two missing climbers Maciej Berbeka and Tomasz Kowalski have now been officially declared as lost and dead.
Announced by the team leader Krzysztof Wielicki today from the Base Camp, the expedition has now been declared as over and the search operation for the two missing climbers has been aborted.
"Having regard to all the circumstances, the identified conditions, my experience and the history of Himalayan mountaineering, as well as knowledge of high altitude physiology and medicine, and even after additional consultations with doctors and co-organized expeditions in Poland, we must conclude that Maciej Berbeka and Tomasz Kowalski are dead." Wielicki said through an official email.
He further added, "Given the time that has elapsed since the last contact, the height at which it happened, the state in which they already were, the current appalling weather conditions and all the other factors I have decided to end the expedition."
The gigantic Polish expedition met success in the late hours of March 5th when four climbers scaled the 8,047m Broad Peak for the first time in winters, earning laurels from all over the world. Their ascent, which was smooth and trouble-free, was followed by a treacherous descent where two of the experienced climbers Kowalski and Berbeka were reported missing as the rest of the two climbing mates Artur Małek and Adam Bielecki reached camp 4 at 7400m. Later they received news that Kowalski and Berbeka bivouacked without a tent and will descend sometime later. Base Camp never heard from the missing climbers again.
On March 6th, the rescue operation kicked off as Pakistani High Altitude Porters (HAPs) Shaheen Baig and Karim Hayat started climbing the mountain in search of the descending climbers. Soon the weather completely went wayward when dense fog and continuous rain engulfed Concordia, leaving little chance of an organized S&R Operation.
Kowalski and Berbeka, like the rest of the climbers were equipped with SPOT Locator and GPS tracking devices but these gadgets have known to malfunction at such high altitudes.
Karim and Artur reached the height of 7,700m in search of the two climbers but they had to make a quick descent in face of the deteriorating weather.
The Poles have started their journey back to Skardu from where they will fly to Islamabad and later to Warsaw.
"We pack the base and began our descent down. The march through Baltoro Glacier will take about 5 days. Back to Poland occurs around March 20." Wielicki added, "Due to the lack of power sources from now on we can be in contact no more by phone or e-mail and there will not be any news from us until about March 15."
This is the second tragedy that has occurred during the winter season where three renowned climbers have laid down their lives trying to attempt the mindless.
Pakistan Explorer would like to pay tribute to these Ice Warriors for their unflinching courage and mighty hearts. We would like to extend our condolences with the aggrieved families.
It has now been confirmed that the Poles have now reached the top of the 8,047m Broad Peak in the Karakorum of Pakistan pulling yet another feather in their already blistering cap of winter summits of the 8000ers in the world.
The team, which started its summit push in the earlier hours of March 5th, made it to the top at around 1700 to 1830 local time. All four members of the attack team reached the top and are now returning to the Base Camp to be greeted by their jubilant captain Krzysztof Wielicki.
This is the second consecutive 8000er summited by the Poles after their successful bid on the Gasherbrum-1 last year. Adam Bielicki, who proved to be elementary in last year’s G-1 summit, was also part of the team who scaled the notorious Broad Peak. This was also his third Pakistani 8000er after scaling K-2 in July, and G-1 in March last year.
Pakistan Explorer would like to congratulate the Polish team for their meteoric success!
The defining moment has come for the resilient Poles who have been battering the tough conditions in the rugged Karakorums for more than two months now. After a heart-breaking retreat last month, Poles are now climbing for the final summit push which is likely to happen sometime in the early hours of March 5th.
Broad Peak seen from NW, from the expedition’s base camp. Green triangles indicate a low camp 1 and a low camp 3. Red triangles indicate the proper camps. Various line colors indicate various rope diameters. Green – 5 mm rope, Red – 6 mm rope, Blue – 7 mm rope, Yellow – tracers, Purple – running belay
This is part of the emergency ascent plan worked out by the renowned Krzysztof Wielicki who realised that this will be the last chance for the Poles to scale the 8,051 m Broad Peak if they ever want to bag another first winter 8000er.
The predictions called for a small weather window which will only open for four days, Poles started their ascent some two days back and all four members are now in Camp-4 at 7800m and according to the last reports, they have crossed the last decisive crevasse which has thwarted their summit push earlier. The weather is ok for the moment and the team probably have made it to the summit by now but there has been no official confirmation for the moment.
According to Polish Winter Mountaineering leader Artur Hajzer, the summit push kicked off at 5.15 am Local time and the team is still pushing for the peak.
Wielicki and Shaheen Baig are in the Base Camp while Karim Hayat is waiting at Camp-4 7400m for the team to return after scaling the summit.
Enjoying a meal at BC
Poles are now bracing up for the final showdown with the 8,051m Broad Peak for the first winter ascent of the mountain in the Karakorums in Pakistan. Earlier the team had to abandon their plans for the final summit push on February the 18th and while their plan was as invincible as ever, they succumbed to the wrath of the mighty Broad Peak and decided to go for the second attempt sooner than later.
“The expedition has entered its most difficult stage, i.e. making a crucial tactical decision.” explained the Polish winter expedition official website. “The next attack is probably going to be their last chance. Tomorrow’s dilemma (2nd March) reminds us of Shakespeare: To climb or not to climb? That is the question!"
For the moment, Poles are between the devil and deep sea as now they will have to come up with a workable strategy to summit the peak unless they are willing to leave the Karakorums empty-handed. The next weather window is being anticipated on March 2nd and will be the last chance for the Poles to summit the peak this year.
The team leader Krzysztof Wielicki who is coordinating and monitoring the expedition from the Base Camp, has devised a different attack this time around and will be going without a backup team like the previous attempt. The team will make the forward march as one unit.
“The participants are not willing to divide themselves into two teams. They claim that all four of them have greater chances to succeed”. said the Polish website. “Currently, they all brainstorming all possible ideas in the base camp. The leader faces a difficult task and does not intent to take part in the summit attempt”.
The weather window which is likely to start on the March 2nd will close on March 6th, providing an tight opportunity for the ambitious poles to make their final move.
There is also a chance of strong wind on March 3rd which will further test the mettle of the sturdy poles.
Wischnewski fixing his Kerosene stove
It is now more than evident that French solo climber Joel Wischnewski was more on a suicide mission than a solo attempt of the deadly Nanga Parbat in the middle of the dreaded winters in the Pakistani Himalayas.
The rescue team organised and executed by his agency has been scouring the probable route of the missing climber who last updated his blog on the 22nd of January and went for the final solo attempt of the 8,125m Nanga Parbat.
Heading for the mindless attempt
Apparently, broken-hearted Joel wanted to summit the peak for the first winter ascent of the same but being an accomplished climber himself, he was well aware of the fact that such a feat was a far-flunged idea given the absence of a backup Base Camp and a team which is an essential element for a successful winter ascent.
"When I look to the mountain, I don’t look to the summit and the way to get there," said Joel on January 22nd, "I just try to find a safe but brutal and technical way so that this experience will bring me peace."
Mohammad Ali, the head of the search operation explained their inability to continue the search operation in wake of the bad weather and is still waiting for the weather to improve so that they may continue their search.
"The last two days (21st & 22nd) the HAP's unfortunately haven't been able to go up because of the bad weather conditions. We can only wait and hope for the conditions to improve very soon." said Ali.
The legendary Mazeno ridge
But what has been the true reason behind Joel’s mindless attempt is still a mystery. Continuing with his last update over his expedition Joel had written,
"I just climb to try to heal my spirit’s wounds, and for nothing else. When I look to the mountain, I don’t look to the summit and the way to get there. I just try to find a safe but brutal and technical way so that this experience will bring me peace.
Wischnewski (without shirt) and his friends from the agency
"And I can only find this a few steps from death. Too many painful moments; love can be very destructive. The person that did not respected me, but more important did not respected the French law, should be facing up to 5 years prison and 75.000 Euros sanction taxes to the country. "I was too destroyed to defend myself on court and choose instead to transform all this pain and violent darkness into something positive and beautiful."
Diamir Face and Diamir Glacier
"I’m glad to lay here, on Nanga Parbat, and still be alive to try to make something difficult and magical. My mind is totally ready, like if I closed my eyes and let me fall in complete trust and faith. Whatever I will find, this will be nice and positive to my soul. I never reached this level of engagement before."
Nanga Parbat entertained almost half a dozen climbing teams this year who wanted to make it to the top of the ninth highest and the second deadliest peaks in the world for the first winter ascent of the same. Nanga stands as one of the only three highest mountains in the world which have never been climbed in winters.
Alex and Jose return to Camp-2
Pakistan’s rugged Karakorums may have denied a 8000er ascent this year but all has not gone in vain. Alex Txikon and Jose Fernandez have recorded the first winter ascent of the Laila Peak, when they finally made it to the summit of the 6,097m high in the late hours of February 18th.
Laila Peak-North Face
Laila Peak is considered as the “most beautiful mountain in the world” and is well known in the climbing circles for its distinct spear shaped peak and is often the prime destination of the climbers and snowboarders in summers. Located in the Hushe valley near Gondogoro Glacier, Laila Peak has allowed only seven people in all to climb all the way to the peak while many aspiring mountaineers have either snowboarded their way down or retreated due to unstable snow at the peak.
Alex and his partner narrated their story later, regarding it as the toughest mission they have ever come across in their otherwise stellar climbing career.
“We made it back to the Camp-2 at eight and a half hours and a little light from the five and a half or quarter to six. It’s been very very hard. We are exhausted. Joseph has three fingers touched and I can hardly move. It was very very hard but we are very pleased and proud of the work we have completed, with the feel of having come to one of the most beautiful and challenging summits of our lives”. said Jose.
The team made their summit push on February 11th but had to return to Base Camp due to deteriorating weather and increasing wind speeds. They made their second attempt on 18th and started their push from Camp-2. However, this time around, Ramon Portilla decided to stay back in Base Camp due to severe frostbite and Juanjo San Sebastian also stayed back due to his aching knee joint.
Alex and Jose faced some of the most difficult challenges just before making it to the top where the temperatures dropped to a painful -35 Celsius and wind speed soared to 60km/h, piercing through their gear.
Their summit push began in the early hours but difficult weather conditions and piercing wind speeds did not allow them to reach the summit until late in the afternoon.
“We arrived at four in the afternoon. It has been hard. It has been very windy, in many areas there was lot of snow and there was very difficult stretches from the technical standpoint. We had to do twelve long more than 80m. The final stretch was very infernal. The last two, we have done with snow above the chest. We got to where we could move. The GPS showed us at an altitude of 6,100m”.
The successful winter ascent of the Laila peak marks this year’s first and probably the only winter ascent in the deadly Karakorums of Pakistan.
This year’s most experienced mountaineering team, the Polish Broad Peak Winter Expedition for this year, have now retreated but insist that they have not abandoned the mission as yet.
Led by the winter specialist Krzysztof Wielicki, the team has been gaining altitude for the past several days, making deposits and establishing camps along the way to the peak. The team announced their final summit push on February 15th and started their attack on February 18th at 5 am in the morning.
The Polish Website announced the retreat and said, “Maciej Berbeka and Tomasz Kowalski have left the assault camp at 7,400 m today at 5:00 AM. At 10:00 AM due to increasing wind they decided to terminate the attack and retreat. There is a cloud - altocumulus lenticularis - over the summit that forecasts a change in weather conditions. Visibility has decreased. Maciej and Tomasz have not reached the crack at 7,820 m. At the moment two assault teams (Adam/Artur and Maciej/Tomasz) are returning to the base camp”.
There were early reports about the exact location of Karim Hayyat, one of the High
Altitude Pakistani porters who have been part of the expedition. The Polish team however, is hoping that Karim is in the Base Camp and is not ready to declare a panic for the moment.
"Probably Karim is with them, simply there's no news about him from BC, but no alarm." says Jan Komorowski.
Earlier, the team had been facing numerous gruesome challenges to reach high altitude camps and make the necessary deposits. Adam Bielecki (last year’s G-1 summiteers) and Artur Małek failed to make it through the crack at 7,820m and returned to C-3.
Polish team is one of the most experienced team visiting the rugged Karakorum this year, among several expeditions to the Nanga Parbat, the Laila Peak and the Broad Peak, many of which have already given up in face of the deadly wind and freezing temperatures. Poles are eager to bag the second consecutive first winter ascent of the remaining three 8000ers which have never been climbed before. All three of them are in Pakistan.
The Polish attempt is likely to continue in a week’s time, when they are hoping to get another weather window.
Deposit at C-2 shreded by a hungry Ibex
Apparently another mountaineer has succumbed to the merciless heights of the treacherous Nanga Parbat and reports are coming in that a rescue operation has been underway in search of the French High-Altitude snowboarder and climber Joel Wischnewski.
The solo climber was out to attempt the dreaded Rupal Face via the Trashing Valley and his last blog update came on February 6th and there has been no information regarding his location since then.
Wischnewski’s closing message on his blog read, "Moving up. The central pillar and the wall are too dry. I’m going to try the S-E pillar. I’ve got 3 days. Bye, take care and thanks for following.”
Wischnewski training with his dog and a 65-kg backup,
However, for all the missing climbers in the world of mountaineering, Wischewnski’s story is a different one. Suffering from recurring internal bleeding in his intestines, the Frenchman was apparently on a suicide mission never to return.
“Today, I’m losing blood from my intestines. It’s great… But I’m used to (luckily? or sadly?), so I can mentally handle it and this is not a problem. I take everything easy, stay positive and simple, eat rice and try to get drunk with tea. When I was losing blood 2 years ago, I could barely walk at sea level, with a constant acid feeling in my belly. Damned, what a good souvenir! xD Don’t worry about me, I would continue to climb with my intestines in my hands. I don’t care anymore. Only engagement is important”. said Wischnewski in his earlier posts.
It comes as a surprise that the government of Pakistan extended permission to him to attempt the mindless solo climb on one of the deadliest mountain on earth, without making arrangements for an anticipated rescue operation. Wischnewski’s guide and the head of the operating agency started the rescue operation on his own, following the SOPs set between the two parties.
Wischnewski with his brand new pair of snowboards
Earlier the operating agency started the lookout for the Frenchman and said,
"He had experienced problems with his satellite phone before and while picking up a spare battery in Rupal village he took extra food supplies with him. When after several days there still hadn't been any news from Joel and in order to establish contact with him, our guide Fida has gone up in the night to try and contact Joel while making light signals by flashing with a torch as had been discussed by Joel and Fida in case he couldn't be reached by phone."
Avalanche near SE couloir
Wischnewski was also suffering from acute illness as he ascended the mountain in Pure alpine style with no ropes, no O2, no fixed camps, no porters, no altitude porters, no staff. Only the mandatory Liaison Officer for security concerns. Transport approx. 150kg. 2 snowboards that he can use as a pulka for the trek.
The tour guide has launched a rescue operation on his own and is currently not being supported by the government to search for the missing climber.
Wischnewski trying to fix his Kerosene stove
The managing director of the agency further stated, "Meanwhile I have moved three highly experienced high altitude porters from Skardu (who have climbed several 8000 plus peaks and did several successful rescue mission in Baltoro region led by Kazim Sadpara the younger brother of Nisar Hussain Sadpara who disappeared along with Gerfried Goeshl and Cedric Hahlen on March 09, 2012 while climbing G 1) with full climbing equipment to reach Rupal valley as soon as possible and search for Joel on Rupal wall by climbing up to 7000 meters."
The polish attempt of the Broad Peak is taking final shape as the team is gradually closing in on the 8051 m peak which has never been scaled in winters before. Under the supervision of the renowned Krzysztof Wielicki, the team is edging up the rugged peak slowly but surely.
According to the last reports Adam Bielecki and Artur Małek have already made it to the camp-3 and will be spending the night there despite of an unfavourable weather forecast. This is part of the plan charted out by Wielicki earlier and the team is hoping to accost better weather conditions in the next few days.
For the moment, they have decided to reach and stay as high as possible fighting the unfavourable weather conditions. Wielicki is staying back in the Base Camp, guiding and coordinating with the team climbing their way up. The Poles are hoping to bag the peak somewhere in the early hours of February 18th.
“Maciej Berbeka, Tomasz Kowalski and Karim are in C2 and are going to spend a night there”. said the Polish Mountaineering official website.
“Amin and Shahin set off for a reconnaissance above C3 and at the moment are coming back, but is still is not known where they will spend a night - whether it is going to be C3 or a lower camp. Weather during the day has been extremely bad, but it has not been an obstacle to fulfill the plans; weather forecasts for tomorrow leave some hope for improvements. The plan for tomorrow includes establishing camp 4 (Adam and Artur), so that they may set off towards the peak on 18th February”.
The polish team is planning an out-of-the-box strategy where a backup team comprising of Maciej Berbeka, Tomasz Kowalski and Karim Hayyat will be waiting in Camp-2 in case the summit attempt meets a failure and a fresh contingent can replace the earlier team for a second attempt.
Broad Peak is the 12th highest mountains in the world standing at 8,051m above sea level. The mountain was first summited by an Austrian mountaineering team in the summers of 1957. It has never been climbed in winters.