2022 – The Year of Wanda Rutkiewicz
One of the patrons of the year 2022 is Wanda Rutkiewicz, an outstanding Polish Himalayan climber, one of the most outstanding Himalayan climbers in the world, who was the third woman in the world and the first European to climb Mount Everest, and the first woman to conquer K2. This year it will be 30 years since her death.
Wanda Rutkiewicz spent her childhood and youth in Wrocław. Since childhood she showed interest in sport, and her love for mountains was aroused by her expedition to the Rudawy Janowickie range during her studies. She experienced then extraordinary feelings, which she described in her book “On one rope”: “fear and joy of overcoming it, concentration and determination, freedom from gravity, an unusually strong contact with nature, with a piece of rock, which was my support”.
After completing a mountaineering course, she bravely made her way into the world of male climbers, often being told that “women are not fit for it, because they are weaker”. She overcame barriers and became a precursor of women’s mountain teams because she did not accept that talented female mountaineers “were only brooches in men’s expeditions”. She impressed with her strength, physical fitness and extraordinary intelligence. The outstanding Himalayan mountaineer Andrzej Zawada admitted years later: “none of us realized that this calm, a bit like from another era girl has an iron character, enormous willpower and can be extremely disciplined in action”.
In the mountains she felt freedom, as her words remind us: “And we on the summit, through effort and fatigue purified and free, at least for a moment we become a part of nature”. She treated mountains as a space of exceptional rivalry, she longed for victories over them. She won battles in the Tatras, the Alps, the Andes, the Pamir, the Hindu Kush, the Himalayas, often these were the first female ascents.
On 16 October 1978, she conquered Mount Everest. She was the first person from Poland and the third woman in the world to stand on the highest peak of the Earth. On the same day, Karol Wojtyła became the Pope. A year later, during his visit to Poland John Paul II said to Wanda Rutkiewicz: “Good God wanted it so, that on the same day we climbed so high”. She was the first woman in the world to stand on the most challenging peak, K2.
The competition with the mountains was connected with a huge risk, without which she could not live. Mountains were her world, they allowed for unique intellectual and aesthetic experiences, as she considered climbing as a creative activity. Rutkiewicz created exceptional works. She gained fame, her achievements were known all over the world. She called the fight to conquer the eight-thousanders “The caravan to the dreams”, because she believed that it was possible “to push through something that seems to be possible only in dreams”. Her fantastic sporting achievements aroused admiration, and she was also charming and had an extraordinary gift of talking about mountains.
We asked experts from the University of Wrocław about the outstanding Himalayan mountaineer.
Dr Marek Kasprzak from the Institute of Geography and Regional Development of the University of Wrocław says: Wanda Rutkiewicz is an incredible figure and very meritorious for the development of Polish Himalayan mountaineering, as well as for the climbing community in Wrocław, where she grew up and lived. Her adventure with mountains began in the Sudetes, climbing in Sokoliki. Naturally, she got to the Tatra Mountains, where she obtained mountaineering qualifications, she also climbed caves, then she conquered Alpine summits, her ascents were often the first women’s ascents. Her appetite grew with her abilities. She traveled around the world and climbed the highest mountains in the world, including eight-thousanders in the Himalayas and Karakorum. She had the aptitude for it. She trained in sports, was a volleyball player, and played in the 1st league, these predispositions were physical and mental.
What are those features?
Dr Joanna Krawczyk from the Institute of Psychology UWr answers: Many psychological aspects allow for mountain activity. Not every person goes to the Himalayas. These are such mountains which are not connected with one-day expeditions. People who do this professionally have specific characteristics. Individual factors come into play, but common traits include ambition, stubbornness, perseverance, goal pursuit, motivation, patience, and increased resistance to stress. But they are also people who have more tendency to take a risk and need more stimulation.
Translated by Agnieszka Borgul (student of English Studies at the University of Wrocław) as part of the translation practice.