Konyi (LÁSZLÓ VÁRKONYI): one of the most successful and most experienced Hungarian expedition mountaineers
László Várkonyi

Konyi (LÁSZLÓ VÁRKONYI) was without a doubt one of the most celebrated and most experienced Hungarian expedition alpinists in the world of mountaineering, holding the Hungarian record for climbing without bottled oxygen (in the spring of 2002 he reached 8750 metres on the normal route of Everest on the Nepal side, where he was forced to turn back due to the weather).

The year he began climbing mountains was 1971 when he was only 15 years old. He was born in 1956. Before shifting his attention to peaks that were eight thousand meters in height, he travelled through the High Tatras, the Caucasus, the Pamir, the Andes, and the Tian Shan-t as well. There were three eight-thousanders that he participated in excursions to, and he reached the peak of two of them.

“I hope I’ll be able to sing ‘there’s nothing above me but clear skies’”

This is how László Várkonyi bid farewell to his friends and family in a telegram that he sent before departure for Everest. In a phone call that he made a week ago from Base Camp, which is located at 5,300 meters on Mount Everest, he stated that he would be absent for a period of time.
He was a humble man who would gently refuse the label “conquered” despite the fact that he had scaled numerous peaks that were 7000 meters or 8000 meters in height. In total, he had travelled to Everest, the highest mountain in the planet, eight times. At this point, after his ninth effort, he continues to remain there indefinitely. Konyi was the only Hungarian to have successfully climbed to an altitude of 8750 meters without the need of any additional oxygen. He did not want to make use of the cylinders since, in his opinion, doing so would be in direct opposition to his conception of what clean climbing ought to be. Konyi was a fortunate individual in many respects, as he possessed several extremely uncommon genetic abilities. Most notably, he was able to endure several days in a row at an altitude of 8600 meters, which is commonly referred to as the “death zone.” For example, when his climbing partner, Dávid Klein, decided to head back down the mountain two years ago, he remained alone at an altitude of 8,600 meters for two days since he was confident that he had a chance of reaching the peak. He had an extraordinarily sensitive intuition when it came to interpreting changes in the weather, snow conditions, and terrain, and he eventually came to the conclusion that a safe return could not be guaranteed if he was trying to reach the peak.

It is highly likely that he is the only Hungarian mountaineer who has tackled Chomolungma on many occasions by himself. He traveled 120 kilometers on foot from Kathmandu to a destination in three days while carrying a rucksack that weighed fifty kilograms. The news of this even went among the Sherpas. When he arrived to Everest base camp, where members of a one-of-a-kind multinational society congregate, he was known for his legendary reputation. Among the guys, Konyi was regarded as one of the most formidable. He worked as a climber for thirty-five years, during which time he had the opportunity to meet all of the renowned mountaineers. It was his personal acquaintance that Messner, Kammerlander, and Piotrowski were.

If he had gone to Everest by himself, he would not have been able to pack enough food. On the other hand, the year before, he had hidden in a crevasse the leftover goods from an earlier excursion. These included 1.5 tons of ham and other canned foods, in addition to three hundred meters of rope. The meticulously concealed food stockpiles served as the assurance that the mission would be successful. It was a month-long endeavor that he himself would not have been able to complete on his own. Despite the fact that he was not going to be able to reach the peak, he was able to reach the bottom of the second step, which was located at an elevation of 8600 meters. He spent two days on Everest, which is located at an altitude of 7,800 meters, by himself. Because there was such a large amount of snow, there was no one else in the area around the summit. Throughout his entire life, he had the habit of claiming that he had never experienced fear or terror while in the mountains. With the exception of one instance, he had never actually been in danger up until that point. After reaching the summit on his own, he was descending Huascaran in Peru at daybreak. At a height of four thousand meters, he was followed by a pack of approximately forty dogs that were growling. In order to prevent the dogs from attacking him, Konyi juggled an ice axe and a stone at the same time.

In the year 2009, the stove of a partner on Mont Blanc did not have a petroleum tank that could operate. The fact that it was 90 kg of pure muscle did not prevent anyone, not even an oarsman, from opening it. After gaining possession of the bottle, Konyi vanished. When he came back and handed it to me, not even a minute had gone since he had disappeared. in order for me to receive all of the praise. It broke open. Without a doubt, it did, because before to handing it over to me, he had constructed a clamp out of slings that had previously opened the bottle.

In order to gain an understanding of the inner workings of these devices, he disassembled everything down to the tiniest component. He disassembled telephones and computers. Due to the fact that he was talented in soldering and mending items, he was the person who was responsible for taking generators to be repaired when he arrived at Everest base camp. He was able to repair battery chargers, weld, and even put together pieces of shattered plastic or metal using “technical stitches” while he was at the rehabilitation center. All of the technologies were familiar to him, and he was capable of tinkering with incredible things. He has the capability of producing carbon shoes by combining glue and carbon fiber, in the event that it is necessary.

It was in 2008, on Venediger in Austria, that somebody fell down in the Neue Prager Hütte while attempting to transfer Konyi’s famous enormous and tattered knapsack that was thirty years old. The owner of the forty to fifty kilogram gear, on the other hand, arrived and left in a sophisticated manner while wearing his pack, which always concealed an additional pair of gloves or an additional ice axe without making the least effort.

When we went spelunking, also known as caving, he would bring a headlamp with him and begin to inspect the cave in great detail the night before. He would make sure that the ropes were properly set up and that the stones were arranged in order to assure our safety. Those who embarked on the journey to the mountains with him may have a sense of safety. He embodied the concept of safety. The simple sound of his voice tranquilized everything and everyone.

When we had been walking for eighteen hours and everyone was on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion, he would also carry a partner’s backpack while telling story after story in the pouring rain in order to cheer us up.

At the age of fifteen, he repaired a lacquered luggage that was mounted on a frame and then embarked on a mountain climbing journey in the Tatras. There was a high cost associated with storing baggage at the train station, and in addition to that, it was closed during the day and night. As a result, he hung the luggage from a tree and built his food store there. He proceeded higher after concealing the suitcase that was full with food beneath the vegetation. After ten years, the luggage was still in the same location. When he arrived in the mountains, he was greeted by a group of Czech climbers who took him under their wing and instructed him on how to climb.

Afterwards, he went back to his house after climbing for a short while with them. Even when he was living in his house in Budapest, which was stuffed to the brim with “junk,” he continued to reside in the highlands over the course of the entire time. To tell you the truth, there is not a single electronic device that he did not have at home, and he frequently had two of them. Because he was disobedient to the city’s regulations, he was frequently issued tickets. There were times when he would forget to turn on the headlights of the car since he would not use a light when the moon was full and he had perfect vision. After he had finished a mountain track and committed all of the rocks and landmarks to memory, he was able to “blindly” follow it again at any time, under the cover of darkness if it was necessary. This was also what helped him return from the mountains as frequently as possible, even when there was fog or winds of up to 100 kilometers per hour.

When it came to Konyi, time seemed to have stopped for him someplace. He was definitely “a man of a bygone age.” However, this does not imply that he had not been keeping up with what was going on in the world, as evidenced by the fact that he possessed an extraordinarily broad domain of knowledge. Whether it be about astronomy, geology, or nuclear physics, it would be extremely difficult to ask him a question that he would not be able to answer. When it came to the internet, however, he was in a difficult situation. And he had no interest in typing. This poem, on the other hand, was written by him before he embarked on his final journey to Everest.

What does it mean a standstill river
What’s a lake that fails to quiver
And the wind that doesn’t blow
It means they live no more
Like a motion that has stopped in the air
Like a road that never leads anywhere
Like a waterfall that dies in the frost
If I don’t go I am lost
I’d be the grass that grows everywhere
For your breath how I would be the fresh air
I’d be the word to get to you alone
A guiding hand when you’re old
Were I a dance that spins round and round
The heart of the Earth would start to pound
In this heart let I be the blood
Who always moves and never stops

Notable Expeditions

László Várkonyi, known as Konyi, participated in several major expeditions throughout his mountaineering career:

  1. 1978 Caucasus expedition – Successfully summited Elbrus (5642 m) and multiple other peaks above 4000 meters.
  2. 1981 Peak Lenin (7137 m) – Reached the summit.
  3. 1982 Mongolia expedition – Accomplished a successful traverse of four peaks above 4000 meters in the Mönch Hairchan Mountains.
  4. 1983 International Pamir Camp – Crossed the Communism plateau to Dushanbe at approximately 6500 meters.
  5. 1984 Aconcagua (6989 m) – Achieved the first Hungarian ascent of the mountain.
  6. 1987 Andes expedition – Successfully summited five peaks ranging from 5800 to 6800 meters, marking the first Hungarian ascents.
  7. 1987 Shisha Pangma (8014 m) – Climbed to the summit, becoming the first Hungarian to summit an eight-thousander.
  8. 1990 Cho Oyu (8201 m) – Reached the summit.
  9. 1996 Mount Everest (8850 m) – Climbed to Camp 2 on the Northern side without supplementary oxygen, reaching 7800 meters.
  10. 1999 Mount Everest – Reached 8650 meters.
  11. 2000 Mount Everest – Reached 8400 meters.
  12. 2001 Mount Everest – Everest-Lhotse expedition – Attempted a new variation of a route on the rarely climbed East Face of Everest but turned back due to avalanche risk.
  13. 2002 Mount Everest – Set the Hungarian record for climbing without supplementary oxygen by reaching 8750 meters on the normal route in Nepal.
  14. 2003 Gasherbrum II (8035 m) – Reached 8005 meters without supplementary oxygen.
  15. 2007 Mount Everest – Climbed to 8600 meters without supplementary oxygen on the North Ridge in Tibet.
  16. 2008 Mount Everest (from Nepal) – Reached 7950 meters, the South Col, without supplementary oxygen despite climbing restrictions due to the Olympic Torch relay.
  17. 2010 Mount Everest – Involved in an accident caused by a collapsing serac, resulting in the death of two climbers.

Konyi was also a mountaineering trainer and alpine instructor, receiving awards such as the Ödön Téry medal, The Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary, and the Sports Medal of Merit in gold. He is survived by his wife, Bea, an accomplished climber, and their two children.


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