WANDA RUTKIEWICZ – First woman to summit K2 and first European woman to climb Everest – The first Polish citizen to climb Mount Everest and K2

Wanda Rutkiewicz, a Polish climber of extraordinary talent, was acquainted with the concept of violent death. She was born in Lithuania in 1943, but her family quickly relocated back to Poland, and she spent her childhood in the war-torn city of Wrocław. During the time when she was five years old, her brother did not permit her to participate in a game with him and his friends that took place among the burning houses. She was overcome with emotion and fled home to her mother, who hurried out of the house but arrived too late. Every single one of the lads was killed when the bomb that they were playing with exploded.
Wanda went to school to compete in a variety of sports, including the high jump, shot put, discus, and javelin. She was both intelligent and athletic. She was chosen to be a member of the women’s volleyball squad that would compete in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, but she did not end up going. She had discovered a new passion that would ultimately determine the path that her life would take.

When she was 18 years old, a group of friends who were also students accompanied her to Husyckie Skały, a breathtaking region in southwestern Poland that is characterized by rocks, forests, and mountains. Climbing was something she discovered there:

As soon as I started climbing, I felt like I was completely consumed by the activity. What I went through was like an explosion on the inside.  Those early years of climbing were some of the best of my life. Because not many of us had access to sleeping bags, we would choose to spend the night in caves and keep ourselves warm by sitting in front of a fire. The ambience was fantastic. I felt that I was liked by all of the other climbers, and I liked it when they liked me. In reality, I was a full-fledged member of a group.

Throughout Wanda’s career, her aspirations continued to grow. During her journey to the west, she traversed the Iron Curtain to climb in the Alps and Norway. It was in Norway that she and her climbing partner, Halina Kruger-Syrokomska, achieved the first-ever female ascent of the east buttress of Trollryggen (1968). During this period, Wanda was a part of something truly remarkable since she came from Poland.

Even though Poland was a communist country with a low standard of living, it produced a lot of climbers who accomplished remarkable feats in the mountains. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, these climbers came into their own, achieving achievement after achievement that was highly technical, but frequently at a significant cost. Two years later, Jerzy Kukuczka, who had become the second man to climb all fourteen 8000-meter summits in 1987, tragically lost his life on Lhotse. He was one of the individuals who contributed to this accomplishment. In addition, there was Voytek Kurtyka, who was a pioneer in the field of Alpine climbing in the Himalayas, and Tadeusz Piotrowski, who specifically specialized in winter climbing. In 1986, he passed away on K2.

Not only did the climbers demonstrate to the world the might of Polish strength and dedication, but they also showed the possibilities of travel and escape from the Communist bloc. This was one of the reasons why they were revered in Poland. Wanda was a participant in this movement; yet, in addition to ascending, she was also overcoming another enormous obstacle.

The North Face of the Eiger was climbed by Wanda and a Polish team consisting entirely of female climbers in September of 1973. Three women went through waterfalls and slept outside in temperatures as low as -10 degrees Celsius over three days. Even though all three of them suffered from hypothermia and frostbite, Wanda’s condition was just the beginning.

“I was eager to climb with women because when I climb with partners who always expect to lead and search out the routes, I lose all sense of responsibility,” said the climber.
For Wanda, the accomplishment that the Eiger team accomplished as a female-led group was of the utmost significance. Wanda was a feminist, and climbing was a world that was dominated by men. Throughout her career, she was a staunch supporter of women’s climbing, promoting the formation of women-only teams and climbing en cordée féminine. Her viewpoints were bold and unambiguous, as follows:

For example, climbing the Eiger North Face with a group of ladies was an entirely different experience than ascending the mountain with a guide or even with Reinhold Messner. What are the chances that we will ever be able to differentiate between those who are good climbers and those who are not so good climbers, regardless of gender, unless we have a substantial representation of women climbers who are autonomous and successful on the mountains? After that, there would be a fair competition. Even though I am competitive by nature, I want fair rules.
To create this fair competition, Wanda led a Polish expedition consisting of only women to the summit of Gasherbrum III (7952 meters) in the Karakorum, Pakistan, in the year 1975. Because the women were uncertain about how they would be accepted in a Muslim nation, they decided to join their journey with a Polish men’s expedition to Gasherbrum II. Fortunately, it turned out that their gender was not a problem because the locals “didn’t regard our ladies as women, but as white men of the female gender.”

Alongside Janusz Onyszkiewicz and Krzysztof Zdzitowiecki, Wanda and Alison Chadwick-Onyszkiewicz reached the summit of Gasherbrum III. This excursion was a resounding success. However, Wanda was not a natural leader, and the trip was difficult because of the tension that arose as a result of her desire to differentiate the success of the women from that of the males. Wanda possessed a strong intellect, was resolute, and was uncompromising. As a result, she was a skilled climber and warrior, but she was not very skilled in the art of diplomacy or in motivating others to collaborate.

Wanda did not give up. She became the third woman and the first Pole of any gender to reach the peak of Everest in the year 1978. She ascended Nanga Parbat, often known as the killing mountain, in the year 1985. She was the first woman to climb K2 in 1986, after having previously attempted the ascent twice but failing. Wanda’s goal was to climb all fourteen mountains that were eight thousand meters in height. She was driven to fulfil her goals.

Funding these pioneering expeditions was not an easy task. The distinction was brought to Wanda’s attention when she climbed Mount K2 with a group of Swiss climbers. On the other hand, the Poles had time but no money, in contrast to the Swiss who had money but no time. Their expedition became more of an “adventure vacation” as a result of the Swiss having money, which made the trip simpler for them and provided them with relative comforts while they were on the mountain. On the other hand, Wanda and her Polish colleagues had to work long hours to earn every aspect of their journeys, from the food to the equipment.

It was not possible to obtain sponsorship. Wanda struggled to find the charming courage to attract wealthy people since she was bashful and she had a difficult time doing so. Rather than that, she started making films to finance her excursions. She became a member of the British women’s expedition to Gasherbrum II in 1989, and it was during this time that she filmed the documentary titled “Le Donne Delle Nevi” or “The Snow-Women,” which documented the day-to-day activities of women’s expeditions. She was one of the pioneers who took pictures at an altitude of 8000 meters.

The life of Wanda was lived to the fullest and was filled with a lot of challenging experiences. It was in 1976 when she was diagnosed with meningitis, and she had to relearn how to walk, eat, and speak. Although she suffered a broken leg in 1982, she did not let this deter her. Crutches were her only means of transportation as she made her way up the treacherous 11-day walk-in to K2 base camp. She was determined to ascend. Because her attempt to reach the summit was unsuccessful, she proceeded to walk back out using crutches. Her tenacity was truly remarkable.

However, Wanda described herself as a “anxious person” even though she presented a solid façade. She suffered from panic episodes as a result of the tremendous media circus that followed her performance on Everest, which was a result of her achievement.

As well as that, she endured a great number of traumatic losses. The terrible murder of her father took place in 1972, and it was committed by a couple who had been living with him.

When I was a child, I had to deal with the death of my brother, and now I had to deal with the death of my father. It was necessary for me to examine the blood splatters on the wall in order to determine the identity of my father’s damaged body. Throughout my life, I have always been a person who is somewhat apprehensive. I am terrified of going into a dark cellar by myself or being alone in a large flat. People give me the creeps. As long as I live, I will always be terrified that something bad could happen to me.
She was climbing with her friend and climbing companion Halina Kruger-Syrokomska when she passed away on K2 in 1982. Whether it was a heart attack or a stroke, Hailna passed away in her tent at Camp II in a manner that was both sudden and unexpected. Wanda’s friends and companions, Liliane and Maurice Barrard, passed away while descending the same mountain in 1986, after they had successfully climbed to the peak of the mountain. Barbara Kozlowska, Wanda’s friend, passed away drowning in a glacier river in 1985, while Wanda was attempting to climb Broad Peak, which is located at an elevation of 8047 meters. By the time Wanda arrived four years after Barbara’s passing, she had found her body and removed it from the K2 graveyard in a horrible stage of decay. This was done in order to ensure that Barbara was laid to rest in the same manner as Halina.

Wanda exerted a great deal of effort in order to understand her feelings and overcome any unreasonable concerns that she had during each of these events. Nevertheless, she was also aware that fear was necessary in the mountains, due to the fact that she was aware that “fearlessness is a kind of deficiency.”

Twice, Wanda was married, and both times, she divorced. She was not the type of person to adhere to the conventional role of a wife, and she did not have any children. In 1992, at the age of 49, she passed away on Kanchenjunga. Her third attempt to scale that mountain, which would have been her ninth eight-thousand-meter mountain, was made during this particular attempt. At a height of approximately 8300 meters, Wanda was last spotted taking refuge inside a snow cave. No one knows for sure whether or not she made it to the summit. The remains of her body have never been found.

This extraordinary climber, who overcame obstacles both on and off the mountain, left behind a tremendous legacy. Her accomplishments demonstrated that women are capable of reaching great heights.

First expeditions

A journey to the Pamir Mountains was undertaken by Wanda in 1970, not long after she had tied the knot with Wojciech Rutkiewicz, a mathematician. The mission included climbers from Novosibirsk and Poland. In honour of Lenin, they scaled a peak, which was subsequently named after him. The excursion was not a pleasant experience for Wanda, even though she climbed her first summit of more than 7,000 meters. Because all of the other members of the expedition were male, the mountaineer had a tough time getting along with them.

After this journey, Wanda began to fantasize of going on an expedition with only female participants. The year 1975 was the year that she made her ambition come true when she led the women’s expedition to Gasherbrum, which ended up being a successful endeavour.

During the subsequent years, Wanda made multiple trips to the Himalayas and made numerous fruitless attempts to climb to the highest peaks of the mountain range. As a result of contracting meningitis on one of her expeditions, she was had to retrain herself to walk and speak.
Wanda gained a reputation as one of the most formidable mountaineers in Europe as a result of her participation in these severe trips. Her invitation to participate in an international expedition to Everest was extended to her by the German mountaineer Karl Herrligkoffer in the year 1978.

For the second time, Wanda did not get along with the male members of the trip. As time went on, she was forced to ascend to the peak by herself and without the oxygen mask, which had been clogged with ice along the route.

Wanda became the third woman in the world and the first European woman to reach the top of Everest on October 16, 1978. She was also the first woman from Europe to do it. On the same day, Karol Wojtyła was elected Pope John Paul II. Later, when he saw Wanda, he expressed his belief that God had a plan for us to achieve such a high level of success and to accomplish it on the same day.

The Polish people’s interest in Wanda increased as a result of this ironic coincidence. After she had returned from her expedition to Everest, she began giving interviews on a nearly daily basis.

She was employed as a computer engineer at the Institute of Mathematics at the time they were having the conversation. But Wanda spent more time in the mountains than she did at her place of employment. He wanted to establish a family, and she wanted to spend more time in the mountains, so the woman divorced her first husband. She wanted to spend more time in the mountains.

A climber on crutches

Following the Everest trip, Wanda once again came to the conclusion that she was being treated differently since she was a woman. As a result, she decided to organize other excursions specifically for women. Soon after, she was granted permission to embark on such a journey to K2, which is the second-highest peak in the world and is widely regarded as one of the most challenging mountains to scale.

During the year 1981, the women participated in training in the Caucasus region, where they were able to climb Elbrus despite the adverse weather circumstances. On the way down, Wanda was the first to climb. Instantaneously, she experienced a powerful blow to her back; it was because one of the climbers had fallen and hit Wanda. My femur was broken by her. In Austria, Wanda went to get surgery with a physician that she was familiar with. Their wedding took place a few months after that.

The K2 mission was still being organized by Wanda despite everything that was going on. In the end, twelve of the most capable female climbers, including Wanda who was utilizing crutches, embarked on their journey to K2. Wanda was captivated by the concept of accomplishing something that was deemed unreachable by others, even though many others said it was impossible.

In the course of the excursion, Wanda took painkillers and shed tears, but she continued to walk until she arrived at the base, which was located at an elevation of 5,400 meters. Halina and Anna, two female climbers, were near the base of the mountain at a greater elevation. Suddenly, Halina started to lose consciousness. It was too late for Anna and the other climbers to save her life, although they made an effort to do so.

Halina’s body was carried down and buried with the assistance of mountaineers who were part of another expedition.

Following her passing, the group concluded that they should go with the mission even though they believed that “Halina would have wanted that.” Despite this, they were unable to reach the peak of K2 due to the adverse weather conditions it was experiencing.

Wanda Rutkiewicz on crutches

Dying friends

A few years later, Wanda followed in the footsteps of three other female climbers and went back to K2. There was yet another instance in which the weather conditions prohibited them from reaching the second-highest peak in the globe. However, Wanda ascended Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, as well as Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas, which was her second summit that was higher than 8,000 meters. Both of these accomplishments took place in 2012.

For the third time, Wanda made her way back to K2 in the year 1986. An offer to finance a film about her expedition to K2 was made by the Austrian television network ORF. By using the funds, she was able to purchase a spot on a French expedition that was going to the peak.

Wanda headed out on her own because her fellow French climbers, Liliane and Maurice Barrard, had elected to stay at the base below for a few more days before the last stretch to the summit. It was a day with ideal weather conditions. Wanda was in excellent health. She achieved this feat, making her the first woman in the world to ascend Mount K2.
While she was on her descent, she came upon Liliane and Maurice, and she climbed with them once more. One of the first people to fall was her. She waited for her companions at the camp after descending a few hundred meters and waiting for them there. Even though it had begun to snow, they were nowhere to be found. To locate her fellow team members, Wanda accompanied the Italians who were part of the previous expedition. After much deliberation, Wanda decided to head back to the base since she was unable to continue living at that height. Without fail, Maurice and Liliane did not appear.

Wanda, like many other mountaineers, was frequently questioned why the reason she was going back to the mountains when so many of her friends had passed away when they were there. “As self-centred as it may be, it wasn’t my death. “I make it through each day,” Wanda remarked.

Wanda left her position at the Institute of Mathematics in the 1980s and began living off of contributions. In addition, she began publishing books, making films, and giving talks in Poland and other countries throughout her career. With Jerzy Kukuczka by their side, they delivered a talk in Vilnius in 1988 on the adventures that they had participated in.

Emulating male role models

On February 4, 1943, she was born in Plungė, which is located in Lithuania. After the war, her family relocated to Poland and made Wrocław their permanent residence. The woman who was her mother, Maria, was a housewife and did not have a professional job. The character of his daughter, who always strived to keep up with male role models, was fashioned by her father, Zbigniew Błaszkiewicz, who was an engineer, designer, polyglot, swimmer, sniper, and judoka. This father was responsible for shaping his daughter’s character from a young age. Wanda had a lot of willpower even when she was still in elementary school. At all times, she had the goal of excelling in both the academic world and the athletic world. Within the presence of her younger sister, who was just five years old at the time, she may have desired to demonstrate to her father that she was capable of taking the place of his first-born son Jurek, whose body had been ripped apart by an unexploded bomb in 1948. In many ways, they were comparable to one another: they had the same enthusiasm for life, the same readiness to take on challenges, and the same inventiveness.

Following her graduation from the Wrocław University of Technology, Wanda started her career at the Institute of Power Systems Automation. Before reaching the age of thirty, she relocated to the capital city, where she found employment at the Institute of Mathematical Machines. Before concentrating on climbing, she participated in track and field activities during her secondary school years, and then she went on to play volleyball for several years with great success. She was a member of the Gwardia Wrocław team, which competed in the first league. Even more impressively, she was a member of the Polish national team’s more expansive configuration.

In 1968, Wanda Rutkiewicz was seen climbing in the foothills of the Sudetes Mountains in Poland.
With the assistance of the Wrocław High-Mountain Club and Sokoliki, located in the Sudety Mountains, she quickly discovered her way to the Tatra Mountains, where she successfully finished a mountaineering course from 1962 to 1963. A significant step forward was taken by the stunning young lady in a setting that was dominated by guys. “At first, nobody realized that this calm girl, who appeared to be slightly from a different era, had an iron character, enormous willpower, and could be extremely disciplined in her actions,” Andrzej Zawada, the commander of Polish Himalayan expeditions, remembered. “She appeared to be slightly from a different era.” She had lofty goals from the very beginning, to compete with her more capable coworkers. She had a passion for overcoming obstacles and experiencing new things. Not only was she unable to sit still, but she was a volcano of energy. However, she did not pay attention to anyone else and was well aware of the fact that she frequently took risks while she was in the mountains. She said, “If I am playing with death, then apparently I need to.”

Her first climbing companion, Bogdan Jankowski, who was also a student at the time, said that she was always well prepared physically, but that she had a weaker mental state at the beginning. Despite this, she was able to triumph over her apprehensions by embodying virtues such as obstinacy, tenacity, and ambition, which were innate to her. She did not make concessions; she desired to dominate even when competing against members of mixed teams: “She wanted more and more all the time.” She never felt that it was sufficient. She felt a sense of accomplishment whenever she accomplished something, and she endeavoured to maintain this feeling by achieving further goals.

She began her journey in the highest mountains of Poland in the 1960s and eventually arrived in the Alps. She ascended several mountains, including the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and the Eiger. Lenin Peak in Pamir was the first seven-thousander that she has ever climbed. She accomplished this feat in 1970. She climbed the eastern pillar of the Trollryggen wall (also known as the Troll Wall) in Norway and Noshaq (7,492 m) in the Afghan Hindu Kush before she began concentrating her mountaineering efforts on the highest mountains in the world.

In addition to being affable and cheerful, Wanda Błaszkiewicz had a tendency to readily make acquaintances, but she struggled to develop more meaningful relationships. It was in 1970 when she tied the knot with Wojciech Rutkiewicz, but they divorced not long after. Her marriage to Helmut Scharfetter, an Austrian surgeon, took place in the year 1982. However, this relationship likewise disintegrated in a short amount of time. “For Wanda, the mountains came first, and all female-male matters were subordinated to this,” recalls Janusz Onyszkiewicz, an opposition activist, politician, and long-time president of the Polish Mountaineering Association. “Wanda’s priorities were centred on the mountains.” Throughout her life, the mountains were her greatest love. Through her dogged determination, she was able to uphold her reputation. In no circumstance did she ever let herself to make any concessions? If she received the impression that they were being suggested, she would have refused to be treated on an equal footing. In her own words, it was an incurable disease: “I fell in love with mountaineering.” This would have been a devastating blow to her. Love serves as the foundation, and it is only after the fact that a person begins to question whether or not everything makes sense.’ She also stated that she was hooked to risk and danger. From one mission to the next, she was able to survive. For the purpose of additional adventures, she spent all of the money that she acquired. It must be acknowledged, however, that she had it a little easier than the other giants of the golden period of Polish Himalayan climbing, who had a great deal of difficulty in securing the funds for successive excursions. This was due to the fact that she had a large number of contacts in other countries.

The first Polish citizen to climb Mount Everest and K2

The Polish female altitude record was set by her ascent of Gasherbrum III in 1975, which was 7,946 meters below sea level. However, she did not become famous until the 16th of October in 1978, when she successfully climbed Mount Everest. As the third woman in history, the first European, and the first Polish citizen, she was a part of a German expedition that climbed the highest summit in the globe. Her accomplishments caused her colleagues to feel envious of her accomplishments with the mission. The eight-thousander was her very first attempt. In the same day that Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope, he addressed Rutkiewicz during his homecoming visit. He said, “Apparently it was the good Lord’s wish that we both climb so high on the very same day.” Rutkiewicz was already in the role of John Paul II at the time.

The fact that she had been diagnosed with anaemia just before the beginning of the expedition was the reason why she was not given an athlete’s card. She travelled to Nepal at her own risk with a supply of injections, and thankfully for Himalayan climbers, she was able to defend herself against the disease and get her haemoglobin levels back to normal.

When she was asked about the male participants of the expedition after she had returned, she responded that she “could not count on any concessions.” She also stated that her friends were probably “somewhat irritated by the fact that a woman was able to endure what young and strong men could barely endure.” On the other hand, she closed the program by addressing the audience in a Polish Radio studio, saying, “I wish for all those listening to me to achieve their Mount Everest in life.”

As a result of her triumph, she gained a great deal of popularity throughout Poland. Not only did she give interviews, but she also appeared on television and wrote books. The leave she took from her job was unpaid. She was able to live the life she desired; she was liberated. Her travels took her to a lot of places. A life like that was considered a luxury in gray communist Poland. “If you want something very much in life, you dream about it, you can always have it,” she said. She wanted to pursue her aspirations, and she believed that if you dream about it, you can always have it.

She struggled for a long time with the consequences of an open femur fracture she suffered near Elbrus in 1981 when a skier bumped into her and they tumbled two hundred meters together down a slope. Before setting foot on yet another eight-thousander in July of 1985 (Nanga Parbat in a women’s expedition), she had to deal with the aftermath of the injury. In the course of her recuperation in Innsbruck, she engaged in such strenuous physical activity that she sustained fractures on multiple occasions. She led a women’s trip to K2 in 1982, which was unsuccessful. During this expedition, another renowned Polish mountaineer named Halina Kruger-Syrokomska passed away. She was still not in the best of shape at the time. On crutches, with a splint in her leg, and with the assistance of painkillers, she made it to the base camp, which was located at an elevation of 5,000 meters above sea level. It was more than a hundred kilometres that she walked there. Jerzy Kukuczka, another outstanding Polish Himalayan climber, carried her for a spell on his back. There was a period when she was carried. The peculiar sight of Wanda walking across the Baltoro Glacier on crutches got ingrained in the minds of the local carriers, who would remember the “crazy Polish woman” for a considerable amount of time to come.

The year 1984 marked the second time that she attempted to compete in K2. It was only on her third effort that she was successful. On the day that bears her name, which was June 23, 1986, she made history by becoming the first Pole and the first woman in history to climb K2, which is often regarded as the most challenging peak in the world. There were as many as thirteen persons who lost their lives while attempting to reach the peak during that season. Among those who perished were the French Barrard couple, with whom she had climbed before. At the time of her arrival at the base camp, Wanda was reportedly “looking as if from the moon.” She was coming alone, amid a strong snowstorm, and she was barely alive. During her mountaineering career, this was the accomplishment that she was most proud of.

Even though she was a wonderful person, she was not a natural leader, and she eventually gave up on the concept of expeditions that were comprised entirely of females. Her partners had several complaints about the way she behaved while they were on travels. In many instances, she put her own life in danger and insisted that others do the same. As a result of her actions, she frequently posed a threat to her female friends, whom she led through difficulties that were not commensurate with their capacities.

A caravan of dreams

During the latter half of the 1980s, Rutkiewicz began to pursue her athletic endeavours on a more professional level. She had her own agency, which was a first in Polish climbing circles, and from that point on, it became much simpler for her to collect funds for excursions. She had the intention of climbing all fourteen eight-thousanders, also known as the Crown of the Himalayas and Karakorum, as part of her “dream caravan” project. She would be the first woman to accomplish this feat. Shishapangma, Gasherbrum II, Gasherbrum I, Cho Oyu, and Annapurna were the five additional mountains that she was able to successfully climb between the years 1987 and 1991. However, her concept was met with a great deal of opposition. In the final part, she made a concerted effort to speed up her pace and set a goal to climb the summits that were still unclimbed by the end of 1993.

Colleagues argued that the project could not be completed because of the pace that was anticipated, in addition to the fact that she was becoming older. In addition, there were members of the community who questioned the authenticity of Wanda’s claim that she had climbed Annapurna. There was even the establishment of a special commission, which ultimately acknowledged that the summit had been achieved. In the most remote regions of the Himalayas, Rutkiewicz avoided fasting at all costs. However, over the latter few years of her activity, she got considerably weaker and slower, which resulted in her having difficulty selecting partners who were suitable for her and her activities. During her time in the Himalayas, she suffered from several health issues, including hallucinations and reduced cognition. Additionally, she frequently used powerful painkillers and sleeping drugs to alleviate the discomfort caused by the splint that was placed in her thigh.

Krzysztof Wielicki, a Himalayan mountaineer who had climbed Annapurna with Wanda, asserts that his colleague “was running in a tunnel that narrowed, narrowed, and narrowed, and everyone feared that it must end badly.” Wanda had climbed Annapurna with Wielicki. To find peace in the mountains, she frequently isolated herself from the rest of the crew. After that, she started living in her own world. Those who worked with her interpreted her acts as an attempt to bring about her own demise. Rutkiewicz was plagued by the stigma of death throughout her entire life, regardless of the circumstances. And then her brother passed away. Then, in 1972, her father was killed by a murderer. During her mountain trips, she was separated from a great number of climbing partners. When Kukuczka passed away in 1989, it had a significant impact on her personal life. Wanda’s final love, the German physician Kurt Lyncke-Kruger, passed away a year after their relationship ended. It was believed that she had finally settled down and fallen in love with him, and she took his death extremely seriously. He passed away right in front of her view. He fell down a slope, and by the time she reached him, he had already passed away completely.

Despite this, she did not give up on her aspirations, and by the time she reached the summit of her ninth eight-thousander two years later, she had probably already accomplished a great deal. None of us will ever know. A Himalayan climber went missing while attempting to scale Kanchenjunga, which is the highest mountain in the world. The age of the woman was forty-nine years. The last time anyone saw her was on May 12, 1992, when she was observed at an elevation of approximately 8,300 meters above sea level. She was left alone in the “death zone.” Her trip to the top was scheduled to take place in conjunction with Carlos Carsolio. She became increasingly feeble. After reaching the peak, the Mexican began his descent down the mountain. For his part, the Pole decided to go it alone….

Even though she was clearly experiencing physical weakening in her forties, she never stopped setting lofty objectives for herself and continued to do so right up until the end of her life. According to her own words, “What irritates people the most is the fact that we put our lives in danger for something that appears to be completely pointless and unwanted to everyone.” Nevertheless, it is possible that individuals who do it require it. Perhaps they simply require it to continue living.’ She was under the impression that she would always be able to fight the malaise. She regularly displayed a careless attitude about her own body. She was really close to the edge.

The remains of the woman who was the first woman to ever climb a peak in the Himalayas were never discovered. Up to the very end of her life, her mother was under the impression that her daughter had uprooted herself from the Western world in order to live a tranquil life in one of the Buddhist monasteries.

On the one hand, Wanda Rutkiewicz’s story is a story of self-destruction, and on the other hand, it is a story of how dreams can be fulfilled and objectives can be accomplished through the power of will, ambition, and a great deal of tenacity.

According to the Polish Sejm, the year 2022 will be designated as the Year of Wanda Rutkiewicz.

Climbing career

The star that is placed on the Sport Walk of Fame in Władysławowo belongs to Wanda Rutkiewicz.
The Pamir Mountains were the location of her first significant expedition, which she went on with Andrzej Zawada. She felt the experience to be unpleasant due to the challenging connections she had with the male climbers.

Following her return, she started leading her own excursions, some of which were consisting of only female participants, and she became well-known for her straightforward approach to leadership. It was on October 16, 1978 that she became the first Pole, the third woman (after Junko Tabei and Phantog in 1975), and the first European woman to reach the peak of Mount Everest.  She was able to achieve this trip even though she suffered from anemia. She carried iron injections with her to maintain her consciousness throughout the climb. She reached Mount Everest on the same day that her fellow Polish citizen, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, whom she had met in 1979, was announced by Pope John Paul II. The Pope remarked on their achievements, saying, “The good Lord wanted this—that we rise so high on the same day.”  In 1986, she became the first woman to successfully climb K2, which she accomplished without the use of supplemental oxygen. This accomplishment was part of a small expedition that was led by Lilliane and Maurice Barrard. During the descent, both of the Barrards passed away, making them two of the thirteen climbers who passed away on K2 that summer. Her victory was overshadowed by this tragedy.

Located at the entrance of the II LO (Secondary School #2) in Wrocław, there is a memorial stone of significance.
Rutkiewicz’s long-term objective was to achieve the distinction of becoming the first woman to scale all fourteen of the eight-thousanders mountains. During her climbing career, she was able to effectively scale the following mountains:

  • The year 1975: Gasherbrum III
  • The year 1978: Mount Everest
  • The year 1985: Nanga Parbat
  • The year 1986: K2
  • The year 1987: Shishapangma
  • The Gasherbrum II, Year 1989
  • The year 1990: Gasherbrum I
  • 2011: Cho Oyu (year)
  • The year 1991: Annapurna I
  • Kangchenjunga (uncertain) in the year 1992



Wanda made an attempt to climb Dhaulagiri, but she was unsuccessful. After a year had passed since she had established her objective, the woman still had six summits to climb in the spring of 1992.

After that, she attempted her third effort to climb to the top of Kangchenjunga, which is the third-highest mountain in the universe. Beginning with the expedition, it was a challenging endeavour. Injuries or illnesses caused four climbers to withdraw from the competition. After everything was said and done, the only people who were left to continue climbing were Wanda and Carlos Carsolio, her buddy from Mexico.

Carlos did not wait for Wanda because she was rising at a slower pace than most people. His ascent was successful. During his descent, he came face to face with Wanda, who was still ascending. It was Wanda who, in his eyes, was the most famous climber in the entire world. Rutkiewicz, who was 49 years old at the time, was last seen alive by Carlos Carsolio, a Mexican climber, while he was climbing Kangchenjunga. Pietrusewicz stated that he did not even consider the possibility that she would not return. During her effort to climb what would have been her ninth eight-thousander, she was taking refuge at a high altitude on the northwest face of the mountain. Even though she was physically suffering, she decided to not descend. Due to the fact that he was also weakened, Carsolio stated that he did not possess the mental strength necessary to effectively encourage her to descend.

It was believed that her body had been discovered on the southwest face of the mountain in 1995 by Fausto de Stefani, Marco Galezzi, and Silvio Mondinelli. This led to the hypothesis that she had gone up the northwest ridge to a place that was very close to the summit, and then she had fallen down the southwest side of the mountain. However, a more in-depth analysis of the findings made by the Italian climbers, such as the colour of the clothing and the presence of tablets made in Bulgaria that were found with the body, suggests that it was most likely the body of Yordanka Dimitrova, a Bulgarian climber who was killed by an avalanche on the south-west face of Kangchenjunga in October of 1994. No one knows for certain whether or not Rutkiewicz made it to the peak of Kangchenjunga. If she had done so, she would have gone on to become the first woman to climb all three of the highest mountains in the world. However, her body has not been located as of yet.

Despite Carlos’s descent, he never again encountered Wanda. In the year 1992, on May 12th, she vanished. Her dead body was never discovered. It is unknown to anyone whether or not she made it to the peak.

The mountains are a place that I don’t mind dying in, even if I don’t actively seek death out. That would be a simple way for me to pass away. At one point, Wanda expressed that a large number of her friends were waiting for her in the mountains.


For the forty-first anniversary of her ascent of Mount Everest, which occurred on October 16, 2019, Rutkiewicz was featured as the topic of the daily Google Doodle created by Google. The picture depicts her ascending snow-covered peaks while clinging to the railing rope. With the passage of a resolution in October 2021, the Polish Parliament designated the year 2022 as the “Year of Wanda Rutkiewicz” in order to celebrate the thirty-year anniversary of her passing with a memorial.


About Author



Leave a Reply