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Book Review: My Vertical World: Climbing the 8000-Metre Peaks

My Vertical World: Climbing the 8000-Metre Peaks

By Jerzy Kukuczka, translated by Andrew Wielochowski

August 1992 edition, Mountaineers Books. Hardcover, 189 p.

Reviewed by Arun Mahajan March, 2001 

My Vertical World is Jerzy Kukuczka's autobiography, translated from
his native Polish into English.  Even translated, the book reads like some
heroic Norse saga with Jerzy striding through it like a doomed Odin.

In the beginning of the book, Reinhold Messner says of Jerzy, "you are
not second, you are great".  Great praise indeed for the second person,
after Messner, to wear the 'Crown of the Himalaya', a title for those who
have climbed to the top of all the fourteen 8000 meter peaks in the world,
all in the Himalaya.  Jerzy did them all and that too by either blazing
new routes or in the winter, and always without supplemental oxygen.

The book is divided into chapters, the first, typical of Jerzy, it
seems, describing his early days in Poland in a very brief manner.  Then
the next fourteen chapters describe his successful summit ascents to each
of the 8000 meter peaks, from Lhotse, his first to Shish Pangma, his last.

The press played up the artificial race between him and Messner to be
the first to do the 8000 m peaks.  Jerzy is always humble and regards
Messner as his superior.  He is no jock mountaineer in search of glory,
nor does he go into complex reasons that make him want to climb.  He just
seems to love to climb the high peaks, the Himalayas more than another. 

Jerzy talks about being a young man desiring to travel to the far away
Himalaya to climb.  He describes the incredible privation and hardship
that he had to undergo to scrounge money and food in the days of the
Solidarity movement in Poland where he was in danger of being considered a
food hoarder.  However, all he was doing was salting away food for his
next Himalayan trip.  He talks about how he and his climbing friends would
raise the precious zoltys by offering to paint rusting chimneys of
factories and saving on the cost of scaffolding by using climbing ropes

To me, the most incredible climbing done by Jerzy is his winter climb
of Dhaulagiri.  Here he describes his solo descent into a village in an
unknown valley with feet rotting away from infection and frostbite.  The
villagers simply would not believe his story because no one had ever been
in that valley before.  Then without much rest, he met up with the Cho Oyu
expedition and blazed a first winter ascent of Cho Oyu via the unclimbed
South East Pillar.

A summary, in his own words, 'There is no answer in this book to the
endless questions about the point of expeditions to the Himalayan giants. 
I never found a need to explain this.  I went to the mountains and climbed
them.  That is all