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Jerzy Kukuczka - short biography and list of ascents Featured

Jerzy Kukuczka - short biography and list of ascents
Fot. Michal Bulsa

Jerzy Kukuczka (1948-1989) is counted among the most outstanding mountain climbers in the world. After Reinhold Messner, he was the second man in history to have captured the Crown of the Himalayas. He do it in better style, than Messner: under 8 years, 11 new routes, four winter ascents. Only on one ascent, he use oxygen. He was one of an elite group of Polish Himalayan mountaineers who specialized in winter ascents (called Ice Warriors).

He is the first man who made the first winter ascents to the 3 eight-thousanders: Dhaulagiri with Andrzej Czok in 1985, Kangchenjunga with Krzysztof Wielicki in 1986 and Annapurna I with Artur Hajzer in 1987. One of the hardest routes in Karakorum is Polish Line, new route on South Face of Kw (with Tadeusz Piotrowski), which no one has ever repeated.

<a target='_blank' href='' title='J. Kukuczka - najwybitniejszy polski himalaista. Zdobywca Korony Himalajów jako druga osoba na świecie. W niesamowitym stylu (4 ośmiotysięczniki zimą, nowe drogi, styl alpejski). Ma na koncie liczne wspinaczki w górach całego świata. Zginął w 1989 ro' class='redlinker'>Jerzy Kukuczka</a>

Jerzy Kukuczka biography

Kukuczka was born in Katowice (Poland) in 1948, 24 March. He end primal school and trade school in Katowice.

His first rock climbing (then only climbing) was in 1965 (4 September). His friend take him to Podlesice, one of climbing spot with 25 meter high, limestone walls. At this first day, young Kukuczka feel that climbing will be very important thing in his life.

"I made a fantastic discovery. Rock fun pulled me so much that I stopped everything else for me to count "

Soon he send alpication to Mountaineering Club in Katowice. In 1966 he pass mountaineering course in Tatra Mountains (his instructors were Janusz Kurczab and Kazimierz Liszka. In Future his climbing partners). In next years he climbs in Tatras - every year on higher level.

In 1971 with Jerzy Kalla and Zbigniew Wach do first winter ascent of Kurtykówka VI+ (Wojciech Kurtyka route. At this time the hardest climbing route in Tatras). Next year with Andrzej Machnik send new route on North Pillar of Mały Durny Szczyt.

After his second winter season he was appreciated by elite climbers from Mountaineering Club and he could go to Dolomites in Italy. At this time Poland was communist country. Going abroad was hard and not for everyone. One of chance was climbing trip (organised by Mountaineering Club).

In Dolomites with partners send new route (Direttissima delli Polacci). At this ascent he was hit by stone, but all members of team end route. After this accident he spent 6 days in hospital and return to mountains. Restults: one new route and repeat Aste-Susati on Punta Civetta. He return to Dolomites in winter and do first winter ascent of Via dell'Ideale (soutrh face of  Marmolada d'Ombretta).

Summer of 1973 he go to Mount Blanc Massif. With Wojciech Kurtyka and Marek Łukaszewski do new route on Petit Dru (Petit Jean). At this trip he also do four first polish ascents (amont others: Major on Mount Blanc). In 1974 he ascend on Mt. McKinley (now Denali) on Alasca. He has several frostbites on toes and in generally he was weak on high altitiudes. One year later he get married with Cecylia Kukucza. On his honeymoon he do... new route on Grades Jorasses :-). 

At this time in Poland your climbing career look usually like this: Tatras, Dolomites, Alps (or Caucasus), Hindukush, Himalays or Karakorum. Kukuczka climbing career was almost like this :). In 1976 he goes to expedition to Hindukush. He ascent solo Kohe Awal and Kohe Tez. Two years later he return and do two more good ascents.

In 1981 he goes to New Zealand with Krzysztof Wielicki and Ryszard Pawłowski.

Kukuczka Eight-thousanders

Kukuczka's record shows why he is considered by many to be one of the best high-altitude climbers in history. He ascended all fourteen mountains in eight years, a shorter time than any climber before or since. In the process, Kukuczka established ten new routes and climbed four summits in winter. He was one of an elite group of Polish Himalayan mountaineers who specialised in winter ascents.

First time in Himalays he was in 1977. He tried Nanga Parbat, but without succes.

1979 — Lhotse - normal route

J. Kukuczka, A. Czok, A. Heinrich and J. Skorek climbed Lhotse’s normal (NE) route, in the ‘normal’ post-monsoon season– October 4, 1979. He reached the summit (without suplementar oxygen)

1980 — Mount Everest - new route

On 17 February 1980 Leszek Cichy and Krzysztof Wielicki do first winter ascent on Mount Everest. Expedition leading by Andrzej Zawada leave Base Camp and some Camps (I and II) on normal route on Everest. Perfect for next - spring - polish expedition on Mount Everest. After one month preparation route to summit was ready. Andrzej Czok and Jerzy Kukuczka summited on May 19, 1980, Everest got a new line up the South Pillar. This would be the only time that Kukuczka used supplementary O2.

1981 — Makalu - new route, solo

Already the next year, in 1981, Kukuczka reached a double goal on Makalu: A variation on Makalu La – the huge saddle between the main peak and Makalu II – and the NW Ridge, solo.

1982 — Broad Peak - normal route, alpine style

Next came Broad Peak: In 1982, Kukuczka returned to Himalaya with friend Wojciech Kurtyka to climb the normal route.

1983 — Gasherbrum I & II - new route, alpine style

Wojciech Kurtyka and Jerzy Kukuczka had climbed new routes on both Gasherbrum I and II – in alpine style.

1984 — Broad Peak - new route, alpine style

Kukuczka and Kurtyka returned – to open a new route, including the traverse of the Three Broad Peak’s summits.

1985 — Dhaulagiri - first winter ascent

1985 started out spectacular for Jurek: He climbed Dhaulagiri (with Andrzej Czok again) on January 21! On the descent they lost route and have hard bivaq (without tent).

1985 — Cho Oyu - second winter ascent, new route

And before the winter ended, he go alone to Base Camp on Cho Oyu (where was polish-canadian expedition). He joined three other climbers from Poland – Maciej Berbeka, Maciej Pawlikowski and Andrzej Heinrich – to the SE Pillar on Cho Oyu, for a first ascent. They summited February 15, and it was the first time a new route had been opened on an 8000er in winter. Kukuczka do two winter ascents in 25 days!

1985 — Nanga Parbat - new route

Summer of 1985, Jurek teamed up with Andrzej Heinrich, Krzysztof Łobodzinski and a young Mexican Carlos Carsolio (a future‘youngest’ climber to complete the 14 8000ers) – for another ‘first’: The SE Pillar of Nanga Parbat.

1986 — Kanchenjunga - first winter ascent

For his next 8000er, Jurek would patiently wait for the winter to close in. Only then would he climb Kanchenjunga, summiting the normal route on January 11, 1986. His climbing partner was Krzysztof Wielicki, another Polish ‘Ice Warrior'.

1986 — K2 - new route, alpine style

To maintain the level, the next peak could be no other than K2: And what Jerzy Kukuczka and Tadeusz Piotrowski did there was a real lesson on extreme climbing. The route they opened on the South face is still a waiting a first repetition. The Kukuczka route, rarely attempted, combines sustained difficulty with ‘suicidal’ exposed passages. They summited July 7, but at a terrible prize: Piotrowski fell to his death ondescent, by the Abruzzi Spur (problem with crampons).

1986 — Manaslu - new route, alpine style

Jerzy climbed Manaslu that same year: Another first – again in winter conditions. On November 10, Kukuczka and Artur Hajzer made a first ascent of the Manaslu NE face.

1987 — Annapurna I - first winter ascent

 After his early November climb on Manaslu, Jurek and Artur Hajzer summited Annapurna North Face on February 3, 1987. Hajzer returned to the mountains with Kukuczka already in September that same year. That’s when they made a first ascent of the East Ridgeon Shisha Pangma (Summit on September 18, 1987).

1987 — Shisha Pangma - new route, alpine style

Jerzy Kukuczka death

Jurek died attempting (with Ryszard Pawłowski) an alpine style climb of the unclimbed South Face of Lhotse in Nepal on 24 October 1989. Leading a pitch at an altitude of about 8,200 meters on a 6 mm second-hand rope he had picked up in a market in Kathmandu, the cord cut or snapped from a fall, plunging Kukuczka to his death. Pawłowski was in big trouble: Alone on 8200 on unclimbed face. Only years of experience help him on way down to Base Camp.

Jerzy Kukuczka left behind a widow (Cecylia Kukuczka and two children). One of them - Wojciech Kukuczka - later will do ascent on Mount Everest.

J. Kukuczka

Jerzy Kukuczka on summit of Nanga Parbat. Photo from archive. Jerzy Kukuczka

Movie "Jerzy Kukuczka - legendary climber"



Book cover Jerzy Kukuczka book: "My Vertical World: Climbing the 8000-Metre Peak". Oryginal title in polish: "Mój pionowy świat"

Jerzy Kukuczka Ascents

Tatra Mountains

1971, 16-18 April - Mały Młynarz, E Face. First Winter Ascent of Kurtykówka. Team: Jerzy Kalla, Jerzy Kukuczka, Zbigniew Wach.

1917, 22 July - Wołowa Turnia, N Face. First polish ascent on Droga Pająków (Spiders Route). Team Jerzy Kukuczka, Marian Piekutowski, Janusz Skorek.

1971, 24-25 July - Kazalnica Mięguszowiecka, N Face. Heinrich-Chrobak Route. Team. Jerzy Kukuczka, Marian Piekutowski, Janusz Skorek, Zbigniew Wach.

1972, 3-6 January - Mały Młynarz, NE Face. First winter ascent on Direttissima. Team: Tadeusz Gibiński, Jerzy Kukuczka, Zbigniew Wach.

1972, 8-11 February - Młynarczyk, E Face. First winter ascent Biederman's Route. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Zbigniew Wach.

1972, 23-24 June - Mały Młynarz, E Face. New route Wielki Komin (Great Chimmey). Team: Danuta Gellner-Wach, Jerzy Kukuczka, Janusz Skorek, Zbigniew Wach.


1972, 23-26 July - Torre Trieste, new route on S face. Team: Jerzy Kalla, Jerzy Kukuczka, Tadeusz Łaukajtys, Zbigniew Wach.

1972, 4-5 August - Bancon, New route on SE Pillar. Team: Jerzy Kalla, Jerzy Kukuczka, Tadeusz Łaukajtys, Zbigniew Wach.

1972, 7 August - Punta Civetta, Aste-Susatti route on SW Face. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Zbigniew Wach.

1973, 18-23 March - Marmolada d'Ombretta, S Face. First winter ascent on route Via dell'Ideale. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Janusz Kurczab, Marian Piekutowski, Janusz Skorek, Zbigniew Wach.


1973, 19 July - Aiguille du Moine. First polish ascent on Aureille-Fentren Route. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Marek Łukaszewski.

1973, 22 July - La Pell, Massiw Vercors. First polish ascent on Parish Route. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Marek Łukaszewski.

1973, 6 August - Mont Blanc, E Face. Major Route. Team: Beata Kozłowska, Jerzy Kukuczka, Janusz Kurczab, Marek Łukaszewski.

1973, 12-14 August - Petit Dru, new route. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Wojciech Kurtyka, Marek Łukaszewski.

1975, 3-4 August - Grandes Jorasses, N Face. New Route. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Wojciech Kurtyka, Marek Łukaszewski.


1976, 1 August - Kohe Awal (5800 m). New route, solo ascent.

1971, 10-11 August - Kohe Tez (7015 m). Team: J. Baranek, S. Cholewa, Jerzy Kukuczka, H. Natkaniec.

1978, 9 August - Tiricz Mir East (7692 m), first ascent on E ridge. Team. Jerzy Kukuczka, Tadeusz Piotrowski, Michał Wroczyński.

High Mountains

1979, 4 October - Lhotse, normal route. Alpine Style without oxygen. Team: Andrzej Czok, Andrzej Heinrich, Jerzy Kukuczka, Janusz Skorek.

1980, 19 May - Mount Everest, new route, alpine style, without oxygen. Team: Andrzej Czok, Jerzy Kukuczka

1981, 15 October - Makalu, new route, solo, Alpine style, without oxygen. From Nepal.

1982, 30 July - Broad Peak - normal route, alpine style, without oxygen. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Wojciech Kurtyka.

1983, 24 June - Gasherbrum II East (7772 m)

1983, 1 July - Gasherbrum II - new route (first ascent on E Ridge), alpine style, without oxygen. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Wojciech Kurtyka.

1983, 23 July - Gasherbrum I - new route, alpine style. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Wojciech Kurtyka

1984, 17 July — Broad Peak - new route, alpine style. Traverse of massif Broad Peak. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Wojciech Kurtyka.

1904 - Biarhedi (6759 m) - First ascent, solo, alpine style, without oxygen.

1985, 21 January - Dhaulagiri - first winter ascent. Without oxygen. Team: Andrzej Czok, Jerzy Kukuczka.

1985, 15 February - Cho Oyu - second winter ascent (first was 12 February: Maciej Berbeka, Maciej Pawlikowski on this same expedition) , new route on S Face. Team: Andrzej Heinrich, Jerzy Kukuczka.

1985, 13 July - Nanga Parbat - new route on E Pillar. Without oxygen. Team: Carlos Carsolio, Andrzej Heinrich, Jerzy Kukuczka, Sławomir Łobodziński.

1986, 11 January - Kanchenjunga - first winter ascent. Without oxygen. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Krzysztof Wielicki.

1986, 8 July - K2 - Polish Line, new route on S Face, alpine style. Team: Jerzy Kukuczka, Tadeusz Piotrowski (died on descent).

1986, 9 November - Manaslu (E peak) - new route, alpine style. Team: Carlos Carsolio, Artur Hajzer, Jerzy Kukuczka.

1986, 10 November - Manaslu, new route, alpine style. Team: Carlos Carsolio (without summit ascent), Artur Hajzer, Jerzy Kukuczka.

1987, 3 February - Annapurna I - first winter ascent. Team: Artur Hajzer, Jerzy Kukuczka.

1987, 18 September - Shisha Pangma - new route, alpine style, without oxygen. Also they do first ascent on Shisha Pangma West (7950  m) and Middle peak (8008 m). Team: Artur Hajzer, Jerzy Kukuczka. Near of summit they meet another team (Wanda Rutkiewicz, Ryszard Warecki, Carlos Carsolio, Ramiro Navarette).

1987 - Yebokalgan Ri (7365 m) - First ascent on Summti. West ridghe, alpine style, without oxygen.

1988, 13 October - Annapurna I East (8010 m), new route. alpine style. Team: Artur Hajzer, Jerzy Kukuczka 


1971 - Bulgaria, Riła. New route on Devils Needle

1981 - New Zeland. New Routes on S and W face of Malte Brum. 

Jerzy Kukuczka quotes

  • At a time when you stay at the top, there is no explosion of happiness - happiness is experienced when everything remains in front of you, when you know that you have to a goal a few hundred, a few dozen meters when you are right in front. This is the time of happiness. Jerzy Kukuczka
  • Within a month of intense life in the mountains is going through so much, what used to be a period of several years; This is a occupancy for people greedy for life - human life is not enough. Jerzy Kukuczka
  • The closer to the top, the more grew in me the belief that it might be fulfilled, which most dreaming. Jerzy Kukuczka
  • I am not enough to be only in the mountains, not enough to be on an expedition. I believe that if the walks uphill, then with some goal, and that goal is to climb to the top. Jerzy Kukuczka
  • If we successful, we will enter into the history of mountaineering, we will have the opportunity to its success to sacrifice our colleagues. Jerzy Kukuczka
  • There is no response to stubbornly by many posed the question of the meaning of expeditions in the high mountains. I've never felt the need for such a definition. I walked to mountains and defeated them. That's all. Jerzy Kukuczka
  • Climbing is a great effort, but the extraordinary pleasure". Jerzy Kukuczka
  • I agree to the fight. The award, which is getting for these hardships, it is exorbitantly large. It is the joy of life. Jerzy Kukuczka

Translated by Damian Granowski (here you will find original quotes (in polish))

Gallery of Jerzy Kukuczka photos

  • Jerzy Kukuczka and Andrzej Czok
  • Jerzy Kukuczka memorial chamber in Istebna
  • Jerzy Kukuczka_44
  • South face of Lhotse
  • Jerzy Kukuczka in Himalays
  • Jerzy Kukuczka_47
  • Jerzy Kukuczka_15
  • Jerzy Kukuczka on italian movie festival
  • Jerzy Kukuczka on lonely eve on road to Dhaulagiri
  • Jerzy Kukuczka_71
  • Approaching in Himalays
  • Castle Juval
  • Jerzy Kukuczka packing mascot for his expedition
  • Jerzy Kukuczka_83
  • Silver olympic Order
Last modified onMonday, 24 October 2016 07:33
Damian Granowski

Climbing trainer in Cracow. enthusiast of rock climbing, mountaineering (summer and winter), ice climbing, dry-tooling. Owner of blog
My climbing school you will find here: (also climbing courses in english language).