Initial reports have been confirmed that Artur Hajzer, part of a once-strong tradition of Polish climbers summiting 8000m peaks in winter, perished during his descent of Gasherbrum I (8068m) on Sunday, July 7. Best known for the first winter ascent of Annapurna (8091m) in February 1987, Hajzer also established a new route up the northeast face of Manaslu (8163m) and one on the southeast face of Annapurna–all with the great climber Jerzy Kukuczka.
According to Hajzer’s climbing partner, Marcin Kaczkan (Poland), bad weather turned the two climbers back from their summit bid near 8000m. During the descent, they inadvertently separated. Hajzer attempted to call his wife as he reportedly thought Kaczkan had fallen, but bad reception didn’t allow for a good enough connection. He was able to send a SMS message saying Kaczkan had fallen down the Japanese Couloir. However, that was not the case. Kaczkan was descending slowly below him.
Then Hajzer fell while trying to find his partner. “I think Artur was stressed because he thought Marcin had fallen and immediately began descending to search for him,” the Polish alpinist Krzysztof Wielicki says. “I think he made some mistakes while trying to hurry, lost balance and fell.”
Meanwhile, oblivious to Hajzer’s tribulations, Kaczkan continued descending on his own, and saw Hajzer fall 500m to the base of the Japanese Couloir. When Kaczkan reached Hajzer, he was dead.
Hajzer and Kaczkan had been attempting to climb Gasherbrum I and II in rapid succession before the accident halted the expedition.
The Pakistani climber Shaheen Baig writes:
“I am very shocked to hear the tragic news…. Artur was my best friend and I have known him since 2006… In the winter of 2011/12, I worked with the Polish winter expedition. I found him a very empathetic person and a professional climber, and throughout the expedition he played a vital role…he had the leadership skills to make decisions in the mountains, which is a very difficult task.”
In the wake of this serious loss to the Polish and larger climbing community, our condolences go out to his friends and family.
Artur Hajzer appeared in Alpinist 40 in Jerzy Porebski and Bernadette McDonald’s comic about the 1989 avalanche on the West Ridge of Everest that killed five Polish climbers, ending the Golden Age of Polish Himalayan Climbing. Click each image below to read the pages.