Alpine legend Krzysztof Wielicki takes readers 'inside the mind of solo mountaineering' in new tell-all biography
A new book by mountaineering legend Krzystof Wielicki will for the first time give an insight into the acclaimed climber’s solo experiences of scaling some of the world’s tallest and toughest mountains.
Entitled “Solo. Moje samotne wspinaczki” (Solo. My solitary climbs), the illustrated, 234 page book released on January 12th delves into the climber’s circumstances, emotions and motivations that led him to undertake each of his solitary ascents, with that of ‘killer mountain’ Nanga Parbat, considered by Wielicki as his greatest achievement.
An icon of global mountaineering, Wielicki’s outstanding career includes being the first man in the world (alongside Leszek Cichy) to reach the peak of Mount Everest in winter and being only the fifth man in the world to reach the summit of all 14 eight-thousanders (mountains over 8000 metres).
Recognised for these and other achievements, he was awarded the prestigious Piolet d’Or award for lifetime achievement in 2019, considered the highest honour in mountaineering.
Five of Wielicki’s eight-thousanders, all located in the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges, were summits he conquered alone: Broad Peak, Lhotse, Dhaulagiri, Sziszapangma, Nanga Parbat.
It is these expeditions that form the focus of his new book.
Divided into thirteen chapters, each titled with the dominant emotion of that moment, the book starts not from a solo journey but from Wielicki’s recollections from 2018, when he was the leader of a Polish team expedition to the summit of K2 in winter, a moment which was a catalyst for the emergence of the book.
While leading that expedition, at a time when K2 had not yet been conquered in winter, Wielicki and his team received a call about two mountaineers in danger on Nanga Parbat and immediately abandoned their expedition to help in the rescue mission, with some of the Polish expedition climbers flown over by helicopter to Nanga Parbat to help the stranded climbers.
The experience triggered memories for Wielicki of his own solitary ascent of Nanga Parbat, known as the ‘killer mountain’ in 1996, which was also his last eight-thousander to secure him the set of all 14 and put him in the history books for completing the so called ‘crown of the Himalayas’.
Wielicki told TFN: “The book is an attempt to explain why solo. I never planned to climb solo. I had always climbed in teams, and the team is the most important thing, but circumstances offered me that chance and I wanted to test myself, test how far I could push myself… Most solo climbers are people who are greedy for emotions, in fact, all climbers are”.
Amongst others, the book details Wielicki’s experience of a tough three days during which he weighed up what to do before he eventually decided to take up the opportunity of scaling Nanga Parbat alone.
He said: “I wanted to show that a solo climb can’t be forced, it can’t be prepared, it needs to be the right spontaneous moment, it has to be natural, but it also has to be based on a wealth of experience.
“Reaching the summit of Nanga Parbat was my greatest achievement, I had none of my friends with me, I had to take many decisions on my own, it was a greater adventure…Psychologically its completely different, when you’re completely alone.
“But my experience of scaling Nanga Parbat is also an example of how not to behave in the situation I was in.”
Exploring the psychological aspects of solo mountain climbing, Wielicki makes some crucial distinctions, especially between loneliness in life and loneliness on a solitary climb and also between the concept of risk and being a risk-taker as well as reflecting on partnership and the human condition.
In tackling the experience of solo climbing, Wielicki’s book is a first on the Polish market, as no Polish climber has ever attempted to write about this aspect of climbing before.
Wielicki told TFN: “On the whole, books which have been written about climbing in Poland have focused on the climb of one particular mountain and although some attempts to explain solo climbing have been made by climbers in other countries, no one has ever done it in Poland”.
The book is intended to appeal to a broad range of readers and isn’t limited to those with climbing experience, but reads equally easily for laymen of the subject who are interested in delving behind the scenes of Wielicki’s remarkable achievements.
Wielicki’s hope is that the book can be an inspiration for climbers and non-climbers alike and particularly for those considering solo climbing.
He said: “Nowadays we can observe a growing trend for climbers around the world and in Poland who are increasingly keen to go it alone without a team, so I hope the book can be useful for them, but also act as an inspiration for all climbers, but even people in other areas of life might find something to be inspired”.