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Voytek Kurtyka: Freedom climber

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Acclaimed Polish mountaineer Wojciech 'Voytek' Kurtyka has been named as the recipient of this year's Piolet d'Or Lifetime Achievement Award.

Described as the mountaineering community's 'metaphysical think-tank', Voytek was born in the village of Skrzynka on 20 September 1947 and went on to emerge as one of the leading lights of the fast-and-light style, as he sought to realise a purer form of alpinism. He has climbed alongside some of the leading names of twentieth century alpinism, including Alex MacIntyre and Jerzy Kukuczka and has a host of trailblazing ascents to his name. These include new routes on the Gasherbrums I and II (8068m; 8035m) in Pakistan, the first winter ascent of Trollveggen (Troll Wall) and a bold twenty-nine pitch line on Trango Tower.

Voytek is a key figure in Bernadette McDonald's multi-award-winning Freedom Climbers, which tells the story of the extraordinary Polish adventurers who emerged from under the blanket of oppression following the Second World War to become the world’s leading Himalayan climbers.

Describing the legacy left by Voytek and his climbing partners - Wanda Rutkiewicz and Jerzy Kukuczka - Bernadette writes, 'They were geniuses. They knew how to live with uncertainty. They manipulated an impossible system so well that they were able to realise their dreams. They travelled, saw the world and lived lives of adventure and intensity. They had the perseverance of pioneers and the values of patriots. Their dynasty has crumbled, but for 20 golden years they were the best in the world.'

While Voytek's hard Himalayan ascents now lie behind him, he continues to climb locally and is increasingly enraptured by the natural world. 'Why brood over the past when the present offers much more mystery and charm?' he asked Bernadette McDonald during an interview for Alpinist magazine.

Throughout his climbing career, Voytek has emphasised the deep satisfaction and meaning that climbing holds for him, viewing mountaineering as a 'complex and unique way of life, interweaving elements of sport, art and mysticism'. While asserting that he now finds more fascination in studying the plants at his feet than seeking out new lines, Voytek remains at the heart of Poland's mountaineering community.

Appearances at events are something of a rarity for Voytek, making his presence at this year's Piolet d'Or awards in La Grave all the more of an occasion to celebrate.

Freedom Climbers, Voytek Kurtyka

SPECIAL OFFER: If you'd like to find out more about Voytek and the history of Polish mountaineering, you can buy a copy of Freedom Climbers direct from our website and SAVE 20% with discount code VOYTEK. Offer ends 20 Aprl 2016.

Image: a page from Freedom Climbers showing Voytek Kurtyka (top right) and some of his leading contemporaries.

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