So I have reread this book already, and I reread Bernadette's other necessary book Freedom Climbers, why? Well it's necessary reading, it's compulsory reading in fact, I mean it. With out reference we just float around, begging to be rescued from the morass of the sea! In this clumsy reference, the morass refers to climbing mags, and the blurb that climbers put out about themselves, long past is the time when our ascents spoke for themselves. An example might be an interview of the first Soloist of Freerider, and on the cover is an anonymous blode bimbette-does this seem right to you?
Kurtyka and his mates forged some of my own climbing, and not necessarily in the big mountains either.This groups influence was profound and still lingers on. Perhaps today the Visigoths that we all were are now absorbed Roman citizens, and dont care about fighting cold high mountains, but I will soldier on dreaming.
Mountains are big things, they are symbolic barriers, and heavens, and the abodes of the gods, mere mortals must lay at their feet and worship. Well not quite, you can be rich today and be telliported to the summit on oxygen, and other drugs by one of the great rip off, and support nasty regimes incoperated, or you can be a Kurtyka or indeed his oppo, Kukuszka. Your choice.
A pet hate of mine is nationalism, and climbing writing is full of it, a weird thing as climbers themselves as a group are way above this slimy emotion for the most part. Anyway why do we adore the Polish climbers to this day? Well this book of McDonald goes much of the way in explaining why. They were brave, they were bold, they were visionary, and they were over there in the himalaya doing it, not just talking about it.
Bernadette McDonald has done a great service to us all with this book from the peculiarly secretive Kurtyka, a man who has often hid himself from the lime light, and refused those baubles that lesser climbers crave, and grovel for-medals for mountains!This book is a must read, and it brought chills down my spine as I somehow felt the air thinning, and the chill entering my safe bedroom, as I read of the ascent of Gasherbrun 4, this ascent more than any others seems to prick every climbers bubble of self worth, and it shines above. Why? Well read the book. But your a sports climber you say, we are all sports climbers compared to Kurtyka, and Kukuszka, and Alex, et al, we are just deluded and in love with our own image. Modern magazines do not differentiate between a blonde bimmbette, and Alex the Soloer of Freerider, so how can they talk of the privations of running out of food, or loosing your way. As I talk of loosing the way at altitude, you must read the book for the glimpse into the relationship between Kukuszka, and Kurtyka, it's an essential Mephistophelian tale, you can bung Messener in to the mix too, just to add to the flavour. I will perforce explain as you might otherwise loose the thread- the essential selling out of climbing in the collection of Peaks, as Messner and Kukuszka did was alien to Voytek.
I will leave you there with question or statement, selling out, it's the modern way, is it the way?
Art of Freedom by Bernadette McDonald, the ice and times of Voytek Kurtyka, published by Vertebrate press.