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1982 K2 Expedition Report

Wanda Rutkiewicz
Wanda Rutkiewicz
Editor's Note: Wanda Rutkiewicz wrote the following account of the 1982 all-women's expedition to climb K2. She failed to summit that year but returned in 1986 to successfully climb the Abruzzi Spur route. Born in 1943, Wanda Rutkiewicz climbed eight 8,000-meter peaks before she disappeared in 1992 on Kangchenjunga, making her possibly the most accomplished female alpinist ever. Her report is presented here, courtesy of Arlene Blum, the leader of the first American and first women's expedition to Annapurna I.

Expedition Summary
The 12-member Polish-French all-women's (no high altitude porters) expedition to K2, consisting of members Marianna Stolarek, Danuta Wach, Anna Czerwinska, Krystyna Palmowska, Jolanta Maciuch, Ewa Panejko-Pankiewicz, Aniela Lukaszewska, Christina de Colombel, Anna Okopinska, Wanda Rutkiewicz, Halina Krüger-Syrokomska and Alicja Bednarz, failed due to bad weather conditions.

"It had occurred to us that a group of mountain climbers consisting only of women might well be met with suspicion or intolerance in this Mohammedan country...."

The Pakistani government gave our expedition permission for the ascent of the Southeast Ridge from the 15th of June. The weather during the 69 days the expedition spent in the mountains was good only during the first three weeks (end of July to the beginning of August). From the middle of August until the end of September, a west and a southwest wind blew continually forming an impassable barrier at heights over 7000 meters. At temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius to -30 degrees Celsius the wind was 40-50 knots.

On the 30th of July, the 12th day of the expedition, the deputy leader, Halina Kruger-Syrokomska, one of the most experienced Polish woman climbers died in Camp 2, at 6700 meters, of heart failure. The expedition recommenced the ascent on the August 4. Christine de Colombel, Krystyna Palmowska and Anna Czerwinska reached the height of 7100 meters on the 7th of August. In spite of the bad weather the expedition made repeated attempts to climb higher. (Palmowska climbed 14,000 meters in altitude).

The experience gained by the expedition confirmed the fact that in the autumn, the weather gives expeditions little chance of success.

Sindbad, Pakistan
Wanda Rutkiewicz
Up to the year 1982, 17 men, but no women, had climbed K2.

The expedition arrived in Islamabad between the 28th and the 30th of June. We were eager to get to the mountains as early as possible because of the unfavorable weather conditions that are to be expected in autumn. The luggage was brought in to Islamabad from New Delhi as quickly as possible by lorry and sent to Skardu in Baltistan (north area) along the Indus River.

The many formalities in Islamabad had obviously become a matter of routine, both the dealing with officials and necessary preparations to be made for the departure of the expedition. Since the 1981 Trekking Convention, Pakistan has noticeably opened its borders to tourism. All formalities are quickly and easily overcome with a minimum of red tape even when an expedition is venturing into the frontier area between China and Pakistan.

Several agencies have been founded to help expeditions similar to those in Nepal. In our case it was Karakoram Tours who have Nazir Sabir, a K2 climber, working for them.

The interest in our women's expedition as something unknown was large and we were welcomed with great friendliness. It had occurred to us that a group of mountain climbers consisting only of women might well be met with suspicion or intolerance in this Mohammedan country where a woman's place in public life is completely different than in Western countries. But we were hospitably welcomed and our customs were treated with respect.

We, in turn, were expected to treat their ways with similar respect; for instance, to refrain from eating in public during Ramadan (fasting time), drinking alcohol, smoking and, in spite of the heat, we were expected to be well covered with clothes. We were often invited to the houses of officials in Islamabad and Skardu as well to those of our porters in their small mountain villages. We were also invited to a reception at the Pakistan Alpine Club by its President General, Quamar Ali Mirza, to meet members of this club. Due to lack of time we were unable to visit the beautiful Hunza region that had been so warmly recommended by proud Nazir Sabir.

We left Skardu on July 7th for Dusso, 50 miles away, in three jeeps and seven tractors. The same day, the expedition loads were distributed among 260 porters.

On this occasion our LO (Liaison Officer), Major Ajmal, and sirdar, Ghulam Nabi, made a long speech. In view of the long, arduous march, they exhorted the porters to speed the discipline. Ajmal insisted on my saying something. He managed to make a long speech in Urdu out of my few English sentences. This feat, worthy of an upcoming politician, caused much applause ending with cries of: "Pakistan Sindbad" (three cheers for) "Leader Wanda Sindbad," "Major Ajmal Sindbad!" On this occasion the march to Base Camp proceeded quickly and without unpleasant incidents such as strikes—a problem that other expeditions had often had to cope with.


Wanda Rutkiewicz's 1982 Expedition Notes, Courtesy Arlene Blum

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