40 years ago: Berbeka and Gajewski achieve the first winter ascent of Manaslu

Maciej Berbeka on the "True Summit" of Manaslu on 12 January 1984 (Photo: Ryszard Gajewski)
Maciej Berbeka on the “True Summit” of Manaslu on 12 January 1984 (Photo: Ryszard Gajewski)

“Over there, the altitude, plus the temperature, plus the wind, plus the exhaustion make us fight for every step,” said Maciej Berbeka after his return from the eight-thousander Manaslu in western Nepal. “It’s simply a nightmare.” On 12 January 1984 – 40 years ago today – the Polish climber reached the summit of the eighth highest mountain on earth with his compatriot Ryszard Gajewski. It was the first winter ascent of Manaslu and the first ascent of an eight-thousander without bottled oxygen.

Incited by Messner

Expedition leader Lech Korniszewski, a 47-year-old doctor and mountaineer from Zakopane, the highest town in Poland, had gathered a young team around him. The average age of the climbers was 31; Berbeka and Gajewski were 29 years old. The two had been friends since childhood, their fathers worked together at the mountain rescue service in Zakopane. The team chose the so-called “Tyrolean route” through the South Face, which Reinhold Messner had opened in spring 1972. Messner had incited the Poles with his words that he did not believe that the route he had first climbed was possible in winter.

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