27 February 2003


Hot tea

The morning connection with camp IV (7630 m) was dramatic. Denis Urubko informed us that his partner Marcin Kaczkan is behaving like a man devastated by exertion and lack of oxygen at high altitude. A rescue action was started to save the alpinist.

When Urubko reported very late at 9 from camp IV: - we were asleep - thus explaining the silence which made us worry; we accepted this information with admiration, knowing that he and Kaczkan shared one sleeping bag and slept on coils of rope instead of mattresses. The expedition's manager Krzysztof Wielicki told us earlier about a hard night that he had spent half a kilometre below at camp III (7150 m), where the temperature was approx. minus 40 degrees. - It was blowing like hell - he said briefly.


Shortly after that Denis called the base again. - Something's wrong with Marcin. He is not reacting to what I'm saying. He can't even tie his boots. The doctor talked to Kaczkan for several minutes. It seemed that the alpinist was thinking and gave logical answers. He was very apathetic though. From what Denis was saying it seemed that the early symptoms of altitude sickness - swelling of the brain - could not be ruled out. It usually ends tragically if the alpinist is not brought down. Marcin has never been at that altitude before. Contrary to earlier plans, he did not take the oxygen tank. The alpinists had no medication except for a single aspirin. When they reached camp IV the day before, they found out that the tent was destroyed and the contents, including the first-aid kit, were blown away by the wind.

The most important thing to do is to make the apathetic person get dressed, leave the tent and start descending. We waited to see if Denis and Marcin would manage. We were relieved to hear that they had left. At one moment we could see them briefly on a snowy field below camp IV through a hole in the clouds. Slowly, but unassisted, Marcin was walking down holding on to the fixed ropes.

Wielicki and Urubko in ABC just after the descent . Photo by © Monika Rogozinska


Krzysztof Wielicki left towards them from camp III with medication and a thermos of hot tea which he prepared, as a result of which his tent burnt down. He quickly reached the colleagues coming down. They met at the altitude of 7450 m. Marcin got the appropriate medication. Further descent was quick considering the circumstances. Two alpinists left camp I with the objective to take the oxygen tanks as high as possible. Two others left the base for camp I. Marcin was doing very well. Although weak and tired, tripping and losing ground under his feet, falling, he was still descending along the fixed ropes. The steep ice fields over camp I posed the greatest danger. The ropes are 50 m in length. When coming to the end of one rope, you have to switch the belay over to another rope. You can make a mistake only once here. The colleagues who came up, stood on the last ice field along the ropes and lit the way with flashlights for Marcin and assisted him.

In darkness, assisted by the growing number of alpinists, he reached camp I (6030 m) after 7 p.m. He will spend the night there under the watchful eye of Jurek Natkanski and Michal Zielinski. The doctor from the base camp is constantly in radio contact with them. The other ones, together with Krzysztof Wielicki and Denis Urubko, are descending to the base, but they still have several hours of sliding down the ropes, marching over the glacier with crevices, and a march over a stone path. Four colleagues have gone out to meet them with hot tea.

When asked what happened to him up there, Marcin said over the radio from camp I: - I wore myself out yesterday. The night was unpleasant. I was woozy in the morning. I did not feel like getting up and putting my boots on. I was very drowsy. Later, when we left, I somehow got going. I had my last meal yesterday morning. The guys gave me something to drink on the way.

Right now Kaczkan is in good shape, but very tired. He has no frost bites.

On Thursday the objective is to get Marcin down to base to see if he requires to be taken further down. Right now we don't know what the fate of the expedition will be, whether there will be yet another attempt at the summit planned by Wielicki and Urubko. -

Monika Rogozinska Feb. 26, 2003