They called her “abuela” – that is, grandmother. She was then 49 years old. Head of the expedition to Kanchendzonga, a 30-year-old Mexican Carlos Carsolio he said she was still beautiful. They said “Grandma this”, “Grandma that” until she understood her nickname and she pouted a little. Then she started calling herself “Abuela” and laughed at everyone. She was happy in the mountains.
At Kanchendzonga, Carsolio wanted to mark something new – the road from the north. He would lead Scott’s new ending to the top, right to the top. It had to be a nice line, said Carsolio, the last man Wanda saw. The tragedy of three decades ago marked his life forever.
Carlos was organizing an expedition with his wife and brother at the time, but he planned the summit alone. Some time before departure Wanda called. He could not and would not refuse her. However, he said he must have a partner because he has his own plans and is not going to change them. Wanda was at a bad time in her life, it even seemed to him that she was crying into the phone.
She lost everyone in the mountains, she had no one to climb with. Finally she found a young person who was willing to leave Ark Gąsienica-Józkowya climber from Zakopane with a brilliant technique.
They went together and it was a very good time for all of them. Wanda was brilliant, witty, she had many thoughts about life and the mountains. To Carlos it seemed feminist, but at the same time very feminine. Mature, beautiful, emotional and tough. Witty, but with limited immunity to jokes about himself. Hence, the nickname “Abuela” didn’t like her right away. When she realized what it meant, she didn’t say a word to them that day.
She enjoyed the mountains and was happy in them. During the approach, she worked hard and made films commissioned by Western television. Carsolio recalled that the barely perceptible tension between Wanda and his then-wife Elsa only added spice to the expedition.
It was a journey full of laughter. Although it started badly and ended tragically. Carlos remembers that they made a lot of stupid mistakes there. He started, the boss. He ran down the moraine, which he really liked, made a mistake on the stone and twisted his knee. A doctor from the German expedition told him that this was the end of the climbing for the next few months. He has to go home, to the hospital, because he suspects ruptured tendons.
Carlos’ dream of a new road was lost. He decided to stiffen his knee and climb to the top via the classic route.
During the first attack they made another mistake – this time in the planning approach. As a result, they had a hard campsite at 7100 meters. Carlos’ ex-wife has her fingers frozen. Brother and Arek had problems acclimating. The symptoms of altitude sickness were severe. Perhaps Gąsienica had the first symptoms of Willson’s undiagnosed disease, which led to his death in 34 years later.
Wanda and Carlos brought the rest down. Elsa was taken to the base by helicopter and then returned to Mexico. Arek and Carlos’ brother gave up climbing. They decided to attack again – just Wanda and him. Rutkiewicz was in good shape, but she had a problem with her leg. An old injury started. So they were both in a similar situation. However, they did not want to let go completely.
Carlos ran much faster than Wanda. At almost 8,000 meters there was a small ice cave. There he waited out the bad weather and when he gathered to continue, Wanda appeared. She marched in the terrible conditions he had endured in the cave. She was exhausted. He stayed with her. He cooked at night, she drank, ate and vomited many times. They left in the morning, the weather was good. He said he would go forward to put the rope in the hardest place. The pain in his knee prevented him from using the crampons properly. He would put his beaks on the traverse only with his healthy leg and put the sick one aside. He reached the top. Wanda walked behind, much more slowly.
When he descended, he thought she had turned. He met her only 300 meters higher than where they parted.
They spent another night in a small snow cave, it was very cold. He tried to persuade her to go down with him, because her slow march would risk two nights in the death zone. It sounded like a sentence. However, he could not take her by force.
Wanda was stubborn, you almost always had to agree with her. She was a great personality, a world famous mountaineer who can’t take orders. He soon realized he wouldn’t persuade her to come down. He decided to go down alone.
That was the last time they saw each other. As he descended, he fought to survive. He had no time to think. The leg ached, it was stiff, the body held on with its last strength. Nevertheless, he waited for Wanda in the following camps. Without result.
Carlos remembered that the moment he broke up with Wanda was the most difficult moment of his life. He knew they would say goodbye forever. He said he would like to die in the mountains himself, or let the children scatter his ashes on the slopes. Therefore, in a sense, he understood Wandayet it was very difficult for him to descend. You had to bite your teeth. The time of his death has not yet arrived.
Reuters did not report Wanda Rutkiewicz’s disappearance until May 25 at 4:30 p.m. For a long time it was believed that he would come back, that he would get on with the mountains again, that he would magically slip out again. Wanda’s mother did not believe in her daughter’s death until the last moments of her life. She believed that she had left the modern world and chose to live in a Tibetan monastery lost in the wilderness.
I wrote the text with the help of Wojciech Fusk, who often spoke about the tragedy in Kanchendzonga with the Mexican Carlos Carsolio.
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