February 17th: 40th anniversary of first winter ascent of Mt Everest

On February 17, 1980, Polish mountaineers Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy climbed Mount Everest, the highest peak on Earth, becoming the first men to do so in winter.

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The two Poles reached the peak of the mountain at an altitude of 8,848m (29,030 ft) at 2:25pm of the local, Nepalese time.

The expedition included a total of 20 people, it was led by the expedition's organiser, Andrzej Zawada.

“We proved that it is possible to climb an eight-thousander in winter. Zawada liked the risk and was good at hustling and interesting others with his ideas,” Wielicki said.

Cichy said that their attempt was similar in a way to the first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

“They did not know what the end of the route looked like, and we did not know if we would manage in winter conditions. Not as Poles, not as Wielicki and Cichy, but as humans. It was Hillary who said that he could not imagine living at over 7,000m in winter. But it was faith that pushed us up,” Cichy recalled.

After Wielicki and Cichy, only five people managed to climb Mount Everest in winter: three Japanese and two Korean nationals. The last winter ascent took place in 1993.

Polish mountaineering has been very successful in climbing eight-thousanders during winter. As many as 10 out 14 of them were climbed in winter for the first time by Poles (once with Italy’s Simone Moro). The only unclimbed peak in winter is K2, the second-highest mountain on Earth.

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