American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Europe, Polish-American Climbing Exchange

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1979

Polish-American Climbing Exchange. During late August and early September Mark Norden and I spent most of a month in Poland as guests of the Polish Alpine Club, or more specifically, The High Mountain Club of Zakopane, a local affiliate of the national organization. This was the first half of an exchange program; Polish climbers will visit the United States in 1979. Unlike the Russian exchanges which preceded it, the program was very loosely organized. We were set up in the climbers’ camp in the Tatra Mountains and introduced to the local climbers, primarily “rock jocks”, since most of the expedition and alpine climbers were out of the country. We were then free to climb what we wanted and with whom we wanted, although initially we were the victims of that overwhelming, East European hospitality, which can easily be misinterpreted as an attempt to control your actions. Initially we were accompanied everywhere, including to the climbs, but later given complete freedom, to the extent that I spent the last ten days of my stay hitch-hiking around the country by myself. As a climbing trip, however, it was a disaster, since it rained all but seven or eight days. We did manage to get in a few routes in the High Tatra, The West Tatra, the Krakow Crags, and Podlesice Crags. The High Tatra (Wysoki Tatry) are true mountains averaging about 2300 meters. The summits are rounded, so the “climbing” is done on the lower cliff faces. Because of this, it more closely resembles crag climbing reminiscent of Leavenworth, Washington, than mountaineering. The rock is excellent granite with classic crack systems. We managed to squeeze in three days of climbing before the weather deteriorated. The routes were “Gorgon-Onyszkiewicz” and “Srodek Po Sciany Wyzszego Wierzcholka” on Zabi Mnich (Little Bishop) both V’s (about F6), “Sprezyna” and a new free variant of “Kant Klasyczny”, both VI’s (about F10). The West Tatra (Zachodny Tatry) are geologically distinct, being exclusively limestone. The climbing is on crag faces, several hundred meters long, rising out of the access valleys. We did two routes out of the Dolina (Valley) Koscieliska: “Raptawicka Turnia” and “Komin Pragera”. Mark completed one additional route which nearly ended in hypothermic disaster when he and his two Polish companions were caught in mid-route by a freezing downpour. Along a line stretching a hundred kilometers in south central Poland, there are numerous lesser limestone crags. Some are free-standing, as the Podlesice Skalki, while others outcrop from picturesque valleys, as the Krakowskie Skalki. We retreated to these areas during the long spells of bad weather. Routes rarely exceeded one pitch and many were unprotectable top-rope problems of extreme difficulty. The white, chalk-like limestone can be unbelievably slippery when wet, but offers fine small-hold climbing when dry. Polish climbing ethics are classically European. The piton still rules, and a route is considered free until stirrups are used. This, however, is slowly changing. Polish climbers are well traveled and are slowly bringing the Western ethic of free and clean climbing into play within their country. However, they are hampered by the lack of modern climbing equipment, particularly chocks, which are beyond the economic means of the average Polish climber.

Ray Smutek

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