Biography Wanda Rutkiewicz
Wanda Rutkiewicz was born on February 2, 1943, in Lithuania as Wanda Blaszkiewicz. Residing later in Wroclaw she graduated with master's degrees in science and in electronic engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Wroclaw. With eighteen years she started climbing in the domestic Tatra mountains, mainly in winter. 3 years later she began climbing in the Alps and the Norwegian mountains. Her climbs, in ladies-only-teams, included the East Pillar of Trollryggen in Norway (1968), the North Pillar of the Eiger (Messner route, 1973) and the North Face of the Matterhorn in winter (first women-only-ascent, 1978). In the early seventies she moved to Warsaw.
During the next 2 decades she became the unrivalled leader of feminine mountaineering contributing significantly to the development of women climbing tactics and philosophy. After climbing Pik Lenin (7134 m) and Noshaq (7492 m) in the Hindu Kush, she organised and led the successful 1975 Polish Women's Gasherbrum III (7952 m) expedition, by that time the highest still unclimbed mountain. In 1978 she became the third woman and the first Western woman to reach the top of Mount Everest (8850 m). She subsequently climbed the awesome South Face of Aconcagua (6960 m), the Diamir Face of Nanga Parbat (8125 m) in a women's team, K2 (8611 m) in 1986 as the first woman on top of the world's most serious eight-thousand-metre peak, Shisha Pangma (8027 m), Gasherbrum II (8035 m) and Gasherbrum I (8068 m), both in female teams, Cho Oyu (8201 m) and Annapurna (8091 m) by the extremely difficult South Face. In 1992 she attempted Kangchenjunga as a member of a Mexican party, starting the summit push together with the expedition leader. At nightfall on the 12th May she was last seen some 300 m short of the top, preparing a bivouac. She probably died during the night or the next day climbing towards the summit or even descending from it.
In addition to her climbing passion she was a gifted mountain writer and photographer. She wrote 2 books, Zdobycie Gasherbrumów (1979) and Na jednej linie (1986, co-author Ewa Matuszewska), and dozens of articles and reports. During the last decade she devoted a large part of her time and energy to film making, e.g. on Aconcagua's South Face Gdybyś przyszedł pod tę ścianę, on K2 Requiem, on Cerro Torre, on Nanga Parbat, on Gasherbrum II and on the people of the Baltoro region Ludzie na Baltoro. She was much in demand as a lecturer and speaker at international meetings and conferences. Always deeply interested in all matters of mountaineering and, in particular, in the ecology of high altitude wildland, she read in 1983 in Delhi a widely discussed paper on Women Mountaineers in the Himalaya (a subject for which she was an international ambassador) and served as founding trustee of the Mountain Wilderness organisation.
Wanda Rutkiewicz was a most forceful, determined person and lady-mountaineer. In re-cognition of her numerous contributions to feminine mountaineering she received many awards and distinctions, including the prestigious Sitara-e Imtiaz (Star of Distinction) award of Pakistan. Posthumously she now also receives the King Albert Medal of Merit in recognition of «her courageous and pioneering spirit in the development of feminine mountaineering and the exploration of the world's highest peaks for more than a quarter of a century».
Jozef Nyka (Poland), H. Adams Carter (USA) and Jürg Marmet