4 February 1943
|Died||13 May 1992 (aged 49)|
|Known for||First woman to successfully climb K2|
Wanda Rutkiewicz (née Błaszkiewicz) (Polish pronunciation: [/ˈvanda rutˈkʲevitʂ/] 4 February 1943 – 12–13 May 1992) was a Polish mountain climber and computer engineer. She was the first woman to reach the summit of K2 and the third woman (first European woman) to climb Mount Everest.
Wanda Rutkiewicz was born into an educated Polish family in Plungė, Lithuania. Her father, Zbigniew Błaszkiewicz, was an engineer for the Communal Building Projects Bureau (Biuro Projektów Budownictwa Komunalnego). Zbigniew was also a passionate sportsman. He excelled at swimming, shooting, and judo. Maria, on the other hand, enjoyed reading about Western culture and traveling in the Himalayas. After World War II, her family chose to leave for Poland, first moving to Łańcut before settling in Wrocław in southwestern Poland's Recovered Territories. She was initially homeschooled, but began attending 2nd grade in elementary school in 1949 and joined the 18 Scout Team of the “Zośka” Battalion. When she was five, her seven-year-old brother, Jerzy, was killed after finding an unexploded bomb with his friends in post-war Wrocław.
Rutkiewicz was a multi-sport athlete. Everyday, before elementary school, she would practice running with her school's coaches. She trained long jump, discus throw, and high jump. In 1961 she won the gold medal in the Polish University Club Championships in the shot put. As a student in the Politechnic institute, she joined the Academic Sports Union (AZS Wrocław), where she opted to play volleyball. Despite standing at just 168 cm tall, she led AZS Wrocław to the 1965 Summer Universiade in Budapest. Some[who?] speculated that Rutkiewicz might have been called up to the national team or even represent Poland in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but she chose to pursue climbing instead. She graduated from Wroclaw University of Technology as an electrical engineer.
Rutkiewicz rode a Junak, the heaviest Polish motorcycle, which indirectly contributed to her interest in climbing. One summer's day in 1961 it ran out of fuel. She started waving to people passing on the road to seek their assistance; a motorcyclist who stopped to help was travelling with a colleague, Bogdan Jankowski, who had been climbing for two years. This chance meeting resulted in them climbing together near Janowice Wielkie in the Falcon Mountains (Polish: Góry Sokole).
After returning she began to lead her own expeditions, including a number of all-female ones, and became known for her blunt leadership style. On 16 October 1978, she became the first Pole, the third woman (after Junko Tabei and Phantog in 1975), and the first European woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. She managed to accomplish this climb despite suffering from anemia. In fact, she carried injections of iron with her, so she could raise her hemoglobin levels to remain conscious during the climb. She reached Mount Everest the same day that her compatriot, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła was announced Pope. John Paul II and Wanda Rutkiewicz met in 1979 and the Pope said of their accomplishments, "The good Lord wanted this--that we rise so high on the same day." In 1986 she became the first woman to successfully climb K2, which she did without supplemental oxygen, as part of a small expedition led by Lilliane and Maurice Barrard. Her triumph was marred when both the Barrards died during the descent, becoming two of 13 climbers to die on K2 that summer.
Rutkiewicz's goal was to become the first woman to reach the summits of all 14 of the eight-thousanders. During her climbing career she successfully climbed the following mountains:
- 1975 – Gasherbrum III
- 1978 – Mount Everest
- 1985 – Nanga Parbat
- 1986 – K2
- 1987 – Shishapangma
- 1989 – Gasherbrum II
- 1990 – Gasherbrum I
- 1991 – Cho Oyu
- 1991 – Annapurna I
- 1992 – Kangchenjunga (uncertain)
While climbing Kangchenjunga, 49-year-old Rutkiewicz was last seen alive by Mexican climber Carlos Carsolio. She was sheltering at high altitude on the north-west face, during her attempted ascent of what would have been her ninth eight-thousander. She was physically weakened and decided against descending. Carsolio said he did not have the mental strength to convince her to descend because he was weakened as well.
It was thought that her body had been found on the south-west face of the mountain in 1995 by Fausto de Stefani, Marco Galezzi and Silvio Mondinelli, suggesting that she had climbed up the north-west ridge to a point very close to the summit before falling down the south-west side. However, more detailed analysis of the findings by the Italian climbers, such as colour of clothing and presence of Bulgarian-made tablets with the body, indicate that it was probably the body of Bulgarian climber Yordanka Dimitrova, who was killed by an avalanche on the south-west face of Kangchenjunga in October 1994. It is not known if Rutkiewicz reached the summit of Kangchenjunga. If she did so, she would have been the first woman to reach the top of the world's three highest mountains. Her body has still not been found.
On 16 October 2019, Rutkiewicz was the subject of the daily Google Doodle on the forty-first anniversary of her ascent of Mount Everest. The image shows her climbing snowy peaks on the railing rope. In October 2021, the Polish Parliament passed a resolution to commemorate the 30th anniversary of her death and named 2022 as the "Year of Wanda Rutkiewicz".
- Reinisch, Getrude, Wanda Rutkiewicz: A Caravan of Dreams (2000) ISBN 0-9538631-0-7
- Freedom Climbers ISBN 978-1-926855-60-8 Freedom Climbers by Bernadette McDonald
- Martina Gugglberger (24 April 2016). "Wanda Rutkiewicz – crossing boundaries in women's mountaineering". Sport in Society. 20 (8): 1059–1076. doi:10.1080/17430437.2016.1175139. S2CID 148301887.
- ""Wyglądała, jakby wróciła z Księżyca". 30 lat temu Rutkiewicz stanęła na K2". www.tvp.info (in Polish). 23 June 2016. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
- "Strona 3 Pruszkowskiej Drużyny Harcerskiej". 3pdh.pruszkow.zhp.pl. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
- S.A, Telewizja Polska (2020-05-13). "Życie pod górę. 28 lat od śmierci Rutkiewicz". sport.tvp.pl (in Polish). Retrieved 2020-11-24.
- Kamińska, Anna, 1980- (2017). Wanda : opowieść o sile życia i śmierci : historia Wandy Rutkiewicz (Wydanie pirwsze ed.). Kraków. ISBN 978-83-08-06357-6. OCLC 994267404.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Michael Keller (23 August 2017). "Death Before Failure: Wanda Rutkiewicz & The Golden Age of Polish Mountaineering". Culture.pl. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
- Jordan, Jennifer (2006). Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women on K2. HarperCollins. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-06-058716-1.
- Jordan, Jennifer (2006). Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women on K2. HarperCollins. pp. 84–94. ISBN 978-0-06-058716-1.
- "Alison Chadwick, the second wife of Onyszkiewicz, who died in the mountains. They met in the Tatra Mountains, together they captured the Himalayas". naTemat.pl. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
- Jordan, Jennifer (2006). Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women on K2. HarperCollins. pp. 171–174. ISBN 978-0-06-058716-1.
- "Who was Wanda Rutkiewicz, the Polish mountain climber who conquered Mount Everest?". The Independent. 2019-10-16. Retrieved 2019-10-16.
- "Celebrating Wanda Rutkiewicz". www.google.com. Retrieved 2019-10-16.
- "Rok 2022 będzie Rokiem Wandy Rutkiewicz. Jak i dlaczego zginęła?" (in Polish). Retrieved 15 October 2021.