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Pakistan

Friends remember Polish climber Tomasz Mackiewicz after he was left to die on Pakistan’s ‘killer mountain’

Tomasz ‘Tomek’ Mackiewicz was a ‘free spirit’ who triumphed not just over mountainous peaks - but also heroin addiction, friends revealed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 February, 2018, 3:55am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 February, 2018, 6:55am

Polish mountaineer Tomasz “Tomek” Mackiewicz, who died while climbing a Himalayan peak nicknamed “killer mountain” with French friend Elisabeth Revol, has been remembered as a free spirit who lived an extraordinary life.

Mackiewicz, 43, died after conquering Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat last week - the final triumph in a life that also saw him overcoming drug addiction, helping children with leprosy and travelling the world.

“We’ve lost one of the most free and independent men out there,” Polish mountaineer Wojciech Kurtyka said.

How climber on ‘killer mountain’ was forced to leave behind her friend to save her life

Mackiewicz, a father of three, and Revol had climbed the 8,125-metre (26,660-foot) mountain in winter without oxygen when they began to get severe altitude sickness and found themselves stranded.

Revol was able to climb back down the mountain where she was rescued by Polish elite climbers Adam Bielecki and Denis Urubko. But the pair could not save Mackiewicz.

“Were we to have left Eli and gone looking for Tomek, she would have died. We couldn’t leave her, she wouldn’t have survived the night,” Urubko told Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

Polish climbing legend Leszek Cichy described Mackiewicz as “a character, different from others, very fascinating”. 

Kind, warm, open - he was a man from another planet for whom material goods didn’t matter
Leszek Cichy, climbing expert, on Mackiewicz

“Kind, warm, open - he was a man from another planet for whom material goods didn’t matter and who wanted to experience mountains in the humblest way possible,” said Cichy, who was the first in the world to summit Everest in winter, along with countryman Krzysztof Wielicki. 

In the 1990s, long before he devoted himself to the Himalayas, Mackiewicz battled a heroin addiction that he kicked after two years in rehab. 

He then bought a small yacht and sailed around the Masurian lakes in northern Poland, before hitchhiking to India to teach English to children afflicted with leprosy for six months.

Though he did some hiking and spelunking when he was younger, it was only in Asia that he first saw the massive mountains that he would later go on to climb.

Next, he travelled around Ireland, then returned to Poland and notably earned a living by installing wind turbines. 

His first major mountaineering expedition took him and fellow free spirit Marek Klonowski to Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak at 5,959 metres (19551 feet). 

The six-week journey, during which they braved temperatures that sometimes dropped to -40 degrees Celsius, earned them a Polish travel award in 2008. 

He’d show up at the villages at the foot of Nanga [Parbat mountain] and everyone knew him. He felt at home there
Cichy, on Mackiewicz

Mackiewicz then summited Khan Tengri (7010 metres, 22,999 feet) in Kazakhstan on his own, before reuniting with Klonowski to take a stab at Nanga Parbat. 

The idea was to climb the mountain in winter, which no one had yet done before, and to “show that anyone could dream, that the Himalayas were accessible to anyone,” Klonowski said. 

Mackiewicz would end up heading to Nanga Parbat a total of seven times. He always brought along bags of stuff for the locals.

“He’d show up at the villages at the foot of Nanga and everyone knew him. He felt at home there,” said Cichy. 

During one of their early expeditions, Mackiewicz and Klonowski set off with ropes meant for agricultural use that they had bought online for a discount.

They had so little money on them that they were forced to sell all their equipment and clothes to pay for their flight home, returning to wintertime Warsaw in T-shirts. 

They had neither official support nor recognition from Poland’s climbing elite, which considered them outsiders for a long time. 

Though they returned with their heads down, they did not give up. On yet another attempt they managed to reach the 7,200-metre (23623-foot) mark. 

Later he began climbing with Revol. On their second expedition together – and Mackiewicz’s sixth – the conditions were so extreme that they experienced real fear and had to turn back. 

“’Eli, it’s impossible,’” Mackiewicz later recalled saying.

“For the first time I saw her afraid. And when you’re afraid, you lose your motivation,” he told reporters in 2016. 

“You have the option of continuing and seeing how it goes. But that’s insanity because you don’t want to die. What will happen to your kids? I’m happy to have turned back. Life is beautiful,” said the twice-married father-of-three.

He returned one last time with Revol to finally conquer the mountain – and he stayed. 

“He really wanted to summit that mountain, and he did,” Revol told AFP.