© 2020 Fundacja Himalaizmu Polskiego im. Andrzeja Zawady
(he did not use his first name)
Andrzej was born on July 16, 1928 in Olsztyn.
He was the son of Filip Zawada and Eleonora Czarniecka. His grandfather, Tomasz Rawicz-Zawada, took part in the January Uprising in 1863. Andrzej Zawada, used to say:
„…I've always been attracted to risk, I probably have it after Grandpa Tomasz. He learned, as a nineteen-year-old middle school student, that an uprising had broken out. He sneaked across the borders from Lviv and fought bravely for the independence of Poland…
When looking at photographs and listening to familiy stories told by your mother and grandfather you learn about heroism and patriotism, you realise that your own life can't be mundane. It must become remarkable.
"One needs great ideas to be motivated and worthy. That's why I decided that whatever I do, I must be the best in it"
- Zawada wrote in 1950s. It does sound improbable, but from the very begnning, once he took his life in his own hands, he was sure it will be remarkable.
Andrzej Zawada didn't remember his father, who died in 1931, leaving 3-year-old Andrzej and his 5-year-old sister Jadwiga under the care of their mother Eleonora and grandfather Tomasz. Grandfather, who took part in January Uprising, taught Andrzej to love his homeland and be proud of his ancestors. Zawada admitted later that he wanted to work in diplomacy, like his father - consul, but he found that he preferred his grandfather's way of living.
Especially his imagination and tendency for crossing boundaries. Also those seemingly invisible.
He crossed the first boundary already in 1959. He was 31 and led 5 friends from his mountaineering club to climb Tatra main ridge for the first time during winter. It wasn't exactly legal at the time, but for Polish mountaineers it was an unattainable Holy Grail. The need to push his limits was growing in Zawada. Although maybe not from the very beginning - after his father's death he lived with his family in Rabka and once World War II has ended in Przesieka, near Jelenia Góra. At that time mountain climbing wasn't at the forefront of his mind. What was? Dancing and soirees, where Chopin was played and Polish poetry recited. He was surrounded by women and his mountaineering plans were left for later. After many years, he still remembered the taste of wine he had in 1947, when after he passed his Matura exam his mother organised a dance for his classmates. He also remembered the day he left to study physics in Wrocław. That's when his life began to change.
In Jelenia Góra young Zawada watched gliders, how they looped and rolled, higher and higher. Even 10 km up! Higher than Everest. He liked it. It's probably why after two years of studying and encouraged by Roman Teisseyre he moved to the University of Warsaw and signed up for an aeroclub. He was parachuting, flying and he loved the adrenaline. Then, a friend from university, Elżbieta Kowalska proposed climbing Tatra mountains. They took Roman Teisseyre with them as well. It was summer 1950 and Zawada touched the granite of Tatra mountains for the very first time.
„My first night in a mountain shelter…”
- Zawda wrote in his journal.
Zawada didn't stop there, he signed up for Polish Tatra Society. In June 1951 he took part in climbing course, learning from Stanisław “Moses” Groński, Jan Długosz, Jan Strzelecki, Karol Jakubowski, Andrzej Ziemilski. He climbed all the quite easy routes, which where part of the course. But it was enough to become a candidate for a Mountaineering Club membership - he was introduced by Wawrzyniec Żuławski himself. Zawada slowly entered the elite group of Polish mountaineers - scientists and intellectuals. He often felt embarassed, as he didn't really believe in himself. He was also fascinated by the initial successes of the new, post-war political system. Club colleagues quickly dispelled his socialist ideas.
But mountaineering wasn't love at the first sight for Zawada, he was in two minds about it and his restless soul was still searching.
“What did actually change in this year after I went to the mountains - a lot, but also nothing”
- Zawada noted in his journal.
In October 1953, during one of the regular meetings in "U Fukiera" restaurant, Zawada met Anna Milewska, young, beautiful mountanieer, history of art graduate. Anna immediately fell in love. Zawada, his previous, failed relationship still fresh in his mind, was cautious. Still, they started seeing each other. It was a difficult time for him. Although he became an assistant to professor Edward Stenza in University of Warsaw Department of Geophysics, he wasn't doing well. After three years, he quit. Help came from Roman Teisseyre, who finished university and started to work in Polish Academy of Sciences. In 1956 Teisseyre offered Zawada a place in scientific expedition to Vietnam - as a part of International Geophysical Year. It was exactly what Zawada needed after his failures - quitting university and de facto ending any chance for a scientific career. Geophysics gave him a chance for work and travels, for something new.
He spent over a year in Vietnam. He came back tanned and with hundreds of meters of film. In cinema, together with Anna, they watched recordings from the expedition. Anna was proud of Andrzej. He went back to Tatra, climbed and watched other club members prepare for expedition in Alps. He dreamt about it as well, but once more chose a different road. His films from Vietnam were so successful that he got another great proposition - to film on Spitsbergen!
„I had to make a difficult choice again - Alps or Spitsbergen? I can't say that I chose Spitsbergen only because it paid well, but it would be hypocritical of me to claim that it was not one of the reasons” - he explained in one of his interviews.
He left in June 1958, again as a part of International Geophysical Year, to film and climb with Ryszard Schramm. From him Zawada heard about the first, summer climb through Tatra main ridge in 1955. When he returned to Poland, Zawada already had a plan.
Climbing Tatra main ridge in winter 1959 didn't change Zawada's life. Polish mountaineers were preparing for expedition on Noshaq, in Hindu Kush, but he was not invited. There was also a daring initiative of Mountaineering Club to climb the virgin peak of Dhaulagiri in Himalaya with Swiss and an expediton in Andes. They needed the best, but Zawada was not one of the best - regardless of his spectacular success in Tatra he had no experience in Alps. When finally, in 1960, he found himself in Swiss Alps, the weather made climbing impossible. In the meantime, using overseas allowance he saved and part of the money from selling family house in Rabka he bough himself a flat in Saska Kępa in Warsaw. He was also travelling through Poland, looking for places to install geophysical measuring instruments for the Geophysical Department of Polish Academy of Sciences. He climbed in Tatra - in summer and winter. In 1963 he asked Anna Milewska for her hand in marriage. They got married on the 28th September 1963 in Branicki Palace in Warsaw. The wedding was small, for family and closest friends. The couple moved to live on Francuska Street.
- He fell into middle-class stability, which he always made fun of - reminisces Anna, laughing. She, after finshing History of Art, began drama studies in Cracow. At that time she already acted in Teatr Ziemi Mazowieckiej and slowly gained recognition as an actress.
Zawada's stubborness and his regular hikes in Tatra, where after some time he began to organise camps, bore fruit. In 1965 he took part in his first expedition in Alps. And it was an immediate success. In a four-person team they climbed Bonatti-Gobbi route on Grand Pilier d'Angle.
- "Only Bonatti and Poles" - wrote "Światowid" magazine and in the news of Radio Paryż it was announced as the greatest achievement of the season in Alps.
„Perhaps it was thanks to our quite celebrated climb or detailed description of the route that more and more people were interested in and climbing Bonnatti's route”
Three years later, Alps were not that benevolent and Zawada's attempt on Grand Pilier d'Angle during winter 1968 was unsuccessful. Instead, he climbed northern wall, Aiguille Blanche de Peutérey, which wasn't climbed in winter before.
- "Four Polish mountaineers succeeded in one of the greatest winter climbs which werestill left on Mont Blanc massif" - wrote French newspaper Le Dauphiné Libéré. After this succees, an extraordinary proposition was waiting for Andrzej Zawada - and it changed not only his life, but Polish mountaineering as a whole.
Today, the story of Zawada's return from France in 1968 and its consequences doesn't sound like much, but then it was no laughing matter. In Paris Zawada bought his dream car - Simca Aronde. He was going back with his friend, Maciej Kozłowski. Nothing would have happened if Kozłowski wasn't smuggling "Kultura Paryska" (émigré literary-political magazine), and they weren't stopped at the border. This resulted in further searches, also in Zawada's home. It quickly evolved in a so-called "mountaineers case" and Zawada unknowingly became a part of investigation made by Department of Security. His passport was taken and his participation in the planned 1971 expedition on Kunyang Chhish (the first post-war expedition in the highest mountains) was uncertain. And it was Zawada, who got the proposition from the Mountaineering Club to organise and lead it. Zawada's experience from Internation Geophysical Year finally worked in his favour. As his go-getter attitude and luck - he was friends with Andrzej Paczkowski, who at the time presided over Sports Comission of Mountaineering Club. Zawada's task wasn't easy - he had to find members for his expedition, organise reconaissance in Karkoram (the plan was to climb the virgn peak of Malubiting 7458 m) and lead the expedition itself. He didn't reach Malubiting, but Pamir and Pamir-Alay mountains, where he tested his own ability to acclimatise to high altitudes as well as potential candidates (for example Wanda Rutkiewicz and Halina Krüger) for Karkoram expedition.
In the end, on Kunyang Chhish in May 1971 they went in an entirely male team. They succeeded, but not without price - the highest price of Jan Franczuk's life.
„We all had one goal: summit one of the two highest, virgin peaks in the world. It was so important that we were prepared to sacrifice much. We won, but we paid for it dearly: with the life of one of us” - Zawada wrote after the expedition.
New Polish altitude record jump-started Zawada's mountaineering career. At that time, nobody knew how far he will go.
Andrzej Zawada was quite critical when it came to Polish expeditions to Afgan Hindu Kush - he called them "tourism". It was partly because of Bolesław Chwaściński's 1960 expdition on Noshaq, where he was not invited. Just as he had no chance for expedition in Alps, he wasn't considered for high mountains. So he criticised Hindu Kush, although it was very popular among Polish mountaineering clubs - such expeditions were cheap and easy to organise. And after all this criticism, in 1973 Zawada was invited to join winter expedition... to Afgan Hindu Kush.
The idea came from Benon Czechowski from KW Warsaw, but the initiative to attack the highest peak - Noshaq - that was all Zawada. It was daring. Although winter climbing was already very popular in Alps, the barrier of 7000 m in winter seemed impossible to break. After all, even Edmund Hillary, the first summiter of Mt. Everest, thought it impossible. The idea and the potential success were so tempting that they decided to go. And Zawada, together with Tadeusz Piotrowski reached the summit, breaking the winter altitude record. As Zawada later admitted, for him this expedition was an impulse for to climb the highest mountains in winter.
„Winter climbing gives me the greatest satisfaction, because it raises the difficulty bar, because it demands a lot from the climber. It shows us what we are capable of. For me, this is the future of himalaism. - The most difficult routes in the thoughest conditions!” - he wrote after many years.
When he came back to Poland, he started writing, wanted to publish a book about Noshaq. He had the title "Noshaq -50°C", found a publisher and started painstakingly writing. Or rather, dictating it to Anna, as he didn't have enough patience for writing. He also didn't have the mind for it - once he returned from Noshaq, he started dreaming about K2.
He was already thinking about K2 while descending from Kunyang in 1971. The soaring pyramid piercing the sky. Polish mounaineers buoyed by their success, dreamt about the highest peak of Karkoram, wrote petitions. But the Pakistani delayed, all the bureaucracy was unending, so Mountaineering Club asked Nepalese government for permission to climb one of the eight-thousanders. Lhotse was chosen, K2 forgotten for now. Zawada became the leader of the national expedition, which was to set out in autumn 1974.
Already then, after Jerzy Warteresiewicz's article in "Taternik", Polish mountaineers had three ideas on how to join the legends of mountaineering. When in 1965 Chinsese expedition summited the last of the 14 highest eight-thousanders, Poles did no give up and decided to climb eight-thousanders, as well as virgin seven-thousanders. The idea to climb eight-thousanders by new routes and winter expeditions followed. En route to Lhotse, Zawada had three ideas: summit virgin peak of Lhotse Middle (8410 m), have young climber Anna Okopińska climb the summit and break the women's altitude record and finally... climb Everest. Preferably in winter.
But, at the time, he was the most concerned about equipment. Most of it, just like during the Kunyang expedition, had to be made.
„How laughable seemed the troubles of the French expedition's leader on western pillar of Makalu in 1971, when he told me he can't decide from which company he wants to order the equipment. Oh, if only in Poland there was even one shop with climbing gear”
- complained Zawada and devoted himself to making shoes, tents, warm jackets, anoraks, gloves...
“We asked to have "Made in Poland" written on all this gear, so that we can show it”
Zawada wrote. And although the expedition turned out to be both unsuccessful and unlucky - cameraman Stanisław Latałło died on Lhotse - Zawada announced one success: together with Andrzej "Zyga" Heinrich they climbed above 8000 m in winter. But just after deciding to go back he wasn't in high spirits.
“For me it was a tragedy. I was 250 m away from the peak, after fighting so many weeks for Lhotse, I had to suddenly give up and descend”
- said Zawada in the documentary from the expedition. When he was returning from Lhotse he already had a new, daring plan.
When with wind combing his hair, Andrzej Zawada drove his small, but fast motorboat "Monsoon", he looked like a statue. Only Anna could understand what he felt in such moments. Zawada loved adrenaline, he craved new adventures. Both on Zalew Zegrzyński and Seksty lake he loved speeding through the water. He started in 1975, after he and Anna came back from Slovenia, from Adriatic sea. There, they were lying on the beach, swimming a
In 1975, Andrzej Zawada visited mountaineers in Great Britain - and climbed in Welsh Snowdonia. Next year, when the British came to Poland and climbed in Tatra, an idea to go to Hindu Kush in 1977 was born. Together with Wojciech Kurtyka, Alex MacIntyre and John Porter, Zawada experienced something new. With Terry King he climbed the northern wall of Kohe Mandaras in alpine style. 1600 m, 5 days on the wall. Zawada was then almost 50 years old, but it was the first time he experienced such a challenge. Afterwards he spoke of a new mountaineering spirit.
„We've moved the limit of human abilities, we started alpine style climbing on very difficult walls of mountains higher than Mont Blanc by two or two and a half thousand meters. It goes without saying that not everyone will be able to do it, but higher difficulty means greater challenge.”
And then he began preparations for most likely the most important expedition in his career.
This expedition almost didn't happen, it even wasn't meant to happen. Nobody have ever tried to take up such a challenge before. So Nepalese were absolutely against winter climbing in Himalaya. But after his Noshaq and Lhotse experiences, while he was still fighting for a K2 permit, Zawada, with Polish diplomats in Kathmandu, tried to persuade Nepalese government that opening the third climbing season is a great chance both for mountaineers and for the country itself. Zawada wanted a lot - permit for climbing Mt. Everest by a new route (southern pillar) and for winter expedition. While social unrest raged in Poland, Zawada was looking for climbers ready to take on not any mountain, but the mountain - Mt. Everest. He didn't want to do it like Wanda Rutkiewicz in 1978 - using normal route, like a cog in a machine of an international expedition. He wanted to be a part of Polish expedition and to leave Polish flag on the peak. He invited 40 mountaineers. And then suddenly, everything started to work out - it was more than he could take on.
„Like from Santa Claus' bag!”
He got permits for K2, for new route on Everest and in autumn 1979 for winter attempt on Everest. All the expedition's members want to forget what happened next. Complete chaos, making gear, clothes, organising food and transporting tonnes of equipment by air cargo to Nepal. And everything on a strict deadline. After that, they fought like lions for 40 days, they braved the unnknown and "if it wasn't Everest" Leszek Cichy and Krzysztof Wielicki most likely wouldn't have reached the summit. 17 February 1980 went down in history. It was the first summiting of an eight-thousander in winter, and the highest one to boot.
Then on the 19th May Andrzej Czok and Jerzy Kukuczka repeated the success - and established a new, Polish route. Zawada was on cloud nine. "Everything he does is a success" - papers wrote. But he was afraid that the Polish feat would be treated like a circus trick, that winter climbing will not be accepted and nobody will follow in Polish footsteps. He needn't have worried - already in December 1980 Japanese expedition set out for Everest. In total six expeditions decided to attack eight-thousanders in winter!
"Our expedition hasn't even finished yet, when others asked for winter permits. Next winter, season 1980/1981, two strong expeditions made attempts on Everst. Japanese with famous Uemura wanted to repeat our climb through classic route and British, led by A. Rouse, wanted to use Yugoslavian route through the west ridge. Both expeditions confirmed how difficult the conditions are in winter. Japanese didn't reach South Col and the British didn't manage to cross 7000 m. Our ascent became all the more important" - Zawada wrote after the expedition.
Andrzej took Anna to Nepal, he wanted to show her Himalaya in winter. He needed the most important person in his life to understand his passion.
Throughout 1980 and 1981 Zawada was making use of his success. He was giving lectures, showing photos and making plans. He lost the K2 permit, but climbing the second highest mountain in the world - event though a new route - wasn't his dream anymore. He thought exclusively about winter in Himalaya. Then came sudden and fortunate meeting with Jacques Olek during lecture Zawada gave in Canada in 1981. They became fast friends, but most importantly when Olek heard about plans for K2 in winter he was most enthusiastic. Next years Zawada devoted to organising his dream expedition and learning sports marketing. Olek introduced him to big companies manufacturing sports equipment. They were looking for sponsors, printing advertisements. Just like West European and American expeditions, winter K2 expedition was a chance to show new products and test them in extreme conditions. But nobody knew how extreme they will be. 1983 reconaissance in Pakistan has shown that it's impossible to reach the base at the foot of K2 and the expedition will cost a fortune. They had no chance of gathering the needed funds.
Zawada didn't want to stop, he was afraid - needlesly - that Olek would lose his enthusiasm. He proposed organising Polish-Canadian expedition on Cho Oyu. They set out in December 1984 and Zawada took Anna with him again, needed her with him. She couldn't stay long, as she had to promote her new film "Follies of Miss Eva" in Poland.
This role was her ticket to stardom. And again, Zawada was extremely lucky. Not only the expedition reached the summit - they did it by a new, difficult route.
„The south-east wall was so high and steep it was hypnotizing. We felt excitement of the fight and terror triggered by roaring avalanches and dangeorusly glinting barriers made of seracs” - described Zawada.
The end of 1980s was the time of great geopolitical changes. While Berlin Wall was falling, Andrzej and Anna were building the walls for their own house. From their flat on Saska Kępa they moved to an old, lovely villa in Żoliborz. Zawada finally had his garden and studio. The studio was in the attic - with a large library, opening roof and a telescope, which he used to watch the stars. He spent long hours there surrounded by his gear, memories and plans, which were more dreams than anything possible to accomplish. Because of the economic changes of 80s and 90s and tragedy under Lho La pass, where the best of Polish mountaineers (including Zyga Heinrich) died buried under the avalanche, there was nobody who could take part in an expedition. And definitely not in a large, national one. And Zawada didn't see himself in alpine style climbing. How would it look like in winter? With bare minimum gear, without lines and tents on an eight-thousander? Impossible. Then again, Krzysztof Wielicki's feat - solo winter climb on Lhotse in 1988, during Belgian Everest expedition was a food for thought. But Zawada treated it as an exception. After all, how many Wielickis can you find in Poland? And although his idyllic life with some business trips for Geophysical Institute here and there was a nice change from chaos of organising expeditions, Zawada longed for his old life.
What was more amazing, in the second pair of summiters was Jerzy Kukuczka, who several days before climbed Dhaulagiri. Zawada entitled his account of the expedition, written for "Taternik", "Three records on Cho Oyu".
After returning to Poland and encouraged by his success, Zawada began his fight for winter K2 anew. He managed in 1987. The biggest problem, as it turned out, wasn't money, but persuading Pakistani government - President Muhammad Zia ul-Haqin himself was against it. As it was an international expedition, ambassadors from Poland, Canada and Great Britain worked tirelessly to change his mind. Unfortunately, although the best mountaineers took part: Wielicki, Cichy, Pawłowski and Berbeka - they failed. Summiting K2 turned out to be an impossible challenge; there were no weather windows, only hurricane winds and extremely low temperatures.
Afterwards Zawada said that thirty years of attempts will be needed to summit K2 in winter. How right he was!
„Climbing gives me the distance from the comfortable, safe life, which we lead in the city. Even more, it lets me accept this life, because I know that I can do more that chase my own tail around small, unimportant matters of everyday life.” - he confided in his interview.
He couldn't stay still. He set out in 1990, not on an expedition, but to Chamonix, where he was invited for the 40th anniversary of summiting the first eight-thousander - Annapurna. He stood next to his idols Maurice Herzog, Achille Compagnoni, Edmund Hillary, Kurt Diemberger, as an equal. Two years later, also in France, together with chief editor of "Taternik" Józef Nyka, Zawada sat in jury of the first edition of mountaineering award Piolet d'Or. Less than a year later - another trip. This time to London for the 40th anniversary of summiting Everest.
„The first evening it was only us, mountaineers, from all over the world. Lord Hunt was, as always, open and very friendly. During the official event in Royal Geographic Society, we had the honour to meet Queen Elizabeth II. She remembered that summiting Everest was a wonderful gift from British mountaineers for her coronation in 1953” - Zawada wrote to Anna Milewska.
Anna was equally busy, both with theater and films. She was travelling through Poland and they didn't meet at home often. In the middle of 1990s Zawada retired. He felt that his experiences in Himalaya can be turned into business, and encouraged by the success of Polish brand Alpinus, he began production of sleeping bags under the brand Tatra Top. Following strategies of Western European and American companies, he decided to advertise his product himself. He visited fairs and presented his products all over Poland. He was quite successful - Zawada received a prestigious "Dobry Wzór 1996" award from Institute of Industrial Design.
Nanga Parbat was meant to be an easy mountain. Not when it comes to climbing - although Zawada clasified it as equal to Cho Oyu, just one of the smaller eight-thousanders. The travel was supposed to be easy - small, winter caravan meant low costs. And although Andrzej Zawada still dreamt of winter K2, he knew that he simply couldn't afford to organise such a large expedition. Nanga was meant to be the return to national expedtions, as well as test and marketing for Tatra Top sleeping bags. He began organising the expedition with great enthusiasm, only to meet with one problem after the other: there was not enough money, climbing equipment... And most importantly - people; the expedition looked nothing like the ones from 1980s. The old mountaineering guard - or what was left of it - wasn't very keen on taking part in it and there weren't many young and experienced climbers. They set out in December 1996, quick action, success was at their fingertips. Although he was right under the peak, Zbigniew Trzmiel turned back. He was only 300 m away from the peak - and for the next 19 years nobody will be able to climb higher. This record inspired Zawada to go there again next year. He took camera crew and the expedition was turned into a document - a dramatic document. There was absolutely no chance to attack the summit. Extremely heavy snowfall, earthquakes, Ryszard Pawłowski's accident and melting snow made it impossible. Zawada had to accept the failure.
„We were powerless, and so we don't have any regrets. Even if there were fifty or hundred of us, in such conditions we wouldn't climb Nanga Parbat. When it comes to the risk there is a line, which mustn't be crossed. Even under pressure: you got so much money, it's going to waste... Life is more important” - Zawada said after the expedition.
In 1998 he didn't know that he had two years left. Once more, just like at the beginning of 1990s, he lived his life to the fullest. In France he joined elite Groupe de Haute Montagne - together with Edmund Hillary, Chris Bonington and Reinhold Messner. He gave lectures in United States for Polish Americans. He took advantage of sudden media interest - Anna Milewska became a star thanks to her role of Julia in TV series "Złotopolscy". Press called Zawada "the famous actress' husband", and so he appeared on balls, charity auctions and gave intrviews. Finally, he could talk not only about his passion for mountains, but also cars, jazz, tinkering and astronomy.
When in 1999 Krzysztof Wielicki suggested organising winter K2 expedition - this time starting in China (Wielicki climbed there in the summer of 1996) - Zawada once more devoted himself to mountains. But he didn't reach K2. Right after winter reconnaissance led by Jacques Olek and Darek Załuski, on the 21st August 2000 Zawada lost his fight with cancer. A few weeks before his death, Anna Teresa Pietraszek finished recording her interview with Zawada. Film "Ostatnia rozmowa" ("The Last Conversation") - Zawada's mountaineering testament - was broadcasted by TVP.
„There, in the mountains, you strongly feel this direct contact with matter, this mass of matter, this great cosmos. It seems that it's enough to reach towards the sky and you can grab the stars in your hands. In the eternal conflict between spirit and matter, in my case matter won.”
Andrzej Zawada was buried on Powązki Cementery (quarter 65-2-13).
Wywiad z Bernadette McDonald
Wywiad z Anną Pietraszek
Wywiad z Hanią Wiktorowską i Andrzejem Sobolewskim