You not only ascended on top of Makalu in winter as first - but also you have broken Polish "monopoly" on this. More, Do you have some consciousness of historic changes? Something is ending and something begins...
First of all I didn’t think that I break the polish monopoly of the winter climbs. I just integrated that monopoly J I have so big respect for the polish winter climbing tradition, for Kukuczka, Wielicki, Zawada, Berbeka and the others that I always speak about your country in any of my slide show and presentation. Sometimes I’m more a Polish ambassador than Italian… I learned and I had been inspired a lot from your best alpinists and I simply followed their example… Probably I make clearer the roles of the winter climb than in the past and I had been more severe in respecting the 21st December as a minimum departure date. The Brazilian journalist and historical Rodrigo Granzotto consider very strictly that dates to define a winter climb and he said and recorded that only Jerzy Kukuczka and Simone Moro realized 2 complete winter climbs (see email below). But I don’t think we can be so strict. I think that Wielicki and Kukuczka and the polish school invented the winter climb above 8000 and I accepted that in the beginning they started before 21st December. Only now I not more acceptable because now is demonstrated that is possible that kind of climb and now the “competition” is open and the roles has to be very clear. With Jean Christophe Lafaille in 2005 on Shisha Pangma the climbing community had been very clear and now everybody has to be very honest and careful in following the same roles.
In the last few years, Himalayan mountaineering was in some regress from one side and, from other hand we can see "crowd" of tourists on Everest, etc. In your opinion where is place for "pro" climbers in Himalaya? In winter attempts? Or in speed solo style a la Ueli Steck?
Now there is clear 2 kind of Himalaysm. The 95% made with jumar along fix rope, or in any case in normal season along normal routes. That alpinism is “high altitude tourism”. Many teams on the same routes and all with the same exactly project. Collect summits, collect all the 14th peaks over 8000. In the third millenium that is a “no sense alpinism”. I understand very well that there are many people close to the 14th 8000 peaks and they want to finish the collection. I respect and understand their position. It is a very big and important personal satisfaction but that collection is not taking anything new to the climbing history. So those collector has be respected but they are not writing any new pages of the climbing history and explorations.
The second kind of alpinism is the one that is looking for the evolution of the vertical history. It has to be done by new routes, traverse, enchainment, winter climb, speed ascent along new routes or unrepeated routes, virgin mountains, virgin faces.
But to do this kind of alpinism is necessary to be free… Free to accept the easy failure, free to any influence of sponsors, free to choose other tendencies and not following like sheep same projects and the same routes that now are massively attempted… In Poland I have many friends, is like my second country and I know some potential future Kukuczka but those guys have to decide to shake their life and start a “nomad life” taking hard decision and start to climb far from the normal routes and far from the collections… They have to invest economically on their dreams and their climbs giving all their energy in their life project.
Yours ascend looked as "easy and pleasing". What are the most differences for you between winter and summer Himalayan mountaineering? Did you have any despair? What surprised you the most? What did you not expected?
The different between summer and winter are so big that it is impossible any compare… In winter you are completely alone, with no water at base camp, with permanent cold and wind. Anybody shares your effort, none except yourself can brake trail, fix ropes, wait, and so on. As Wielicki said, “the winter climb is a lottery, with 10/15% of success”. On Makalu Denis and I had been extraordinarily motivated, strong, fast, fighters. I was convinced since the beginning we succeed. I feel it… always. We climbed fast, in alpine style, in 19 days we succeeded. The cold and the wind were terrible but also Denis and I were terrible in fight the elements. We decided to go without Sherpas, without oxygen, without any big group to demonstred that also the first winter climb has to be done in the “new” style. Fast, clean and light. It is time to change also in those climbs. I think that the secret of our success had been the team. Denis and I together are an extraordinary couple of friends, adventurer, dreamer, and motivated climbers. All the time we had been together in the past we reach our goal…
Voyteck Kurtyka claims that "alpinism is the art of suffering" - how do you find any motivation to be on the summit of an 8000m peak at - 40°C and winds up to 100 km/h? It is hard to think that you like it :)
Voyteck is perfectly right! Our winter climb had been, (as R. Messner recently wrote on the most popular sport magazine) the success of the capacity to suffer against the natural elements and against the high level effort. For sure on the summit you are not relaxed and happy like in the bed with a nice and sweet girl, but you feel like the winner after a difficult battle. I also feel that I closed the mouth to my enemy, I destroyed any polemic. A man, a climber, is also proud when he reply with the facts to the polemic to the jealous colleagues.
At the end, personal question. History of mountaineering knows lots of climbing duets, but your and Denis' country background is quite different. What is special in yours partnership?
I think that Denis and I together are like, Kukuczka and Wielicki, Messner and Kammerlander, Loretan and Troillet and some other famous couples. We are exactly the 50% of the mind, of the muscle, of the ambition, of the motivation, of the inspiration of our climbs. We are different culturally, technically, personally but we trust each other as brothers. I’m sure that if I can’t do something he can do it for he and me know that where he can’t climb I can do it for sure. We are not heroes or “Rambo” but together we feel like a “caterpillar”… I was the same with Anatoly Boukreev and I miss him as a par of my body. But with Denis I found a piece of that missing body… and Denis is proud of that.