Sports of The Times: Scaling the World’s Most Lethal Mountain, in the Dead of Winter

Four climbers will make the final push to the summit without oxygen. Each has lost partners on climbs.

There is, too, the power that history exerts on the Poles. A decade ago, what remains of the old guard challenged a younger generation to test limits of flesh, endurance and creativity in the Himalayas. Their story, embedded in the urge of free spirits to slip the unsmiling bonds of a Cold-War communist government, offers our starting point.

Generations of Poles flocked like homing pigeons to the dark and jagged peaks of the Tatra Mountains, which rise on Poland’s southern border with Slovakia. Men and women scaled its granite walls in summer heat and in the belly of winter. When the photographer Max Whittaker and I accompanied five Polish Himalayan climbers to the Tatras in January, snow piled swollen on steep mountainsides and the temperature hovered near zero.

After World War II and its slaughters, the Communists imposed a controlling regime. Its bureaucrats held all passports. Whether factory worker, engineer or mathematician, everyone scuffled for money. The mountains offered freedom from all that.

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