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Monday 31st July 2017

Art of Freedom by Bernadette McDonald

Art of Freedom by Bernadette McDonald

Today is the publication date for Bernadette MacDonald's biography of Voytek Kurtyka ‘Art of Freedom’ Below is an except from this new book by award winning author of Freedom Fighters.

Something else was stirring within Voytek of which his father had no inkling. It was on a high-school hiking trip to Poland’s Tatras that Voytek had his first real encounter with a mountain. ‘I remember the moment, I wasn't climbing. I was just watching the mountains. Watching and admiring. I felt as if the mountains were alive. I belonged there. I felt a part of them. I had a strong desire to get a response from them and felt almost sorrowful that the mountains didn't give me a sign.’ Voytek had discovered an emotional connection to a landscape that reached far beyond his intellect and that created even more distance between father and son. Despite being misunderstood by his father, Voytek did, more or less, what he was told. He entered university, studied for five years and graduated with a degree in electronics. But he had no interest in the subject matter. He attended classes rarely, preferring to cram day and night for his exams. ‘Upon exiting the exam room, not one single piece of information remained in my head,’ he laughed.

A new kind of knowledge was filling that space. Voytek had discovered rock climbing.

His first experience on rock was in 1968. Elzbieta Waga - or Ella, as she was known - was studying medicine at the same university and invited Voytek to join her and a teaching assistant for an outing to a nearby crag. The assistant, who was clearly more interested in Ella than in climbing, was in a decidedly sour mood about Voytek's presence. But nothing could stifle their pleasure from scampering about on the granitic rock of the Sokoliki spires near Wroclaw, where all the city's climbers learned to climb. ‘At the first contact with the rock it was a feeling as though long forgotten, yet strangely familiar,’ Voytek recalled. ‘Immediately after the first three moves I knew I would be doing more of this.’

He did. A lot more of it. In fact, climbing on rock became a kind of trap for Voytek. ‘Maybe I didn't understand how serious a trap it was,’ he later admitted. It must have been a relief to abandon his boring electronics classes for something that captivated his every thought and emotion. As ecologist E.O. Wilson wrote in Consilience, people 'gravitate towards environments that reward their hereditary inclinations.' Voytek's attraction to the vertical world of rock seemed predestined.

In the late 1960s, the Wroclaw Climbing Club was teeming with good climbers: Wanda Rutkiewicz, Bogdan Jankowski, Krzysztof Wielicki, all future stars of the mountaineering community. Voytek soon provided an intriguing addition to the scene. A slight young man, he exuded intensity, his body coiled, ready for action. His curiosity was limitless, and his powers of observation were impressive, relative not only to the concrete and factual but also to the nuanced and emotional. Despite his sensitivity, socially he presented an almost arrogant attitude disguised by hippie headbands and flowery shirts. The combination of his natural talent and his striking good looks made a powerful impression.

It was at the local crags that Voytek met Wanda, the beautiful and athletic young student who would become the most famous of all Polish female alpinists. He became infatuated with her deep-set eyes and her flashing smile, but only for a few weeks. He had something else on his mind: the granitic rock beneath his fingers.

To find out more about Art of Freedom, visit the Vertebrate Publishing Website


Thursday 6th July 2017

Alistair scrambling on An Teallach

An Teallach Scramble

Today I was on An Teallach with Alistair and Toby. Although it started cloudy we had some good views once on the top.

The rain only arrived on the way down which was perfect. There are some photos from the weekend on my Facebook Page: An Teallach Scramble Facebook photo album

Father and son on An Teallach Heavy Rain shower on the way out