If you want to touch some Himalayan legends, update your library and introduce your kids into the community of mountaineers you might keep this in mind for next year: there is a festival in Poland that has it all.

Type of content: Report, Karpacz

As soon as you get off the plane in Wrocɫaw, which is quite close to Poland’s border to the Czech Republic, in Central Europe, you notice the plain fields all around . If you are a mountaineering savvy you might be intrigued by how such a mostly flat country succeeded to yield one of the strongest high-altitude climbers the world has ever seen. Poland’s highest peak, Rysy, located in the Tatra Mountains, reaches 2,499m in height – not exactly the dreadful mountain where one climber could train for the Death Zone.

If you are not a Himalayan specialist, and yet you happen to read this article, this comparison might help: the Poles have the same tradition and put the same passion into climbing as Brazilians do when it comes to football. The long-ago Polish adventures in the Himalayas produced the legendary Wanda Rutkiewicz, the first woman to summit K2 (8,611m), the Killer Mountain from Pakistan, in the ‘80s; and Jerzy Kukuczka, a successful winter climber, also known as the second man to climb all fourteen 8,000-meter mountains after Reinhold Messner.

In the recent history, the Polish winter expedition to K2, that unfolded during the winter of 2017/2018, drew the media’s attention worldwide, since K2 has remained unclimbed in winter, despite the various teams’ attempts throughout decades.

But the Polish expedition to K2 has turned into a contemporary legend for a different reason: it unleashed the energy and strong characters of one of the world’s most audacious ice warriors spanning two generations – Krzysztof Wielicki, Adam Bielecki and Denis Urubko, the Russian climber with Polish citizenship. Perhaps that very clash of characters and leadership styles led to the K2 mission’s failure.

All the three Himalayan stars were invited as guests at XX Karkonoskie Dni Lajtowe Festiwal (KDL Festiwal), one of Poland’s most important mountaineering festivals, now at its 20th edition. The event took place between November 29 – December 1, in Karpacz, a mountain resort which you can reach after a two-hour drive from the Wrocɫaw Airport.


Damian, the 27-year old driver that takes me to Karpacz, is not a fan of mountaineers. He doesn’t even know such a festival takes place in the city we are going to. He is rather keen into rock music, tattoos and technology. His friend instead, sitting next to me, is familiar with the event. We have so many festivals in Poland, all kinds of, but I know this one in particular. It takes place in Goɫębiewski hotel, doesn’t it?”

It does. The young man even recalls the names of the mountaineers to take the stage, and he seems impressed by such a gathering.

Behind the scenes

The five-star hotel gets crowded at the sixth floor, where the event takes place. There are hundreds of people attending; children and even dogs, too. Polski Klub Alpejski (PKA), the organizer, sold about 600 tickets for this edition of KDL Festiwal, says Bogusɫaw Magrel, who runs PKA. Now he is busy with fixing technical issues, overseeing the schedule and hosting the event at the same time.

“It’s not the biggest festival, but the feedback from the participants is good. They can ask questions, feel the guests closely, approach them after presentations to shake hands, and get autographs too”, said Magrel in the short interview that took place after the festival.

Bogusɫaw Magrel (left) has been organizing this festival for 20 years in a row.

The guests Magrel refers to are the Himalayan legends that usually heat up press titles and social networks during their adventures at high altitude. And he’s right. Adam Bielecki, the 36-year old star of Polish climbing, who attends the event together with his family, finds time during the breaks to sign his book, “Spod zamarzniętych powiek”, displayed at the entrance, for his fans. “The book is a real success”, Magrel explains.

Another hit seems to be Krzysztof Wielicki’s biography published in 2019. It sold 18,000 issues in the first week after release, according to the veteran climber who led the latest Polish winter expedition to K2.

Denis Urubko is also encountered by fans as a star, from the very entrance of the hotel. Soon after his presentation, about his stunning rescues at high altitude, people stood in a queue for an autograph on the books he authored and for a picture with the climber.

Why do mountaineering books and climbers’ personal brands sell in Poland? This country’s historical achievements in the world’s highest mountains seem to still trigger climbers’ imagination and craving for peaks, no matter the generation. And that’s precisely what events like KDL Festiwal are trying to preserve.


NOTE: The interviews with the climbers taken during the festival will be published separately.

About KDL Festiwal:


  • It is one of Poland’s renowned mountaineering festivals;
  • The organizer of the festival is Polski Klub Alpejski, with 1300 active members. PKA has never been related to the Climbing Federation, the club operates independently;
  • The festival has been organized for 20 years without interruption;
  • In the long time, many famous climbers attended the festival as guests, including Reinhold Messner;
  • Since Polish is the festival’s language, it doesn’t get so many visitors from other countries; they mostly come from the Czech Republic. But Magrel has in plan to open doors to other countries in the future;
  • The price to enter the festival is 21-22 euro for 3 days. Children have a special price – 3 euro.

(source: PKA, the festival’s organizers)

© 2018 Larisa Ghitulescu.