Jurek Kukuczka isn’t a household name, but in the niche of alpinism his feats made him a legend. He’s considered a pioneer of the sport, marked by a tough-as-nails style, huge ambitions and steely drive. And before Kukuczka died during a 1989 attempt to scale the south face of Llotse, he attained an impressive list of high-elevation achievements: second person to climb all 14 of the world’s 18,000-foot peaks; first to make winter ascents of Dhaulagiri, Kangchenjunga and Annapurna; and, with a partner, he established a new route on K2 that hasn’t been repeated.
But his rise to success was unlikely; Kukuczka came from a working-class background, and before he was a climbing star he was a poor miner in Communist Poland.
Using archival footage, interviews with friends and photographs, Jurek creates a portrait of a man whose outward stoicism masked an intense fire to be in the mountains — giving insight into a mountaineer who was known by many but understood by few.