On March 4, Polish climbers Maciek Ciesielski, Kacper Tekieli and Piotr Sułowski completed the first winter ascent of Expander, a legendary four-route linkup in the Polish Tatra Mountains. The rugged Tatras, which stretch for roughly 40 miles along the Slovak/Polish border, have long served as a proving ground for Polish alpinists. Though the range is relatively low in elevation (the highest peak, Gerlachovský, sits at 8,711 ft), the Tatras are well-known among local climbers as a harsh environment, particularly in winter.
Expander’s four routes (each named after their respective summits) are Mały Młynarz (350m VI-), Kocioł Kazalnicy (200m M7), Mnich (160m VII), and Kościelec (90m VI+). All four were put up in the 1960s by Polish climber Maciej Gryczyński. Gryczyński’s nickname, Sprężyna (“the Spring,” after the 4 Springs Chest Expander training device), led to the name “Expander” for the complete linkup .
Though Gryczyński claimed the first ascent of each, the idea to link all four routes together in a single push wasn’t envisioned until the late 1980s, by the Polish climber Krzysztof Pankiewicz. He completed Expander in September of 1989 in a blistering 17 hours with Piotr Panufnik. Since then, the linkup has only seen three other ascents, all in summer.
Now the trio of Kacper Tekieli, Maciek Ciesielski, and Piotr Sułowski have completed it in winter in a brutal 43 hour 50 minute push.
In full, Expander involves around 20 miles of travel between four separate passes, with total vertical gain just under 10,000 feet. Kacper Tekieli and his partners, all of whom are experienced in long alpine routes, traveled with a light rack, double rope, and no sleeping bags in order to move as fast as possible. The first day they freed Mały Młynarz, freeing Kocioł Kazalnicy during the night, then sent Mnich the following day with a little aid. The final night they topped out Kościelec with some aid as well. All told, the nearly 44-hour push was completed with only an hour of sleep and a couple hours of rest.
“We were good team, we were able to help each other, and finally realized our big dream,” said Tekieli.