Title: Art of Freedom – The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka
Author: Bernadette McDonald
Publisher: Vertebrate Publishing
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography, Outdoors
Book format: Hardback
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Description: Voytek Kurtyka is one of the greatest alpinists of all time. Born in 1947, he was one of the leading lights of the Polish golden age of mountaineering that redefined Himalayan climbing in the 1970s and 1980s.
His visionary approach to climbing resulted in many renowned ascents, such as the complete Broad Peak traverse, the ‘night-naked’ speed climbs of Cho Oyu and Shishapangma and, above all, the alpine-style first ascent of the west face of Gasherbrum IV. Dubbed the ‘climb of the century’, his route on GIV with the Austrian Robert Schauer is – as of 2017 – unrepeated. His most frequent climbing partners were alpine legends of their time: Polish Himalayan giant Jerzy Kukuczka, Swiss mountain guide Erhard Loretan and British alpinist Alex MacIntyre.
After repeated requests to accept the Piolets d’Or lifetime achievement award (the Oscars of the climbing world), Kurtyka finally accepted the honour in the spring of 2016. A fiercely private individual, he has declined countless invitations for interviews, lectures and festival appearances, but he has agreed to collaborate with internationally renowned and award-winning author Bernadette McDonald on this long-awaited biography.
Art of Freedom is a profound and moving profile of one of the international climbing world’s most respected, complex and reclusive mountaineers.

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review: This is such an interesting book, a brilliant biography of a very interesting climber. Voytek Kurtyka has successfully climbed many mountains and is a well-known name in climbing, but finding out about his personal story has not been easy. He is a very private individual and has refused to accept a prestigious lifetime achievement award for years. But in this book we finally learn about Voytek’s personal experiences, of his great climbs and the unique attitude that he has to his climbing.

I was excited to read this book, especially as Voytek Kurtyka is Polish and most of my family is from there too (so it’s always nice to read about anything Polish!). I have to admit, having only recently become interested in mountaineering, I didn’t know about Voytek but this book has not only been interesting to read but it’s also kept me gripped thanks to the brilliant writing of the author Bernadette McDonald. The book begins with a bit about Voytek receiving and repeatedly rejecting the Piolets d’Or award, before continuing with a chronological story of his life. It begins with his parents and it was fascinating to read about the things Voytek felt and did as a child which eventually led to him climbing.

Art of Freedom page image one
©The Strawberry Post


As the book continues you get a real insight into how mountaineering was for Polish climbers at the time. Poland has had a lot of problems in its past, and many of these affected what climbers did and I loved learning about the illegal climbs and later, the clever but also illegal import business that Voytek and other Poles were running at that time. It’s very interesting and although I knew about the Polish being clever in this way, I never expected it to be done on such a large scale. Learning about all these extra parts of Voytek’s life outside of the climbs themselves, just made his whole life story feel more real. It brought Voytek’s story to life and I really enjoyed it.

Of course what I enjoyed even more was reading about the climbs. There are many different climbs and I won’t list them here, but it’s always interesting to hear climbers own experiences, especially the little things like the arguments that they had and what was said and done – even what they ate! For everyone the climb is different and Voytek’s own personal experiences are so interesting. I like how spiritual he felt about the mountains he was climbing, and later his overall spiritual attitude to life. Knowing how private Voytek is about all this, just makes reading it so much more special, like you have special permission to learn about this man.

Art of Freedom page image two
©The Strawberry Post


The book is filled with four sections of pictures among the text. These include pictures of where Voytek grew up and his parents, as well as many of his climbs and the beautiful mountains. There are also some lovely photos of his family, his children and some great photos all the way up to the present time. There some uses of the f or s swear words but it is very infrequent and fits with the story being told.

I really enjoyed reading this book, there’s something brilliant about the way that the author has told Voytek’s story that I really could imagine the climbs and his experiences as if I was there. It’s also a book that you can read whether you are into climbing or not. I am new to the genre and have been captivated by this biography. It’s definitely a book I will be recommending to my family and friends and it’s one I am sure I’ll enjoy reading again.

Do you like this book?  Have you read any other interesting biographies or books about climbing?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂