Polish mountaineer awarded French Legion of Honour

Piotr Tomala was awarded the Legion of Honor for high altitude rescue of a French climber in the Himalayas. He received the award in the French Embassy in Warsaw.

“This is a very solemn occasion for three reasons. The National Legion of Honor medal is awarded for highest merits to individuals who work towards promoting France and spreading values which France promotes around the world. Awarding the medal is a recognition of the values you represent. These are: bravery, pushing yourself over your limits, determination in pursuit of your passions, solidarity, freedom. These are the values you find on the top of the world,” said Pierre Levy, the French ambassador during the award ceremony

Four mountaineers: Adam Bielecki, Denis Urubko, Jarosław Botor and Piotr Tomala have been awarded the Legion, but only Tomala was able to receive it in person on the occasion of Bastille Day, the French national holiday. Urubko and Botor are currently in the Karakorum range, attempting to climb the previously unconquered Gasherbrum VI peak.

On January 25, 2018, Elisabeth Revol climbed Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth highest peak at 8,126 meters, together with Polish climber Tomasz Mackiewicz. She was the first woman to reach the summit in winter. During their descent, the weather conditions worsened. Mackiewicz lent help to Revol, helping her walk and warming her, but he began to suffer from altitude sickness. They halted their descent at around 7200 and took shelter in a crevasse. Revol called for help.

Four members of the Polish expedition aiming to achieve the first wintertime ascent of K2, the world’s second highest peak, stopped their ascent and came to the rescue, flying almost 200 kilometers by helicopter. The helicopter was arranged and paid for by French and Polish embassies in Pakistan. Denis Urubko and Adam Bielecki were dropped off by helicopter at 5050 meters, as helicopters are unable to reach certain high altitudes. In the meantime Revol began her descent, without Mackiewicz, as rescuers decided his condition was too difficult and she wouldn’t manage to descend herself if she tried to help him.

Urubko and Bielecki reached Revol at over 6000 meters, after an 8 hours nighttime climb and descended with her. Revol survived 70 hours at high altitude, inminus 50 degrees Centigrade, with the wind reaching 150 km/h, without food.

Jarosław Botor and Piotr Tomala provided logistical and medical support for the operation. The climbers have been previously awarded the Order of Polonia Restituta by the Polish President Andrzej Duda

“Thank you very much. I never suspected that during realizing my mountaineering passion, I’m going to receive such a great honour”, said Tomala. “The highest French award speaks for itself. Incredible experience, but all the time I’m thinking, if we really deserve all these honours and awards. Because what we did there is normal for us, mountaineers. We help each other, it’s just that the situation during the 2018 operation was a bit different. I took part in four operations like this and I think that I had a hand in saving at least two other people. My colleagues from Nanga Parbat have similar experiences,” he added.