Reinhold Messner has said frequently that in the fi rst period of his activity in the mountains his climbing partners were often local farmers from the Valley of Funes in South Tyrol. The entire region of the Alps is inhabited by traditional peasant communities. Despite civilisational transformations we can still encounter there farms and their residents who like to climb the mountains for pleasure. Yet the Golden Age of mountaineering in the mid-19th century was dominated by an elite of British climbers with aristocratic, scholarly and cultural backgrounds. They were guided by highlanders from the foot of the Alps.
However, as early as in the 1950s and 1960s British mountaineering became the domain of the working class as well, thanks to Don Whillans. Among the modern climbers from Western Europe and the United States there are many workers, manual labourers, people with no higher education. On the other hand in Poland mountaineering was from the beginning an elite activity and has remained so to this day. Climbing has attracted and still attracts engineers, academics, creative professionals, doctors and artists. Among Polish climbers there have not been and there are no farmers, workers, uneducated people or those doing manual labour. The exception is mountain guides and rescuers, but they climb professionally, so to speak, and not con amore.
Why is that? Why do Polish highlanders — with few exceptions — not climb? Why has this been the case for nearly two hundred years? And what is surprising about Reinhold Messner’s visiting card which he gave Jerzy Kukuczka?