Sii, the leader of the IT market in Poland, has funded a high mountain expedition of one of its employees. Michał Kobyliński climbed Denali, the highest peak of North America. “At the top, the temperatures were as low as 60°C below zero and the wind speed reached 120 km/h. This was a really shocking experience to me. The wind penetrated even the thickest jacket”, says Kobyliński, Test and Analysis Engineer at Sii Gdańsk.
Sii Gdańsk, a cutting-edge IT enterprise, is full of passionate people. In the Gdańsk office, which is house to over 750 professionals, you will find over a dozen of active hobby groups, composed of enthusiasts of such disciplines as football, basketball, squash, Cuban salsa, board games, and what not.
The company also supports a wide range of initiatives connected with free time activities. As the employees represent the company in competitions of all sorts, they can also rely on their employer to have their passions sponsored. One of the enthusiasts who has used this opportunity is Michał Kobyliński. A Test and Analysis Engineer on daily basis, he is also an avid high mountain climber. This year he decided to achieve two aims in one expedition: to see Alaska and to reach the peak of Denali, the highest mountain in North America.
At work Michał prepares and analyses tests for data compression software, using innovative tools such as Repo Tool or Google Test framework. After hours, he does jogging or rides a bike getting ready for new challenges, such as a bike expedition across Iceland. With the financial support from Sii, Michał has recently had a chance to face his greatest challenge so far, the Sii Denali Expedition 2017. Back home now, he tells us why he has chosen Denali, what the preparations looked like and what surprises he faced on his way.
How long have you been interested in high mountain climbing? Where does this passion come from?
Michał Kobyliński: Since middle school, which means for about 10 years now. It all started with a presentation by Janek Witkowski, who is my friend today and with whom I climb. Back then he told me about climbing eight-thousanders and his attempt to swim across Lake Baikal.
Which peaks have you already tried?
M. K.: My first high mountain peak was Kazbek (5034 m.a.s.l.). I managed to ascend it. I also tried to ascend Elbrus (5642 m.a.s.l.) and Lenin Peak (7134 m.a.s.l.), but I haven’t been able to reach the peak. The Lenin Peak expedition was a lesson of humility as I found myself in really harsh circumstances: at some point I had to rescue my friend. We were climbing on a line. I was the first to cross the crack and when I turned back to warn Paweł, I saw him falling into the abyss. I felt the pull of the rope, but luckily managed to cut it with an ice axe. Paweł stopped at a ledge shelf which broke down after a while, so he was hanging in the air. We tried to contact each other but although I was shouting from the top of my lungs, we weren’t able to hear each other. After a number of attempts, he managed to get the ice axe into the mountain and get out.
That’s just terrifying. Why did you then decide to try Denali?
M. K.: With my friends we rode our bikes all over Iceland. The nature of this landscape really impressed us. Alaska was another step in that direction. We initially planned to travel by bikes and reach Denali peak somehow in passing, but there wasn’t enough time. And it was not our intention to reach one of the Seven Summits.
Who were the other participants of the expedition?
M. K.: There are three people in our group. I have been climbing with Paweł from the very beginning. We have known each other since middle school, we went to high school together and now we live together, so each day we have a brainstorming session. I met Marek when I studied at Gdańsk Technical University. We went together to Lenin’s Peak and this is how it all started.
How long did you prepare for the expedition?
M. K.: I didn’t start the proper endurance training at any particular moment. I regularly run, swim and ride a bike. These are mostly endurance trainings because in the Pomeranian area it is difficult to prepare for a high climbing expedition. At the end of last year, we bought plane tickets and some time after that we started collecting the equipment. We also read a lot about Denali and searched for any expedition stories. We tested our boots, ice axes and crampons in the mountains in winter. We also had trainings improving our crack rescue skills. This is especially important as in June the temperatures are a bit higher and, as a consequence, the cracks are unfortunately much wider and the probability of something going wrong increases significantly.
Did it all go according to the plan?
M. K.: We spent 4 weeks in the USA, including 3 weeks on Denali, although we hoped we would have at least 10 days to visit Alaska. Our plans were mainly thwarted by the weather. They said that conditions were the worst for the last 25 years. Another difficulty is the fact that all the way from Base Camp, which is at the altitude of 500 m.a.s.l. and which you can reach by a small plane that takes only a few people on board, you have to transport your own luggage. In my case it was around 40 kg of clothing and equipment, which I had to drag on a toboggan to a camp at the altitude of 4200 m.a.s.l. On our way there, the weather conditions were good. The only obstacle was intensive snow. When we started with our equipment to the base camp to get ready for ascending the peak, the weather changed dramatically. After our guide, who is a professional Mount Everest guide, had half of his face frost-bitten, the American mountain rescuers decided that we all had to leave the base camp because the conditions were too severe. As soon as there was a weather window, we went to get the equipment because we couldn’t get back without a rope which we had left buried in the snow. The cracks were too wide.
What was the greatest challenge for you?
M. K.: The most difficult thing was to inform my family that I might not come back. There is always the risk. With this expedition, there was some extra stress, too. They couldn’t contact us for 3 weeks although we had a satellite phone and all the necessary subscriptions. We also had to fight the difficult conditions. At the peak, the temperature reached -60°C and the speed of wind topped 120 km/h. I had a lot of clothing for severe weather conditions with me, even too much, because I didn’t use half of it and I had to drag it all, but the reality surpassed my greatest expectations. Experiencing such low temperatures was a real shock. The cold penetrated the thickest jacket. But the worst is when you have to go through a cloud and the ice, which we call the evil crystals, hits your face.
Did Sii’s support mean a lot to you?
M. K.: Definitely. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to cover the costs of the trip. The support for my passion which I received from my employer also meant a lot when taking decisions about my future development. It is very important for me that Sii not only appreciates my work, but also who I am and what I do after work. I can be successful, both privately and professionally. My boss didn’t frown upon me when I told him that I was going to be away for one month, my desk was waiting for me intact and this is great. After all these adventures, I can even say that I missed it a little bit, but surely I am going to start planning something new quite soon.
Are you going to try to ascend Denali again?
M. K.: High mountain climbing is a sport in which you don’t ascend most of the mountain peaks you go for. You can always go back and settle accounts with the mountain, but this is not my style. To survive you need humbleness. What is interesting, I have a fear of heights, so I’ll go up anywhere, but going down is a problem. Climbing is also a way of fighting my own weaknesses. And the beautiful views come as a great reward. There is nothing better than watching the clouds from the other side.
What is your next climbing destination?
M. K.: Right now I am concentrating on bike expeditions – going back to where we started. I miss the changing environment. At Denali, there was only snow around us, and we would spend a couple of days in some of the camps. I would like to try my luck in the Himalayas, go for an eight-thousander, but not Mount Everest. It is overrated. And definitely not in the nearest future.