The elitism of Polish mountaineers in the inter-war period as exemplified by Wincenty Birkenmajer’s biography
Mountaineering in the Tatras, dominated as it was in the inter-war period by Polish climbers, was elitist, which stemmed from the climbers’ relatively high social standing and the dominant role played by the climbers within the “people of the mountains” circle. The Tatra mountaineers made the biggest contribution to the development of Polish mountaineering, of writing about mountains and popularisation of the Tatras. The most colourful period of inter-war mountaineering were the years 1928 to 1933. It was the height of the activity of the most distinguished climbers of the day. The group included Wincenty Birkenmajer, son of Ludwik Antoni Birkenmajer, a Jagiellonian University professor, and Zofia Birkenmajer née Karlińska.
Wincenty Birkenmajer worked in secondary schools in the Wielkopolska region, teaching Polish and introduction to philosophy. He became interested in mountaineering in the Tatras relatively late in life, but quickly became one of the leading Tatra climbers, writers and ideologists. In the Tatras he was the first to set about fifty climbing routes, about forty of which he set in the 1930 summer season. His most important achievements include a new route via the western side of Łomnica, a new route via the eastern side of Gerlach, the first traverse of the north-eastern pillar of Ganek, the first traverse of the eastern side of Rohatá veža and a new route via the southern side of Kežmarský štít. Birkenmajer also participated in the first expeditions of the Tourism Section of the Polish Tatra Society (ST PTT) to the Alps, in 1931 and 1932, where he contributed to the greatest successes of Poles in high mountains at the time. For example, he made the third traverse of the 900-metre southern side of La Meije and the first traverse of the south-western ridge of Aiguille du Moine. Wincenty Birkenmajer died of exhaustion on the terrace of Gáleria Ganku on 17 April 1933 when attempting the first winter traverse of the north-eastern pillar of Ganek. He was buried in Zakopane.