Wanda Rutkiewicz (February 4, 1943 – May 13, 1992) was a Polish mountain climber. She was the first woman to successfully climb summit K2, on October 16, 1978.
Rutkiewicz’s goal was to become the first woman to summit all fourteen of the eight-thousanders. During her climbing life she successfully summited the following mountains:
- 1978 – Mount Everest
- 1985 – Nanga Parbat
- 1986 – K2
- 1987 – Shishapangma
- 1989 – Gasherbrum II
- 1990 – Gasherbrum I
- 1991 – Cho Oyu
- 1991 – Annapurna I
- 1992 – Kangchenjunga (uncertain)
It was while climbing Kangchenjunga that 49-year-old Rutkiewicz was last seen alive by Mexican climber Carlos Carsolio. She was sheltering at high altitude on the north-west face, during her attempted ascent of what would have been her ninth eight-thousander. At that moment Rutkiewicz was physically weakened and not able to make a rational decision that could have saved her life. Carsolio said that he didn’t have the mental strength left to convince her to descend because he was weakened as well.
It was thought that the body was found on the south-west face of the mountain in 1995 by Fausto de Stefani, Marco Galezzi and Silvio Mondinelli, suggesting that she had climbed up the north-west ridge to a point very close to the summit before falling down the south-west side. However, more detailed analysis of the findings by the Italian climbers, such as color of clothing and presence of Bulgarian-made tablets with the body, indicate that most likely it was the body of Bulgarian climber Yordanka Dimitrova, who was killed by an avalanche on the south-west face of Kangchenjunga in October 1994. It is not known if Rutkiewicz summited Kangchenjunga. If she did so, she would have been the first woman to reach the top of the world’s three highest mountains. Rutkiewicz’s body is still not found.