Marko Prezelj Interview - Part 1
What about the Dolomites where you did your first grade VI route – Comici on Cima Grande in 1986?
It’s probably interesting to mention that I did my first grade VI route after I had done more than a hundred lower grade routes – I to V. The reason for that was the system we had – you were not allowed to climb harder routes before you were experienced enough. That helped a lot to build respect and experience, not just technical knowledge, but also such skills as organizing climbing, finding the route, descending, all these things which are not popular, especially now with the young generation of climbers. If they are interested in a climb, they ask: “What’s the grade?” It’s quite silly to me, because I believe the grade is only a little part of a climb.
When I went to the Dolomites, the world expanded a little bit. The climbing was different; all those faces on which you could climb grade V on quite vertical ground, which was not the case in Slovenia. That was a good and new experience – different rock, different mountains. Moreover, the trip to the Dolomites was a little like an expedition for us. We had to prepare everything, save money by working for a month. Now it’s more instant, you get into the car and go. We hitchhiked there, so it was really like a small expedition.
Let’s come back for a moment to the Slovenian mountains. You mentioned the kind of rock, the nature of climbing in the Kamnik and Julian Alps. It is considered one of the reasons why Slovenian climbers have become so strong. What’s your opinion?
Yes, I’m sure, but it’s just one of the reasons.
So what are the other reasons according to you?
So, our mountaineers are really versatile. Unfortunately, we don’t have glaciers, but we can prepare for all the rest. You need to acquire the skills of route finding, which is quite difficult, especially on some easy routes. For routes like IV-V route finding can be the most difficult part of the climb.
So it’s a good experience for higher faces in other mountains.
Yes, of course. Another reason was the climbing community. It didn’t use to be such a popular sport like maybe it is now. There were no climbing magazines or the Internet. The community was more like a tribe. You knew some climbing celebrities as you read some short news about them in newspapers and some more in the books. I read books about people who I later saw in the mountains, so it created a certain kind of respect for them. There were none of these modern technologies, like e-mail or mobile phones, so we kept personal contact. If you met someone in the mountains who you had read about in the books, when you talked to him and exchanged experiences – this meant A LOT. Really. Because it was in person. I think in the eighties it was partly the motivation which was pushing the generation forward. Another important factor was the socialist system which was very convenient for the development of mountaineering.
So just like in Poland, the Czech Republic etc. But in Slovenia it must have been even better…
Yes, in Slovenia we had no restrictions on travelling. The only problem was money, which was even good in a way. Because you had to work for the money to make it happen, your motivation grew. We didn’t take it so easy like: “OK, let’s go there tomorrow”. But you really had to prepare, organize funds, study the logistics etc.
I have a quote of Andrej Stremfelj: “A small country needs national heroes - this is what successful climbers definitely are in Slovenia”. You said that at the beginning of your career it wasn’t a popular sport. But what about later years, after Tomos Cesen’s succeses? Did it become really popular then? For example, would people recognize you in the street after such a success as Kangchenjunga?
Me not. But the people who were more exposed to the media, like Tomo Èesen – yes, sure. He was more on the TV. I soon learnt that I was not a media or public sort of person. I don’t like that. I don’t blame others who are really good at it, but I’m not one of them. Even now, giving this interview, I feel uncomfortable, (laughs).
OK, Marko. One more beer, and you’ll be more relaxed… (laughs)
Yes, it will be better (laughs). But coming back to what I wanted to say, times change and now, thanks to all the technology climbers who are better and better in this public relations and media staff, who like it and are quite honest in communicating with them, can gain real popularity. There are even people who can make some money out of their climbs.