Marko Prezelj Interview - Part 1
We mentioned Tomo Èesen. So the simple question is: did he do it or didn’t he?
He did it. There’s no proof that he did it and there’s no proof that he didn’t. So to me, as long as he says he did it, I believe him. Almost every alpinist in the world has something they did without proof. So if I started disbelieving him, I’d have to start disbelieving others. I have many ascents I have no proof I have made. Even in sport climbing you often have to just believe that someone’s done something. Without any proof. So for me this kind of trust is a fundamental thing in climbing. Besides I know Tomo, and it helps me to believe, because he’s a really special person who is able to do such things. Finally, whether he did it or not is not my problem. He didn’t do it for me (laughs).
Could you say something more about climbing in the Julian Alps? For example about routes like Jubiljena (VII- A2) and Helba (VII+) on Travnik. You made the first winter ascents of these routes in the late eighties and I believe they are really serious winter climbs. The Julian Alps are not popular among European climbers. Can you tell us more about the nature of such climbs?
We have only limestone. Often it’s not really compact, neither is it especially sharp. Usually it’s a bit polished. That’s why it’s not good for drytooling – for hooking tools and cramponing. It means that in winter in our mountains you often have to climb without gloves and without crampons. I can say that half of these climbs were fun and the other half were good for gaining experience, what it’s like in winter. I made the first winter ascent of Helba with one point of aid. I felt really bad about that, for me it was a challenge not to use any aid. So the next winter I went to really free it.
Did you climb these routes with your rock climbing shoes on?
Yes, on the steepest parts I did, but of course you had to carry crampons, ice-axes and boots with you. Half of the route was climbed in rock shoes and half in boots. How was it? I remember this like dealing with a bigger challenge – climbing in winter on the faces we knew from summer climbing. It was also about organizing a strategic plan how to do it. Sometimes we went to watch some faces three of four times before we actually went climbing – it was like learning where to go, how to do it and getting used to the winter look of the face. Now it’s not popular anymore. Today people are not willing to waste one day just to watch around, return and get back again. Now winter climbing on the real faces in Slovenia is not popular anymore. Maybe some ice climbing and climbing gullies is popular, but not real winter climbing.
What about free climbing in the Julian Alps? As far as I know the hardest was Bergantova VIII+ on Triglav. Is it the hardest free route you did in the Julian Alps? And how do you like this kind of climbing?
In a certain period I did a lot of it. It was a real challenge to make a free ascent of an existing route which had not been free climbed. For example this was the case with Bergantova, which was a big challenge for my generation…
You also made the first free ascent of Algebra on Travnik, downgrading this climb very much – from original IX-A0 to VII+. It must have required courage because it had been climbed by such famous climbers (Knez and Karo).
It was my honest opinion which I’m never willing to hide. When I was asked what the grade was, I just expressed my opinion about it. I gave it the grade I genuinely felt was right. In fact, this was one of the climbs which required all the mental strength I had. It was like no-fall VII+ climbing - if you fell you’d be in serious trouble. Coming back to Bergantova – it was the hardest one but only because of the grade, as the protection on that route was pretty good. You just had to believe that it’s possible to free a slab with really tiny holds.
How would you compare these routes to the classics of harder free climbing in the Dolomites – like Hasse-Brandler you onsighted in 1992?
That’s completely different. In fact Hasse-Brandler now, and even when I climbed it, felt more like a sport route. Another story is for example Marmolada, where you have long run-outs. Generally speaking, as I’m getting older, the biggest challenge for me in free climbing is onsighting. I onsighted some French 7b+’s.
What about redpoint?
8a. These grades are not a high level in sport climbing, but it helps me to feel comfortable in the mountains on 6c ground with bad rock and protection.
In the eighties climbing was very well organized in Slovenia, in fact then – Yugoslavia. Expeditions were organized and financed by the Slovenian Mountaineering Association. As far as I know there was a system in which young climbers, like you at that time, had to prove their ability with winter ascents in the Slovenian mountains and show that you’re good enough to go on an expedition.
Exactly. This was also our motivation. You had to prove yourself, show your skills in the mountains. It was not like making promotion in the media like it’s now. Now you can fake it, then you couldn’t. There was no cyberworld, so your staff was good or not. If you wanted to take part in an expedition organized by our association you had to send an application with the list of routes you’d climbed. If you had nothing to put down on paper, you had no chance to go. Nowadays it’s more a question of money - if you can organize money, you can sell yourself, you can go everywhere. I think this system which we used to have is another part of the answer to your earlier question - why Slovenians became so good. People who had ambitions to go on expeditions climbed a lot. You had to have experience. Without experience, it was a waste of money for the association.
Now you waste your own or your sponsor’s money.
Exactly, who cares.
So you proved to be good enough in 1987 and you went on your first expedition for Lhotse Shar. Kurtyka is, who I can compare you with, when talking about East European climbers...
I admire him, so I’m honoured to hear such a comparison.