Marko Prezelj Interview - Part 1
So the expeditions that Kurtyka took part in the early stage of his career were so disappointing for him that he promised to himself that he’d never do it again. Was it also the case with you?
Almost like that. My first expedition to Lhotse Shar was really an extremely old-style expedition. We fixed ropes almost from the base camp, all the way up and the weather was very bad - it snowed almost every day, except two days. We spent there 62 days. Now nobody spends such a long time in the mountains. But then we stayed there so long because we’re still hoping that the weather would improve. We reached 7300m. On this expedition there were some legends, like Silvo Karo, Tomo Cesen and Andrej Stremfelj… I thought that they were heroes so they could manage, even in bad weather, but it didn’t happen. And I saw that they weren’t any better than I was. I also felt that maybe fixing ropes was a safe thing, but at the same time it was a waste of time.
The next expedition was to Cho Oyu. On the first half of the face we fixed 1000 meters of ropes and then did it in one push. Then I noticed it’s more fun when you did it light, and didn’t have to carry ropes and fix them. The next expedition was to Shisha Pangma in 1989. That was the expedition on which I decided I wouldn’t go on expedition anymore if I didn’t have my own integrity inside the trip. I didn’t like to be a part of a machine.
So you didn’t like this expedition either?
No, but not because of the style, which was perfect. The problem was that there were 8 climbers. Seven of them were living legends and I was a total greenhorn. But a greenhorn who was strong. I was probably, looking back now, the strongest - taking into consideration just physical strength - but I had no experience. On an expedition, especially one in traditional style, you need some political skills. How to skip certain work to save energy (laughs), and things like that. I was not so smart and I wasted my energy on everything.
And was it the reason why you weren’t successful? Because two routes were then done by other teams, whereas you had to retreat from your line...
Actually one new route and one new variant were made. But with me it was not like that.
On that expedition there were Viki Groselj, Stane Belak, Andrej Štremfelj, Pavle Kozjek, Iztok Tomazin, Filip Bence and Tone Škarja. So seven legends. Most of them wrote books which I had read before I started climbing. So when I was going there, I didn’t know what to expect. I was just expecting that I would be in good company. But I found out that there are no legends in climbing. It was a good lesson. I ended up climbing with Stene Belak, who was the oldest climber on the expedition. And he got sick when we started to climb. What I did in half an hour, it took him one hour. So I was looking at him and thinking: “This is how legends are actually working”. We started a couloir and climbed up to 6500 m. It was the same line which was later climbed by Kurtyka, Loretan and Troillet. I felt really good, almost as if I could just run up there, but Stane got sick and finally dropped his rucksack. Everything fell down the face and we had to descend. When we came down to the base camp, two parties had already summited. So the leader Tone Škarja, said: “OK, the expedition is finished”. And I was really angry about it because I felt I could solo the route we started, but it was not allowed. It was the moment I said to myself: “Being a part of a machine, when someone else tells me what I can do or not is not for me”. If I were to experience it again, I’d prefer not to go on any expedition. Actually it was a good lesson for me, but something I didn’t want to repeat. Without it, my approach could be different. I can say I lost a kind of virginity there (laughs).