STA, 11 May 2022 - Tone Škarja, a professional climber considered one of the pillars of Slovenian mountaineering, has died. The 83-year-old, famous for numerous challenging expeditions, was also a mountain guide, author and photographer.
His death was confirmed on Monday by Matjaž Šerkezi of the Slovenian Alpine Association (PZS).
Škarja, who had been a member of the organisation since 1951, started pursuing mountaineering professionally in 1956. He completed more than 1,000 alpine ascents, including participating in more than 30 trailblazing expeditions.
The 83-year-old was also part of the Yugoslavian Mount Everest expedition in 1979. The mostly Slovenian team scaled the world's highest peak by climbing the western ridge, still unexplored by then.
Later that year, Škarja received the Bloudek Award, Slovenia's most prestigious sports accolade, for the achievement. Together with another legendary climber, Aleš Kunaver, who passed away in the 1980s, he led the successful expedition, the PZS organisation said.
Škarja was also the head of the Kamnik mountain rescue team as well as the chairman of the PZS commission of foreign expeditions. Moreover, he was vice-president of the association between 1998 and 2011.
The Slovenian segment of the Nepal International Mountain Museum was set up and managed by Škarja.
Viki Grošelj, a climber who has scaled the most eight-thousanders among the Slovenian mountaineering elite and the first Slovenian to have climbed the highest summits of all the continents, has responded to today's sad news by highlighting the important role Škarja played in promoting Slovenia's mountaineering and raising it to the highest level.
"I was deeply hurt and shaken by the news of his death, but not completely unprepared since Škarja had been ill for quite some time," Grošelj said, adding that the departed was a mentor and a role model to numerous generations of climbers.
All our stories on mountaineering in Slovenia are here
If you’re a regular reader of TSN, or visitor to Slovenia, you’re no doubt aware of this country’s outsized reputation and achievements with regard to alpinism, a story told in the wonderful Alpine Warriors, which follows the two or three generations of Slovenian climbers who came to prominence in the 1960s to 1990s. These athletes were key players in the dramatic changes overtaking the sport of alpinism as it evolved from a nationalist, state-sponsored activity to a more individual and commercialised one, with documentaries, energy bars and branded jackets, not to mention the opening of Everest to weekend climbers and those in mid-life crises. The same years saw a move from huge, months-long siege-style expedition climbs with dozens of high altitude porters and tons of equipment, to the light and fast style that at its most extreme ends up in solo ascents with only what you can carry in a backpack, up and down mountain in a few days. The idea being that the faster you move, the less danger you’re exposed to in terms of the elements.
One of the names in that book, a controversial one, is Tomo Česen, the father of Aleš Česen, who in August 2018 was part of a Slovenian-British expedition that also featured Luka Stražar and Tom Livingston. The trio became the first to conquer the north face of Latok I (7,145 meters), part of the central Karakoram mountain range in Pakistan, and at the time widely viewed as the most coveted prize in high-altitude climbing. It was a feat that won them the 2019 Piolet d'Or, the top award in mountaineering.
Luckily for armchair adventurers, their ascent was captured on video, with the footage shot by the three climbers, along with Urška Pribošič and Jure Niedorfer, with the latter pair also responsible for editing and post-production work. Even luckier, the whole thing is on Vimeo, and you can see it below.
The 14th Mountain Film Festival is in Slovenia this week, with screenings, talks and more in Cankarjev dom Ljubljana, Metropol Celje, Mestni kino Domžale, Kino Radol’ca and Kino Slovensko Bistrica.
The festival has an excellent English website, with details of all the events, but be aware there’ll be lectures from the likes of David Debeljak, Jera Musič – the first Slovenian woman to hike the 3,500-km long Appalachian Trail, Jim Donini, Milan Romih and Tomaž Jakofčič, and the chance to buy books, hang out and talk about climbing and hiking, with appearances by many giants of the local scene.
With regard to films there’s documentaries, long and short, with programmes that offer great variety while giving the rare opportunity to see these films on the big screen, where the power of the landscapes they celebrate is more readily perceived. Take a look at some (not all) of the trailers below, and see more details here.
STA, 29 January 2020 - This year's winter season has already seen more than 35 mountaineering accidents in which four persons have lost their lives. The number of such accidents has been gradually growing in recent years, with 604 rescue missions in total needed last year.
Jani Bele of the Slovenian Mountain Rescue Association said at Wednesday's press conference in Kranj that the number of mountaineering accidents had been growing year-on-year.
Last year, more than 40 people died in the mountains, half of them mountain climbers. Apart from mountaineering, paragliding, water sports and cycling have turned out to be the most risky sports activities.
The number of mountain search and rescue missions has been gradually increasing since 2013 when the figure stood at 392. In 2017, the number exceeded 500 and climbed to 537 a year later.
The head of the police mountain rescue unit Robert Kralj expressed hope that this surge would be halted this year. A 30% increase has been recorded so far in 2020 though.
The Slovenian Alps are a popular destination, including for tourists who are not familiar with the area or underestimate the terrain, going as far as throwing caution to the wind to get a perfect selfie.
Apart from slipping and falling from great heights, avalanches pose another grave risk, said Bele, urging hiking or skiing on marked trails and in designated areas with adequate equipment.
STA, 18 January 2020 - Grega Lačen, one of Slovenia's top mountain climbers, was killed after falling from a great height while descending one of the peaks in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps in northern Slovenia on Friday afternoon. The police have ruled out any foul play.
The 43-year-old died falling down a high-steep rock face near the Mlinar Saddle despite being well-equipped and familiar with the area. A local rescue team has already recovered the body.
Lačen was part of Slovenia's many successful climbing expeditions, reported the newspaper Večer. He summited numerous peaks, including Mount Everest, having skied down the world's highest mountain.
He also led an expedition to the Karakoram mountain range, which spans the borders of Pakistan, India, China, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
In the wake of several tragic climbing accidents in January, the police have urged climbers to exercise extra caution, particularly when descending steep snow slopes.
STA, 1 August 2019 - Slovenian mountaineers Aleš Česen, Luka Stražar and Brit Tom Livingston will receive the Piolet d'Or, the top award in mountaineering, in September for their ascent of Latok I in August last year (as reported here).
"Three expeditions will be awarded this year. The two others will be posthumous awards, unfortunately. The solo ascends by David Lama and Hansjörg Auer, who, sadly, passed away in Canada this spring," Česen has been quoted as saying by the website of the Slovenian Mountaineering Association.
BREAKING NEWS: Mountain Equipment Pro Team Athlete Tom Livingstone has made the long awaited first ascent of Latok I [7145m] from the North over 7 days with Ales Cesen and Luka Strazar - https://t.co/PqnzIdX1hN pic.twitter.com/N50kg6xlN2— MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT (@MTNEQUIPMENT) August 13, 2018
Česen, Stražar and Livingston were only the second expedition that ascended the 7145-metre Latok I and the first ever to reach the peak over its north face.
This will be the second Pioler d'Or for both Česen and Stražar. The former was part of an expedition that won the award in 2015, while the latter was part of an expedition honoured in 2012.
It will also be the eight Piolet d'Or going to Slovenia, since the award was first handed out 27 years ago. Only last year, Andrej Štremfelj was honoured with the lifetime achievement award.
The awards, given out by the French magazine Montagnes and The Groupe de Haute Montagne, will be conferred at the Ladek Mountain Festival running between 19 and 22 September in Poland.
STA, 16 July 2019 - Slovenian mountaineer Janez Svoljšak, a member of the Kranj Alpine Association, has died during an expedition in Pakistan, the Slovenian Alpine Association (PZS) said on Monday.
The 25-year-old from Škofja Loka (NW) died in a base camp under the 6,650 m Tahu Rutum mountain in the Karakoram mountain range in the wee hours of Monday.
Svoljšak reportedly uttered a wheezing sound during sleep, passed out and stopped breathing. His team started resuscitating him immediately but gave up after three hours of futile efforts. Arrangements are now being made to bring his body back to Slovenia.
Svoljšak was an established mountaineer, having conquered peaks in Pakistan, Patagonia, the Canadian Rockies as well as Montana and Colorado in the US.
His career highlights include climbing the Schmidt route up the North Face of the Matterhorn alone as well as a sole single-day ascent to the summit of Mont Blanc via the Innominata ridge - both achievements are considered a tour-de-force of mountaineering.
In May, he and a fellow mountaineer completed a series of climbs in remote mountains of Alaska on routes that no human ever set foot on before, conquering three virgin peaks in the process.
The deceased mountaineer was the European Champion in ice climbing in 2016 as well as the winner of one of the World Cup games.
June 28, 2019
While these days some complain about the heat, others look at the weather as perfect for trips.
Trips, however, can mean soaking in the sea or perhaps lakes, and close to lakes there are often mountains. However, the sartorial differences between a swim in a lake and a hike up a mountain are often not taken very seriously, especially by foreign tourists, who have been causing a lot of work for mountain rescue services in the past few weeks.
Good to know: Overworked with saving lives in situations that could easily be avoided, the mountain rescue service repeatedly pleads to mountaineers and hikers not to wave at helicopters if no help is needed.
Since many rescue missions happen due to hikers’ inappropriate equipment, local police and mountain rescue units occasionally check out the wannabe mountaineers even before they reach the terrain where difficulties might occur.
Earlier this week, a group of twelve heading towards Triglav lakes on the fastest route across Komarča, a quite a serious mountain to climb, was caught wearing the latest street fashions instead of something more appropriate. The rescue service, after taking some photographs, turned them around and sent them back to the Savica hut, the starting point of the trail.
The pictures were then published, for educational purposes, on the Police Directorate Kranj’s Facebook site, with a warning: only ankle-high mountain boots are appropriate footwear for difficult Slovenian mountain trails.
And thus note that worn down sneakers, the coolest trainers, and beach-friendly sandals are not considered safe footwear for Slovenian mountains. And, if we might add, dresses and skirts might hinder your climbing, too.
Inappropriate equipment Photo: Police Directorate Kranj
Appropriate equipment Photo: Neža Loštrek
June 14, 2019
Late snowfalls have delayed the mountaineering season in Slovenia’s high mountains this year, which usually begins mid-June. Anyone headed to high mountains at the moment is advised to bring appropriate winter equipment, or turn around and head down if stumbling upon an icy white surface below a mountain peak.
Accordingly, not all mountain huts have opened their doors to climbers yet. For the current situation on mountain huts please follow this website: https://plangis.pzs.si/?koce=1
Although we seem to be still far from the beginning of the season, the mountain rescue service already intervened 201 times this year and 17 people lost their lives. (source)
Finally, hikers are advised not to greet any helicopters they see by waving to it unless in need of help.