The 14th Walter Bonatti Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award, which will be awarded in Briançon at the end of November, is awarded to Silvo Karo, 61, from Slovenia. A figure of great mountaineering in the 1980s, a catalyst for modern Slovenian mountaineering, Silvo Karo opened some of the most difficult routes in Patagonia, at Cerro Torre, Fitz Roy and Torre Egger. In the Himalayas, his new route on the West Face of Bhagirathi III, in 1990 with Janez Jeglič, left a lasting impression on his peers. Portrait of a mountaineer who remained simple, always smiling and energetic.
In the 1980s, Slovenian climbers started to take the world by storm. Later, confident in their great ability and stamina to climb lightly, they became famous for their very daring and fast ascents, mostly done in impeccable style on technically difficult terrain. All of them took advantage of a fantastic training ground: the Julian Alps, where the Triglav and its steep, limestone north face of 1000 meters high are located. Due to the small size of the country (a very autonomous state even before the breakup of Yugoslavia), the mountains are within the reach of almost everyone. They present a complex arena of limestone peaks, with imposing walls that are not always of very good rock. The winter conditions are harsh, which allows the development of rock, ice and mixed skills.
Karo, Knez, Jeglič: the three musketeers of Slovenian mountaineering
Silvo Karo grew up on a farm above the rural village of Brdo, northeast of Ljubljana, and began climbing at age 17. He soon bonded with the older and more experienced Janez Jeglič and Franček Knez, and the trio went on to climb many new routes together, both at home and abroad. They are affectionately known as the “Three Musketeers” of Slovenian mountaineering.
The highlights of Silvo’s career are probably the first ascents made on the East faces of Fitz Roy (1983) and Cerro Torre (1986), as well as in the middle of the West face of Bhagirathi III (6,454 m, India, Garhwal), the latter being widely recognized at the time as the most difficult technical ascent in the Indian Himalaya. These ascents were made with Janez Jeglič – and only him on Bhagirathi – during their 10-year association; Karo considers Psycho Vertical (Jeglič-Karo-Knez) on the southeast face of Torre Egger to be the most beautiful new route they climbed in Patagonia.
Fitz Roy, E. Hudičeva Zajeda face (Devil’s Dihedral), 900 m, 90°, 6a, A2. To the Goretta pillar pass with F. Knez and J. Jeglič (1983).
Silvo had all the skills needed in the mountains.
We can also note the opening of a new route – unfinished not far from the summit – at Yalung Kang, antecima of Kangchenjunga, and the third ascent of Rolling Stones at Grandes Jorasses in 1985. Or the times of very rare speed climbing ascents for the time: Salathé Wall at El Cap in 10:25 min. and the direct northwest face of Half Dome in 11:20 min. (1996), the integral south-east ridge of Cerro Torre in 28 hours (2005) and the first one-day ascent of Eternal Flame, at the Nameless Tower of Trango (2006).
Rolando Garibotti writes: “When I met Silvo, he was in the prime of life – 70 kg of motivation and decision making, little talk and only action. In the years that followed, we managed to rope together on a number of occasions, in Yosemite, Patagonia and elsewhere. Climbing with him was like cheating. He had all the skills you could possibly need on the mountain. He was a one-man rope team to open the hardest pitches, a porter for heavy loads, and a rescuer in case of an accident. He had the energy of a locomotive, and there was something very reassuring about the way he hammered the pitons: the rock begged him to be forgiving. Whatever the conditions, in the face of a goal that was close to his heart, his determination was unshakeable. He is an honest man, with no ulterior motives, for whom I have always had enormous respect. Some of his ascents are part of the legend and have inspired climbers all over the world. He has left an indelible mark on this practice.
In 2007, Silvo Karo founded the Slovenian Mountain Film Festival, whose objective is to promote the production of works and popularize mountain culture. In 2010 he was awarded the Order of Merit – together with Knez – by the Slovenian President Danilo Turk, for their careers in the mountains, the reputation of Slovenian mountaineering and Slovenia worldwide.
On the Italian pillar at aiguille Poincenot (900 m, 6a+ A3), with Andrej Grmovšek (2005).©Coll. Silvo Karo.
With this Walter Bonatti Piolet d’Or Lifetime Achievement , the Slovenian Silvo Karo succeeds Yasushi Yamanoi (JAP, 2021), Catherine Destivelle (FRA, 2020), Krzysztof Wielicki (POL, 2019), Andrej Stremfelj (SLO, 2018), Jeff Lowe (USA, 2017), Voytek Kurtyka (POL, 2016), Chris Bonington (GB, 2015), John Roskelley (USA, 2014), Kurt Diemberger (AUT, 2013), Robert Paragot (FRA, 2012), Doug Scott (GB, 2011), Reinhold Messner (ITA, 2010) and Walter Bonatti (ITA, 2009).
Article written with the help of Lindsay Griffin
Rock ‘n’ Roll on the Wall – The autobiography of Silvo Karo (2020), also the story of the “3 Slovenian Musketeers” with Franček Knez and Janez “Johan” Jeglič. 25 €. Get the book.
Kilian Jornet’s take: “There was a time when mountaineering traveled decades into the future and climbers emerged who didn’t know what was impossible, scaling the most impressive faces in every corner of the planet. Silvo Karo was the main figure of this Slovenian generation that took mountaineering to a higher level, inspiring the generations to come. To read this book is to dive into the stories of these ascents and feel as if you were part of them…”
Alpine Warriors, by Bernadette McDonald published by Rocky Mountain Books (2015).