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Silvo Karo Receives Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award

In the summer of 1983, the Slovenian put up 19 new routes in two days in Patagonia, largely climbing unroped, some of them in descent

The Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award was created to honour an alpinist or mountaineer whose career has inspired following generations, in adherence to a particular set of criteria outlined by the Piolets d’Or charter.

Legendary Slovenian alpinist Silvo Karo will receive the 14th Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award. The ceremony will be celebrated from Nov. 17 to 20 in France. In the past, the prize has been awarded to Walter Bonatti, Reinhold Messner, Doug Scott, Robert Paragot, Kurt Diemberger, John Roskelley, Chris Bonington, Wojciech Kurtyka, Jeff Lowe, Andrej Štremfelj, Krzysztof Wielicki, Catherine Destivelle and Yasushi Yamanoi.

In the 1980s, Slovenian alpinists began to take the world by storm. They would become well-known for their bold and fast ascents, made mostly in impeccable style over technically difficult ground. All benefited from a fantastic training ground – the Julian Alps. Due to the size of the country (a largely autonomous state even before the break-up of Yugoslavia), the mountains are on almost everyone’s doorstep. They present a complex zone of limestone peaks, with walls not necessarily of best quality rock. Winter conditions were harsh, giving ample scope for proficiency on rock, ice, and mixed.

Karo grew up on a farm above the rural village of Brdo, northeast of Ljubljana, and began climbing when 17. He bonded with Janez Jeglič and the older, more experienced Franček Knez, the trio going on to climb many new routes together, both at home and abroad. They became known as The Three Musketeers. Over two days in the summer of 1983, during their training for a first visit to Patagonia, the three put up 19 new routes in two days, largely climbing unroped, some of them in descent.

The highlights of Karo’s career are perhaps the first ascents of the south face of Cerro Torre and the west face of Bhagirathi III, the latter widely acknowledged at the time to be the hardest technical ascent in the Indian Himalaya. These were both climbed with Janez Jeglič during their 10-year partnership, though Karo considers Psycho Vertical (Jeglič-Karo-Knez) on Torre Egger to be the best new route he climbed in Patagonia.

Top Patagonia climber Rolando Garibotti said,  “When I met Silvo he was in his prime – 70kg of motivation and decisiveness, little talk and all action. Over the ensuing years we managed to share a rope on a good number of occasions, in Yosemite, Patagonia, and elsewhere. Climbing with him felt like cheating. Condensed in one man were all the skills one could possibly need in the mountains, from a rope-gun to lead the hardest pitch, to an army of porters for heavy loads, to an entire rescue team if something was to happen. He had the energy of a train, and there was something distinctly reassuring about the way he pounded pitons: the rock would ask for forgiveness. No matter the conditions, when faced with an objective he cared about, his determination was unwavering. Here was an honest, no-nonsense man, for whom I have always had enormous respect. Some of his climbs are the stuff of legend and have inspired climbers the world over. He has left an indelible mark on the sport.”

During this time, he made many first free and speed ascents in his native Julian and Kamnik Alps, including routes such as Zaumak Nerva 5.12, which was the most difficult in the country at the time. At his peak he was redpointing 5.13.

In 2007, he founded the Mountain Film Festival in Slovenia, which aims to increase the production of Slovenian mountain films and popularize mountain culture. In 2010, the then president of Slovenia, Danilo Turk, conferred one of the highest state honours, the Order of Merit, on Karo and Knez for “their achievements in Slovenian mountain climbing and for their contribution to the reputation of Slovenian mountaineering, and the greater recognition of Slovenia, throughout the world.”

Silvo Karo. Photo by Marko Prezelj

About Karo’s book Rock ‘n’ Roll on the Wall, Canadian author Bernadette McDonald, said, ““This long-awaited memoir from Silvo Karo is a welcome addition to the rich tradition of Slovenian climbing literature. His spectacular and uncompromising performances on vertical terrain are beautifully balanced by his refreshingly modest nature and his light-hearted style.”

Karo has climbed over 2,000 big routes and made more than 300 first ascents – visit his website here. A selection of his most significant contributions outside Slovenia include:

1983: Fitz Roy, east face, new route, Devil’s Dihedral (6a A2 90°). Aguja Val Bois, east face, new route. D.E. (5 100°)
1985: Yalung Kang, north face, new route, reached 8,100m. Grandes Jorasses, north face, third ascent of Rolling Stones (6b A3 80°)
1986: Cerro Torre, east face, new route, Hell’s Direct (7a A4 M6 95°)
Broad Peak, normal route Torre Egger, southeast face, new route, Psycho Vertical (6c A3 90°). El Mocho, north face, new route, Grey Yellow Arrow (7a A0)
1987: Lhotse Shar, southeast ridge, reached 7,300m 1987-88. Cerro Torre, south face, new route (6b A4 75°)
1990: Bhagirathi III, west face, new route (6b A4 85°). Everest, west ridge to 7,500m
1993: El Capitan, Wyoming Sheep Ranch (5.10 A5)
1996: Nalumasortoq, new route, Mussel Power (7a A3). El Capitan, Salathé Wall in 10h 25min. Half Dome, Direct Northwest Face, 11h 20mins (speed record at that time)
1997: El Capitan, West Face (5.11c) in eight hours car to car
1999: Fitz Roy, west face, Ensueno, second overall and first free ascent (6b+ obl 45°). Fitz Roy, Slovak Route, alpine style with new variation from Glaciar Torre (6c 40°)
2000: La Esfinge, new route, Cruz del Sur (7b)
2002: Grand Pilier d’Angle, Divine Providence to Mont Blanc summit
2003: Cerro Murallon, first ascent of main summit
2005: Cerro Torre, southeast ridge, new route, Slovenian Sit Start (in a single push of 28 hours; 7a A2 70°). Aguja Poincenot, Sperone degli Italiani, second ascent (and first of this route to the summit, 6c A3).
2006: Trango Tower, Eternal Flame, first one-day ascent (7a A2 M5)
2009: Tofana de Rozes, south face, Goodbye 1999 (7b on sight, repeat). Aiguille Noire de Peuterey, Punta Brendal southeast face, Nero su Bianco (7b on sight, repeat). Meru Central, attempt on the then unclimbed Shark’s Fin in alpine style.