Goodbye to Franček Knez, Slovenia's silent climber
62-year-old Slovenian mountaineer Franček Knez died on 6 October 2017. Reserved and modest, Knez was considered by many as one of the strongest alpinists of his generation. Published below is a profile written by Slovenian journalist Urban Golob in 2010 when, together with Silvo Karo, Knez was conferred the Order of Merit for his contributions to mountaineering.
Franček Knez began climbing back in 1973. Since then he has climbed more than 5000 routes and by the year 2005 he carried out 730 first ascents. He has climbed in the Slovenian Alps, the Himalaya, Patagonia, Yosemite and Andes and is one of ony a handful of climbers who made first ascents in all "Three Problems of Alps" the Eiger, Matterhorn, and Grandes Jorasses . In the summer of 1982 he climbed the original route up the North Face of the Eiger in just six hours, the fastest ascent at the time. He has also traced routes on some of the important faces in the Dolomites, such as the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Killer on Cima Picolissima and Moč misli - The Power of Thoughts - on the North Face of Cima Grande, now partly followed by the bolted route ISO 2000), as well as the Mamolada, Civetta and Tofana.
Together with Silvo Karo and Janez Jeglič, Franček Knez climbed many difficult routes in the Slovenian Alps, but the three are known above all for their climbs in Patagonia when there was still much wilderness to be explored. First ascents by the "Three Musketeers" as Knez, Karo and Jeglič were dubbed, were carried out on Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and Torre Egger and highly respected by Patagonian veterans. After his period new routing in Patagonia, Franček progressed to the Himalayas. He played an important role in forging the well-known Yugoslavian route on Trango Tower in Pakistan's Karakorum, as well as for two other routes on the steep rock face of Meru and one of Bagirathi II in alpine style, both in India. He even established a new route on Broad Peak while descending from Camp II to Base camp. Francek was also – together with Vanja Matijevec – the only man to reach the SW ridge of Lhotse after climbing the South Face of this mountain with a big Yugoslavian expedition back in 1981. During the course of the '80's Francek Knez, the silent climber, made a name for himself among Slovenian alpinists for his new approach to alpinism and especially to rock climbing, and Silvo Karo once described Francek as the guru of modern climbing in Slovenia. He was certainly far ahead of his time and many of his hardest routes, despite numerous attempts, still remain unrepeated.
The Order of Merit has provided national and international recognition to one of the most powerful climbers who, interestingly, has never searched for media attention and has never promoted himself. Exactly the opposite is true. He has always been a silent, modest, hardworking man with a regular factory job even while carrying out his unbelievable amount of alpine ascents. The following serves as illustration: despite the regular job and two expeditions in 1983, still managed to make 315 alpine ascents, of which 107 were first ascents. And he never, even to this day, owned his own car or had a driving licence...
Thirteen years ago Francek was involved in a climbing accident due to his belayer at his local crag. He broke his back, but thanks to his determination and positive thinking he completely recovered and he still keeps on climbing new routes in some of his secret places in the Slovenian Alps. After a long period of gentle persuasion Francek Knez finally wrote his book “Ožarjeni Kamen” a couple of years ago. It has not been translated.
by Urban Golob, December 2010