Francek Knez and Silvo Karo, Slovenian Order of Merit for alpinism
On 22 December 2010 the Slovenian alpinists Francek Knez and Silvo Karo were awarded the Order of Merit by Slovenia's President Dr. Danilo Tuerk. This high state decoration was confirmed on the pair for "their achievements in Slovenian mountain climbing and for their contributions to the reputation of Slovenian mountaineering and greater recognition of Slovenia in the world."
While Silvo Karo's reputation has spread far across the Slovenian border, Francek Knez - despite his awesome activity over the last 40 years - is still relatively unknown. We asked the journalist Urban Golob to provide us with some background information about Karo and “the silent climber”, to fill in this massive gap.
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.
Silvo Karo is far more famous alpinist. His bold solo, first and winter ascents in the Slovenian Alps would be more than enough to be a legend amongst Slovenian climbers, and his international reputation is based on a backbone of new routes in Patagonia as well as climbs in India, Pakistan, Greenland and the USA. Of all his climbs, Silvo regards his alpine style first ascent up the West Face of Bagirathi III (1990) as being his most important due to its complex nature. Not far behind would be the first ascent on S face of Cerro Torre (both routes climbed with the late Janez Jeglič) as well as a one day ascent of Eternal Flame on Trango and new route on Cerro Tore, both climbed a few years ago with Andrej Grmovšek and others.
Silvo Karo and the late Janez Jeglič – Johan were among those few climbers capable of following Franček Knez up Slovenia's rather loose limestone faces. On one weekend at the beginning of 1980 the three climbers managed to ascend 19 new routes on a circa 300m high face in the Julian Alps. "Collecting kilometres" as they said, since at the time soloing classic routes in the Julian Alps was a normal thing to do. One day Silvo carried out a solo ascent which normal parties usually take about four days to complete: starting up two hard classic routes (VI grade UIAA) on the 1000m high Triglav North face (Helba and Čopov steber), he then descended via an easier line, drove to the Tamar valley and climbed the well-known Aschenbrenner route (VI, 800 m) on Travnik North face, traversed the ridge to Šite and descended the North Face via the 450m high Zajeda route, another grade VI line on poor rock. All of this in just one day, from morning to evening. It has to be said though that Silvo knew Zajeda, the last route of this link-up, very well. Some years before the enchainment he had soloed it in just 25 minutes...
Karo's achievements - also on the field of climbing documentaries – has brought him to many national and international mountain film festivals and Silvo has held lectures and slide shows all over the world. Furthermore, a few years ago he also gave birth to the Slovenian International Mountain Film Festival Domzale dedicated to climbing, adventure, nature and mountain culture. In 2010 Silvo Karo was welcomed as an honourable member of British Alpine Club.