Actually, Marko Prejelj is a skeptic when it comes to climbers being awarded. “Basically it’s impossible to compare any climbs, because every climb has a different emotion,” the Slovenian told me in Chamonix in 2015 at the award ceremony for the Piolet d’Or, the “Oscar of climbers”. “It’s bizarre. It’s like you are making love and making an article out of it. If it’s poetry, maybe it’s okay. But it is a thin line between romantic poetry and pornography.”
If it goes by that, Marko is a great poet of the mountains. It’s not for nothing that – despite his aversion to prizes – he was the first mountaineer to be awarded the Piolet d’Or four times: in 1992, 2007, 2015 and 2016. Apart from him, only the Briton Paul Ramsden has managed this so far.
This Saturday, Prezelj will receive another trophy, the prestigious Paul Preuss Prize, at Reinhold Messner’s Mountain Museum at Sigmundskron Castle near Bolzano. The award has been presented for ten years to “extreme mountaineers or climbers who, in the course of their entire mountaineering development, have not only shown outstanding achievements in the mountains, but have also dedicated themselves to free climbing in the spirit of Paul Preuss’ philosophy with the renunciation of technical ascending gear,” the international Paul Preuss Society lets it be known. The jury is formed by the honorary chairman Messner, last year’s laureate (in the current case Thomas Huber, who was awarded in 2022) and five other members of the society. It is not a “current peak performance” that counts, but the “mountaineering life’s work,” the society emphasizes.
Groundbreaking climbs in clean style
The 57-year-old Marko Prezelj is without doubt a worthy laureate. He has been a fixture in mountaineering in the Himalayas and Karakoram for more than 30 years. Prezelj has opened numerous extremely demanding routes, on six-thousanders, seven-thousanders and eight-thousanders – in alpine style, i.e. without bottled oxygen, without fixed high camps, without fixed ropes and without high altitude porters. According to Marko, three components make up a real mountain adventure for him: “unknown, uncertain, exposure”.
At the age of 25, Marko already achieved a major coup: with his compatriot Andrej Stremfelj, he climbed the still virgin South Ridge to the 8,476-meter-high South Summit of Kangchenjunga in 1991. For this Prezelj received his first Piolet d’Or, the following three for projects with always different climbing partners.
He has been passing on his vast experience to talented young Slovenian climbers as a mentor for many years. However, Marko does not consider himself to be an old hand yet. On his homepage, he quotes the Austrian writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach: “One remains young as long as one can still learn, accept new habits and endure contradiction.”
Ability as the measure of will
Austrian climber Paul Preuss, who lived from 1886 to 1913, was one of the best climbers of his time and was known for his uncompromising style. He rigorously rejected pitons for belaying. At the age of 27, the feisty climber fell to his death during a solo ascent in the Dachstein mountains in Austria.
“Among the highest principles is the principle of safety,” Preuss once wrote. “Not, however, the desperate correction of one’s own insecurity achieved by artificial aids, but that primary safety which in every climber should rest in the correct estimation of his ability to his will.” Preuss would certainly have shaken his head at the commercial climbing of the present day on the highest mountains in the world. However, he probably would have tapped Marko Prezelj on the shoulder.
P.S.: Previous Paul Preuss Prizes have gone to Reinhold Messner (in 2013), Hanspeter Eisendle (2014), Albert Precht (2015), Hansjörg Auer (2016), Alexander Huber (2017), Beat Kammerlander (2018), Bernd Arnold (2019), Heinz Mariacher (2020), Catherine Destivelle (2021) and Thomas Huber (2022).