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The Memory Lessons: Luca Krajnc’s First Free Ascent of Spomin

Luka Krajnc  /  August 30, 2017  /  7 Min Read  /  Climbing

Amazing climbing on sharp limestone in the morning, warm Adriatic Sea and cold beer in the afternoon. Does it get any better? Luka Krajnc makes the first free ascent of Spomin. Paklenica National Park, Croatia. Photo: Marko Prezelj

When I was ten years old, I was a hyperactive kid who had problems staying focused for a long period of time. One day I was sitting in class at primary school, listening to a subject that didn’t really interest me. Bored, I started playing with the scissors that I found in my school bag. Then the electric plug on the wall of the classroom caught my attention. My wild imagination was bursting with curiosity, so I asked the teacher what would happen if I put the scissors in the electric plug. She looked at me seriously and said, “Just try it if you dare.” Two minutes later the whole school was out of electricity and I was lying on my back with smoking scissors still in my hands. That was the first time that I learned the power of a challenge.

I tried many sports in my younger years, until I discovered climbing. It was the only one that occupied my mind and body to the point that it never became boring. I still haven’t figured out why longer, complex challenges attract me more than shorter ones, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Everyone can find where his or her passion lies, be it thousand-meter walls or three-move boulder puzzles. Ten years ago, climbing was everything to me, and it represented the meaning of my existence. Over time things have changed a bit and now I look at it more as a tool that helps achieve balance in my life and reminds me how life is a learning process.

Photo: Vesna Krajnc

“My first climbing photo from almost 20 years ago. Those shoes were four sizes too big—they could probably still fit me today—but that didn’t ruin the excitement after my first climbing experience.” Photo: Vesna Krajnc

On the coastline of Croatia, Paklenica canyon carves its path from the coast all the way to the Velebit mountain range. With its steep walls, exotic location and mild climate, Paklenica serves as a good training ground for climbers, from the very beginners to experts in the vertical craft. Many take their first climbing steps here. About 20 years ago, I was on a summer trip with my mother and the alpine club that she was a member of. With climbing shoes that were four sizes too big, I decided to try this “weird” activity of convincing your body to go up vertical rock while all the forces of nature are pulling you in the opposite direction. Like most beginners, I wasn’t really efficient with my energy consumption, but something clicked in my brain. I don’t know where the end of my climbing story is, but I know this was the beginning. That’s how I got hooked.

Almost all of the Slovenian alpinists and climbers who take their climbing seriously have tested themselves on the sharp limestone walls of Paklenica canyon. It’s an evergreen destination for anyone who enjoys amazing rock, good seafood and a refreshing swim in the sea after a nice climbing day. Silvo Karo, Janez Jeglič and Franček Knez were the leading forces of their generation of Slovenian alpinists, and they left an important legacy at most of the places they visited. Paklenica was no different. In 1984, they tackled an incredible line of cracks, corners and dihedrals that took them through the most overhanging part of Anića Kuk wall. There they created one of the most difficult aid lines in the canyon that served as a test piece for climbers in search of a reality check.

Photo: Marko Prezelj

“This project took a lot of energy out of me, but the experience it created brought twice as much back.” Luka Krajnc on the first free ascent of Spomin. Paklenica National Park, Croatia. Photo: Marko Prezelj

The idea of free climbing this overhanging monster seemed unimaginable to some but was enticing to others. When I first heard about the climb from a good Slovenian climber Marko Lukić, I was in the first group of thinkers. Over the years, my skills grew and the idea slowly started changing shape from unimaginable to conceivable. It became a goal that led to a minor obsession, but that’s just the state of mind I need to be in to tackle a project of such proportion. As climbers, we travel the world visiting different continents in search of vertical challenges. Occupied with this process, we fail to realize that our “king line” might be waiting for us closer than we think.

In general, my memory for climbing beta is seriously bad. That’s why after the first season of tries, I wrote down all the moves in the hardest pitches on a piece of paper, so it would be easier to refresh my memory of the tricky sequences when I returned to the route the following year. A year passed, and it came time to use my methodological approach. Ironically, I forgot where I put the “magic” paper so I had to rely on my bad memory.

Photo: Marko Prezelj

“Featured rock often resembles life. The holds are there. Which ones we recognize, and which combination we use depends on us alone.” Luka pieces together the puzzle of Spomin. Photo: Marko Prezelj

The body does what the mind believes is possible, but transforming that into reality is another story. The real challenge is wanting something so bad that you are prepared to give up many other things to make it a reality. But, at the same time, if you don’t want to create unwanted pressure, you have to convince your mind that it’s not really that important. The route is mostly protected by bolts, so I won’t bullshit about adventure, but the successful ascent came down to the psychological factor. One evening I was drinking tea and the message on my tea bag said, “You must be longer lasting than the difficulties, there is no other way out.” I stuck the quote on the back cover of my phone and remembered it every time I thought about giving up.

Many times I have wondered about success. When I was younger, I thought success in climbing was only “clipping the chains” or reaching the top of the wall in the style you decided to follow. But over the years I’ve discovered one thing that connects to multiple aspects of life. Success is relative. Would it be a failure to not send the route in a desired style, or would the real failure be, not having fun no matter the outcome? I learn most from the situations in which I’m challenged physically and mentally. “Expect nothing and you’ll get everything” was the mantra I stuck to. With that approach, I was not only on my way to climbing the route, but already succeeding in a goal that isn’t defined by climbing standards.

The whole thing was quite a test for my body and mind, and it’s hard to explain how many emotions went through my head after sending the last of the hardest pitches. It was one of those moments when I clipped in, crashed into my harness and almost puked from exhaustion. No faking, just a cocktail of pure positive emotions and yes, I’ll admit it, a few tears. At the same time, my head was too full to understand why it felt so empty.

Photo: Photo: Marko Prezelj

“Climbing the last meters towards the top brought complex emotions, similar to finishing a successful expedition. I was satisfied because of the outcome, but also a bit nostalgic knowing it was over.” Photo: Photo: Marko Prezelj

The pace of modern life is often too fast to stop, look within us and think about things that are really important and deeply fulfilling. I’m thankful that I can live the lifestyle I chose, which enables me to create these moments of perfect symbiosis of body and mind. There is no way I could make this project a reality without all the people who believed in me, gave me a belay, and listened to all of my complaining and nagging about how hard it felt. Without everyone’s support and positivity, none of these words would be written and the experience wouldn’t exist. I’m thankful to every one of them!

Years of dreaming, two seasons of dedicated training and 27 days of actual tries were needed to take this journey from the starting point to the finishing epilogue. Some people ask me if it was worth it. Isn’t it a point of life to recognize your dreams and explore your full potential in the process of making them a reality?

From a technical perspective, the route is 350-meters long, with four of the pitches ranging from 5.13c to 5.14b and others up to 5.12c in difficulty. I made the first free ascent by climbing all the pitches free, on lead, in a single day. The name of the route, Spomin, means The Memory in English, and in the end, it was much more than that.

Photo: Marko Prezelj

“Just a line on a photo for some, but a source of inspiration for others.” Spomin, Anića Kuk, Paklenica National Park, Croatia. Photo: Marko Prezelj

This experience influenced me in a deeper way than expected. Never have I felt such fulfillment and internal satisfaction after completing a project. Remembering things isn’t one of my strengths, but even when some of the details fade, I’ll still be able to see the influence of The Memory.


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