Europe, Climber's Exchange Program in Yugoslavia

Publication Year: 1980.

Climbers’ Exchange Program in Yugoslavia. All too many times we were to hear a phrase that summed up our trip to Yugoslavia. “Climbing is a serious business.” Ajax Greene and I were selected by the American Alpine Club to represent the Club on the foreign climbing exchange. The Mountaineering Federation of Yugoslavia was our official host. We had trouble accepting that climbing was such serious business. There were just too many things to distract our degenerate minds. We arrived in Ljubljana on August 3 and were greeted by Iztok Tomazin. He was a member of the team that visited the United States and had been appointed our personal host. Iztok is one of the best upcoming climbers in Yugoslavia. At 19, he is deeply involved in medical school and has little free time. He did a good job of organizing our trip in a minimum of time and with a shortage of money. The Yugoslavs were to provide our living and traveling expenses for six weeks. Unfortunately they had spent so much on their successful Everest expedition that there was little money to give us any special treatment. They managed to scrape together enough to keep us housed in huts and private homes and fed. Our food for six weeks was mainly spam and bread. We also received $50 pocket money, but not till nearly the end of the trip. Iztok had hoped we would climb every day. We had hoped to mix climbing with some traveling and sightseeing. We paid for our sightseeing trips to the cities, coast and lakes, which provided happy memories to complement memories of fine climbs. We climbed in most of the major climbing areas of northern Yugoslavia. The climbs were always over 1000 feet and frequently 2000 to 4000 feet high. They were all on rock faces, mostly north faces on the higher peaks. The Julian and Kamnik Alps are much like the Dolomites, except the quality of the rock is worse. We always started early, hoping to beat the afternoon storms and dark. Descents were usually long and gruelling, often taking as long as our ascents. The climbing was demanding both physically and mentally. Leads were often unprotected and serious. Poor belays, poor rock, poor protection and poor weather produced some very fine climbs. We found nuts almost useless, except for wired stoppers. Racks consisted of ten pitons and ten nuts. We were able to free-climb every route we did and most were first free ascents. Free climbing is just coming into play in Yugoslavia. For many years speed was the sign of a climb well done. We matched the fastest of times and bagged our routes free. We climbed with several different partners, some of whom could speak little English. This is a great experience for any climber, as one has to resign oneself to trusting a partner with different techniques and equipment. Trust is often stretched to the limit on desperate climbs. In summary we were well treated by the Yugoslavs, despite frustrations. I strongly urge young climbers to get involved in the exchange program, either here in the U.S. or as a representative in other countries. I feel good about our showing in Yugoslavia. I think we climbed well and were respected for that but even more important was that we learned about them and they about us. I quote from a recent letter. “You two had a good effect on our climbers, both young and old. You have shown us that climbing means something different to everyone. I do not wish that our young climbers be just like you, but want them to respect your view as you respect ours.”

Earl Wiggins