»Gora ni nora – nor je tisti, ki gre gor!« A Journey Into the Unknown

The beginnings of mountaineering in Slovenia

Razor and Prisank from Pišnica ValleyNational and University Library of Slovenia

For thousands of years man has been looking up to the mountains. 

First out of fear and respect, then due to necessity and curiosity, but only in the last century, also and mostly for pleasure, recreation and the desire to overcome oneself.

Mount Grintovec on an old postcard (1898) by KleinmayrNational and University Library of Slovenia

But mountaineers, benefiting of modern equipment, advanced weather forecasts and supported by a network of huts on well paved and protected trails, would hardly feel the fear and uncertainty of mountain tourists of the past - when such a mountain tour literally meant a journey into the unknown.

Savinja Alps - The Logar Valley (1916)National and University Library of Slovenia

For most of his history, man feared and avoided mountains.

Precipitous walls and seemingly unattainable peaks were the realm of legends, mythological creatures, and unpredictable nature.

Morning on Mount StolNational and University Library of Slovenia

The few who went to the mountains had a very good reason for this: hunting, grazing, searching for ores and herbs, fleeing away and due to overpopulated lowlands. Archaeological finds in the Slovenian mountains confirm the presence of man in the highlands already 10,000 years ago.

Pass Hriberca (1919)National and University Library of Slovenia

When the first explorers set out for the mountains thousands of years later, the trails were already well known to the locals. 

Erjavec Lodge near Vršič Pass (1905)National and University Library of Slovenia

They were paved and maintained by hunters, shepherds and merchants, for whom the journey to the mountains was a necessary and often the only source of survival.

During their tours, they became well acquainted with the characteristics of the land, weather changes, potential dangers, as well as the rules of safe movement in the mountain world.

A group of hunters in Krma Valley (1884/1893) by Benedikt LegetporerNational and University Library of Slovenia

Due to their knowledge and experience they became the first guides to the early mountain tourists and carried on their shoulders the lion's share of the credit for the first successful expeditions to the Slovenian mountains.

Oryctography of Carniola (1778/1789) by Balthasar HacquetNational and University Library of Slovenia

“It goes without saying that in any country, in any province, a man can't go to high mountains without taking with him mountain folks or wild hunters for signpost as they are familiar with the landscape," warns Balthasar Hacquet, the first systematic researcher of the Slovenian high-mountains.

A herd of sheep on Golica by Fran PavlinNational and University Library of Slovenia

The first visitors to the mountains, driven primarily by survival, did not, of course, pay much importance to the conquest of the peaks. 

A view to Mount Planjava from BranaNational and University Library of Slovenia

As the Enlightenment ideas spread throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, the first scientists, researchers, priests and other members of the educated upper class began to look towards the mysterious heights.

In the mountain world, they recognized a vast untouched and unexplored area of the world and an opportunity to test the power of the spirit.

A lone mountaineer in the Julian AlpsNational and University Library of Slovenia

In 1689, polyhistor Janez Vajkard Valvasor writes in his work The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola that the mountains in this area are "often, every year, visited by botanists and diggers of roots from different countries, because they find many great roots and herbs up there." 

The first systematic explorers of the Slovenian mountains were the early natural scientists - botanists, geologists and mineralogists.

On top on Mount Stol with a view of Triglav (1911)National and University Library of Slovenia

Among them are the names of internationally renowned natural scientists such as Giovanni Antonio Scopoli, who was the first to conquer Storžič and Grintovec mountains Franc Hohenwart, Henrik Freyer, Rihard Ursini Blagaj and especially Balthazar Hacquet, who in 1777 organized one of the first documented attempts to ascend Triglav (he did not reach the top). 

Žiga Zois (Late 18th century) by Andrej Janez HerrleinNational Museum of Slovenia

Žiga Zois, a nobleman, businessman, patron and enlightener, has a special place in the history of exploring the Slovenian mountains. Although he was due to his illness unable to take part in the expeditions himself, he constantly encouraged, organized, and also financially supported the first researches and expeditions to the high-mountains.

A scene from the Kamnik-Savinja AlpsNational and University Library of Slovenia

Among them, the most important is undoubtedly the first documented ascent to Triglav on August 26, 1778, by the "four brave men".

At the beginning of the 19th century, the number of mountaineers who visited the mountains just for recreational purposes was still very low.

The climbing scene from the Triglav North Face by TK SkalaNational and University Library of Slovenia

Conquering the mountains was still too demanding and dangerous for a mass visit. There were no adequately guarded trails, suitable equipment and network of mountain chalets. 

Two mountaineers above the Soča ValleyNational and University Library of Slovenia

In those days, a trip to the mountains was usually a multi-day adventure reserved for the bravest only. 

The opening of the Triglav Lodge on August 10th 1896 (1896-08-10)National and University Library of Slovenia

Until the beginning of the 20th century, when special mountain clothes (plaid shirts, wide knickerbockers with stockings and hiking boots) began to appear, the clothing and equipment of an average visitor to the mountains did not differ significantly from everyday clothes.

In the recommendations to mountaineers written by Hacquet at the end of the 18th century based on his own experience, we read: "A vest and leather trousers serve well, but they must be loose at the knees. The jacket should be short, without wrinkles, with wide flaps and four pockets.

You put a whiteboard with a drawing paper and a wallet in one inside, and a two-barrel gun in the other."

A mountaneer climbing the north face of MojstrovkaNational and University Library of Slovenia

“In the high mountains you must not be completely unarmed, that here you are not fighting a man, but a different enemy: big eagles, e.g. with bearded sulfur, and with others. If you are alone and walking along the cut above the precipice, this bird is just so daring that it starts twisting and pushing you with its feathers. If you fall, he immediately plants his sharp beak and claws in the nape of your neck."

An early Slovenian mountain postcard (1900)National and University Library of Slovenia

Suitable footwear were heavy chained shoes with thick leather soles, preferably with nails. 

Mrzla gora from the Kamnik SaddleNational and University Library of Slovenia

For special conditions, they carried in their bags also a coat, leather gloves, a rope, simple crampons and a long ice-axe.

A postcard of Triglav from around 1900 (1902)National and University Library of Slovenia

The first mountain shelters were constructed at the end of the 18th century, when the botanist Karel Zois, for carrying his researches had ordered to set up a simple hut near the Triglav Lakes. But it was just one of rare examples. Several decades had to pass until the beginnings of organized and mass mountain tourism.

By the second half of the 19th century, the Slovenian mountains were already visited by a larger number of, mostly German, "mountain tourists" - as everyone who went on a mountain tour was called at the time.

The Dežman Hut, opened in 1887National and University Library of Slovenia

They were accompanied by local guides, such as a famous Bohinj hunter Jože Škantar - Šest, who in the Agricultural and Artisan News (Kmetijske in rokodelske novice) in 1871, invited visitors to visit mountains with the following words: "Our roads are smooth and a path to Triglav is convenient ... thus, everything is right: May God keep our lungs healthy and our feet speedy."

German tourists visited Slovenian mountains under the auspices of the Austrian and German mountaineering associations, which marked and fortified paths, opened huts, and at the same time ensured that particularly German tourists felt at home in the Slovenian mountains.

Tičar Lodge on Vršič Pass (1912)National and University Library of Slovenia

Slovenian mountaneers were second-class guests in the German chalets. Such usurpation of the Slovenian mountains - in time when the Slovenian national consciousness was forming and spreading quickly - encouraged numerous national patriots to get organised and make sure that Slovenian tourists would also feel at home in the Slovenian mountains. 

Triglav Lodge on Kredarica (1909)National and University Library of Slovenia

A significant role was played by the association's newsletter, Planinski vestnik, which has been published continuously since 1895, and is considered the oldest periodical in the Slovenian territory.

Triglav glacier in 1917 (1917)National and University Library of Slovenia

A special place in the national struggle, which encompassed the Slovenian mountains, and somewhere became very fierce, belonged to Triglav. 

Aljaž Tower by Fran PavlinNational and University Library of Slovenia

To end the discussion once and for all, and unequivocally state to whom the highest peak belongs, the parish priest of Dovje, Jakob Aljaž, bought for 1 florin (the price of 10 litres of milk or a few dozen eggs) the land at the top of our highest mountain from the municipality. He built a simple shelter on it, which he designed and financed himself.

The opening of the Triglav Lodge on August 10th 1896 (1896-08-10)National and University Library of Slovenia

The tower, which soon became known as The Tower of Aljaž, provoked a sharp reaction from German organizations, while it aroused much enthusiasm among Slovenes: almost overnight the tower became one of the most recognizable symbols of the Sloveneness.

Aljaž rightly writes in his memoirs: "The fact that Triglav remained in Slovenian hands is mostly my credit."

On top of TriglavNational and University Library of Slovenia

Aljaž's action had far-reaching consequences for the development of mountaineering. With the construction of the tower, Triglav became a symbolic place where an increasing number of conscious Slovenes made pilgrimages every year.

Mountaineering and mountains have become an inseparable part of the national identity. The saying that we repeat also nowadays, originates from this time: Every true Slovene must climb Triglav at least once in his/her life.

Railway dam near Žalostna gora (1843) by Gottfries SeelosNational and University Library of Slovenia

Due to the many social changes, especially the spread of railway, the most recognizable Slovenian mountains were visited in much larger numbers by the end of the 19th century.

The opening of the Golica Lodge in 1892 (1892)National and University Library of Slovenia

The national struggle for Slovenian mountains between German and native organization contributed considerably: they almost competed in marking trails, building supplying huts, and promoting mountain tourism.

The north face of TriglavNational and University Library of Slovenia

At the beginning of the 20th century, the fight for the primacy on home soil withdrew from the well-trodden paths into even steeper and inaccessible mountain walls, in which local and foreign alpinists were looking for new and unclimbed routes.

The most important among them was undoubtedly the North face of Triglav, the symbol and pride of Slovenian alpinism.

A mountaineering scene from the Alps (1930)National and University Library of Slovenia

Generations of Slovenian mountain lovers, spiritual descendants of Valentin Stanič, have been testing their knowledge and strength for many years on the highest and most notorious peaks of the world. Many of the directions that were once considered invincible are now called Slovenian - "Slovenska".

Mount Jalovec from Sleme (1936) by Fran PavlinNational and University Library of Slovenia

More than 1.7 million visitors who go to the Slovenian mountains every year are proving that, almost 250 years after the first ascent to our highest mountain, mountaineering is still an inseparable part of Slovenian nation.  

A mountaineer is enjoying the view on Mount BegunjščicaNational and University Library of Slovenia

Slovenians are and remain a mountaineering nation. 

Credits: Story

The featured photos and postcards are from the collections of the National and University Library.
Exhibition: Žiga Cerkvenik
Translation: Janja Korošec
Narodna in univerzitetna knjižnica, 2021

Kugy, Julius (ur.): Pet stoletij Triglava, Maribor 1973
Mikša, Peter in Ajlec, Kornelija: Slovensko planinstvo / Slovene Mountaineering, Ljubljana 2011
Mikša, Peter in Golob, Urban: Zgodovina slovenskega alpinizma, Ljubljana 2013
Zorn, Matija et al.: Triglav 240, Ljubljana 2018
Viduka, Marko in Vilman Proje, Jana: Višje ne gre / Only For The Brave, Bohinj 2018

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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