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Luka Krajnc: Memories of The Memory—Climbing Croatia’s New 5.14 Multi-Pitch

Wednesday, November 22, 2017
BD Ambassador Luka Krajnc is a Slovenian badass, known for his bold alpinism and trad prowess. Recently, he finished his hardest free-climbing project to date, sending Spomin—a 350-meter monster multi-pitch in Croatia that checks in at 5.14b.

Somewhere on the coastline of the Mediterranean country called Croatia lies the Paklenica Canyon, which carved its path from the Velebit mountain range the all the way to the Adriatic Sea. With steep walls and an exotic location, Paklenica serves as a good training ground for climbers, from the very beginners, to experts in this vertical craft. Many have their first multi pitch outings here and because of its mild climate it’s a perfect destination to visit at the beginning of each season. Paklenica Canyon is a place where I took my first climbing steps almost 20 years ago. I've been coming back every year since. Even today, when I walk through that canyon, I can remember how clumsy and excited I was when I touched those sharp limestone holds for the first time.

Images: Marko Prezelj

Two years ago, we were standing under the steepest part of the Anića Kuk face together with Hayden Kennedy, loaded with heavy packs full of climbing equipment. Our minds were free and open for a new experience the wall above had to offer. A week of laughter, “bullshit” talk, grilling and just having fun on and off the wall had passed all too quick. While goofing around in search of free climbing beta we both agreed on the greatness of the route and challenge it provided. Unfortunately, Hayden has passed away, and is now discovering his perfect lines somewhere else, and I'm sure he's having the same smile and the relaxed approach that we shared that week.

We often travel the world, visiting different continents in search of vertical challenges. Occupied with this process, we sometimes fail to realize that our “king line” is waiting for us closer than we might think. Maybe it’s because our lens is focused too distantly and the close things seem blurred. When I was younger, climbing meant everything to me and represented the meaning of my existence. Over the years things have changed a bit and now I look at climbing more as a tool that helps me achieve balance in life and acts as an inner growth catalyst.

Inspired by the quality and complexity of the challenge, I became almost obsessed with the route, but the conditions vaporized in the summer heat and so did my energy. Although free climbing those overhangs in a single day still seemed unimaginable, I was determined not to give up. After a winter of intense preparation, I was back, to see if it got any easier. Well, it didn't. But as with any other challenge in life, I never expected it to be easy. Trying routes that are challenging always reminds me how to appreciate small things. Discovering a micro foothold, executing the moves with more precision or breathing just a bit deeper in order to find that “flow” is what makes the experience so unique.

Another month alternating between “work” and rest days followed and I could slowly see the puzzles coming together. As my confidence grew, so did the nervousness of succeeding in a goal which took so much energy and determination. In moments like that I asked myself many times: What exactly is success? In the beginning of my climbing path, I thought success in climbing meant only “clipping the chains” or reaching to the top of the wall in a desired style. But with some experience I’ve discovered one thing that connects to multiple aspects in life. Success is relative! Would it be a failure if I didn't send the route? Or would the real failure be not having fun while trying my best no matter the outcome?

Enjoying the process of adaptation to the difficulties truly inspires me. The feeling of being a kid in a candy shop is what I’m after and I feel really alive when I find a challenge that provokes that. During those moments, you need nothing else on the whole world, except the “toys” that you’re playing with. The good thing is that these emotions can be related to anything in life that we’re truly passionate about.

“It is only climbing” I said to myself. On an average spring day, nothing felt perfect for climbing, but maybe that was exactly what I needed—to not feel the internal pressure as my mind managed to convince the tired muscles not to let go.

While arriving at the top of the wall, with the glow of our headlamps, my brain didn’t really realize what had just happened. My mind was full but empty at the same time. Satisfaction filled the space where focus used to be and never before have I felt such fulfillment after finishing a climbing project, which turned out to be much more than just that. Years of dreaming, two seasons of dedicated training and 27 days of actual tries were needed to make this journey from the starting point to the finishing epilogue. There is no way I could make this project a reality without all the people who believed in me, joined me on the route, and listened to all of my complaining 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!

The line was first overcome by the legendary Slovenian trio composed of Silvo Karo, Janez Jeglič and Franček Knez in 1984 with the use of aid climbing techniques. I made the first free ascent by climbing all the pitches free, on lead, in a single day. It is 350 meters long, with four of the pitches ranging from 8a+ to 8c and others up to 7b+ in difficulty. The first ascensionists named the route “Spomin” which translates into “The Memory,” and looking back now, their choice couldn’t have been better.

I included a picture of Hayden and me chilling on the belay (there is an amazing incut two-chair-size ledge in the middle of the biggest overhang, between the 8c and 8b+ pitch), listening to music and just talking shit.

I miss this dude, and not a day goes by that I don't think about him and the good times we shared. But looks like this is how life goes ... so we have to enjoy it with the people we care about as much as possible.

—Luka Krajnc

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