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A group of excellent climbers from Mojstrana were the first Slovenian mountaineers to climb in the Himalayas. They were known by the name ``the Mojstrana Squirrels`` and they wore special boots made by the shoemaker Janez Eržen.

The boots were initially produced by the Alpina company from Žiri, and were designed by Kazimir Drašler and Aleš Kunaver for an expedition to Annapurna in 1969. “A Swedish tradesman gave us some elk skins. At first, Alpina was not very interested in producing these boots, since quite a lot of manual work was required. So the shoemaker Janez Eržen, from Mojstrana, made them according to that design for a few further expeditions,” said Klavdij Mlekuž, the first of the “Squirrels” and a member of one of the Yugoslavian expeditions. Because of the challenging work, where each part of the boot had to be manually stitched and made in quite a short time for the entire expedition team, Eržen also had some assistants.

The ’Himalayan‘ boots are part of the extensive collection at the Slovenian Alpine Museum.

Despite the local production, the boots were top quality and those who wore them never got frostbite. Janko Ažman, a member of two expeditions to Makalu in the early 1980s and, in collaboration with Matija Maležič, the first Slovenian to reach 8000 metres, colourfully describes a further advantage of the boots, which he wore for the first time when conquering Istor-o-nal in the Hindu Kush. “Even if you stood in water up to your knees in them, you didn’t get wet.” 

But despite the comfort, warmth and waterproofing, problems emerged during the climb. “Because they were soft, our feet suffered quite a lot when we were on the wall,” Ažman says. “There were also problems putting on crampons, which sometimes fell off even half-way up a rock wall.”

The boots, made at the workshop of a shoemaker from Mojstrana, Janez Eržen, are made of lambskin and deerskin.

“The elk hair that fell off the boots into the snow at base camp could also be found in tea or soup,” Mlekuž added, laughing.

At that time it was impossible to get good climbing equipment in Yugoslavia, so the guys found their own way to solve the problem. “Janez Brojan and I once smuggled rubber boot soles for the entire expedition under the bonnet of our small Fiat 600,” Ažman remembers. The “Himalayan” boots are nowadays swapped for more modern alpine boots, but these have found their place at the Slovenian Alpine Museum in Mojstrana.

Part of the museum exhibition room, where the 'Himalayan' boots are stored in a showcase.

The ``squirrels`` from Mojstrana (left to right) – Janko Ažman, Klavdij Mlekuž, Zvone Kofler and Janez Brojan Junior. They were subsequently joined by Miha Smolej and Janez Dovžan.

Photos: Slovenian Alpine Museum, Mojstrana


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    Proudly Slovenain, Heritage
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