Stipe Božić: from the “Dalmatian Matterhorn” to the top of the world

Stipe Božić: from the “Dalmatian Matterhorn” to the top of the world

Just an hour’s drive from the Makarska Riviera and some of the most stunning beaches in Croatia and you will come across pure, unadulterated, millennia-old wilderness unfolding right in front of you. Get off at the Ravča exit on the Dalmatina motorway and take the state road towards Vrgorac, then the local road leading to the settlement of Zavojane. There you will find the mighty bora wind howling and thrashing against the majestic jagged cliffs in a formidable natural interplay between the rocks and barren forests, as well as awe-inspiring vistas dominated by the deep blue Adriatic Sea.

 

Stipe Božić, the most successful Croatian and one of the most accomplished mountain climbers in the world, grew up in this Croatian mountaineering paradise, where the harsh Mount Biokovo practically pierces the clouds with its rocky noses and a view that overlooks the naked pyramid-shaped St. Michael peak (1247 m tall), dubbed the Dalmatian Matterhorn.

 

These childhood images most likely stoked his hunger for heights, urging Stipe Božić to check all the boxes next to the names of the highest summits on all the seven continents (Mount Everest – Asia, Aconcagua – South America, Mount McKinley – North America, Kilimanjaro – Africa, Mount Vinson – Antarctica, Mont Blanc – Europe, Mount Kosciuszko – Australia) on his mountain-climbing bucket list, including three of the world’s highest mountains, the three cult 8,000-ers: Mount Everest (8848 m), K2 (8611 m) and Kangchenjunga (8586 m). The Croatian mountain climber twice climbed Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, becoming only the second European (after the legendary Italian Reinhold Messner) to achieve this remarkable feat.

Stipe Božić Himalaya
Osobna arhiva Stipe Božić

However, Stipe Božić did not stop at conquering mountain peaks. Much like the protagonists of Jules Verne’s novel, he descended into the very centre of Mount Velebit - Luka’s Cave, the deepest cave in Croatia, at a depth of 1431 m, became the first Croat to reach the North Pole on an international ski expedition, while also making a name for himself as an acclaimed director, writer, photographer and creator of 100 documentaries, several books and a plethora of photographs documenting his expeditions.

 

The Croatian mountain climber started mountaineering at a young age as a boy scout and then completed a mountain climbing course at the Mosor Mountaineering Club in Split. When he was performing his national military service as a 20-year-old, he met Viki Grošelj, a future stellar Slovene mountaineer and his “climbing brother” and companion in many a Himalayan ascent.

 

His subsequent life path and mountaineering calling were heavily influenced by his first ascent to Mount Everest as part of the 1979 expedition, when he climbed the highest summit in the world. This prompted Stipe’s “walks” in the clouds surrounding the Himalaya, which he would come to know almost as well as his own Biokovo, following countless climbs. Lhotse, Manaslu, Kangchenjunga, Mount Everest again and K2.

 

If you go through the list of all the accomplishments achieved by this Croatian mountain climber, you might get the feeling that he is actually an imaginary literary character, some sort of a fictional amalgam of Indiana Jones, James Bond and a Jedi Knight, but Stipe Božić is merely a man who dared to dream – a boy from the hinterland of Mount Biokovo who made his dream of pushing boundaries come true.