The Meaning of Mountains – Part 2

When I heard of human traffic jams on Everest, the juxtaposition of mundaneness and magnificence struck me, not least because of the lurking presence of death.

I experienced a moderated version of this in the Sexten Dolomites.

DolomitesThe Panternkofel via ferrata starts near the Drei Zinnen Hut. Drei Zinnen Hut, Dolomites 7397Of course, the spectacular scenery begins well before that with an hour and a half’s walk from Auronzo Hut. The large carpark was already full and spilling onto the road verges  at 9.15am.

Sexten Dolomites, Auronzo Hut4743Having visited the Dolomites a few times, I expected a rerun of land formations previously seen. Not so. Of course, there are similarities – the layers within the rock; the colours ranging from grey to cream to tan to gold; the piles of grey scree sloping away from the base of sheer-walled giants – but there are variations on the theme: curved, striated grassy mountain tops; Sexten Dolomites landscape 4970

isolated crags rising from their surrounds;

The Drei Zinnen (German) / Tre Cime (Italian) from the top of the Paternkofel via ferrata.

The Drei Zinnen (German) / Tre Cime (Italian) from the top of the Paternkofel via ferrata.

giant boulders with flat faces positioned on those scree slopes; IMG_4749rock crop

a meadow strewn with bright white rocks and bisected by a stream. Sexten Dolomites landscape 4956A short walk up from Drei Zinnen Hut, one is within the mountain itself. Step by high step, ascending three hundred metres in darkness punctuated by light from the reconnaissance and attack holes.

Paternkofel tunnel 4775

Entrance to the Paternkofel via ferrata tunnel – one of the vf’s defining characteristics.

IMG_4895Each flake, each chip, each block of stone was hewn by Austro-Hungarian soldiers fighting the Italians in WWI. Places that were once cramped, cold homes and lookouts now swarm with tourists, athletes, adventurers, photographers, meditators from all around the world. What was once a geopolitical and ideological boundary – a line where death of the other was the intent (ably assisted by nature in the form of avalanches) – is now a place of unity and camaraderie where people from around the world gather.

soldier hut 7447

Soldier fortress on Torre Tobin via ferrata.

And there are traffic jams.

IMG_4845 people climbing

On the rock, the colourful clothes popped – a contrast to the dull, heavy uniforms of the toiling, killing soldiers of a century ago.

This is an unusual via ferrata in that most of it is two-way. When negotiating a section, one is aware of those waiting at the end to come the other way. People travelling in the same direction as one, may pass – always asking and thanking, never expecting. Thank you. Danke. Grazie. Gracias. Efharisto. Spaciba. The languages hum.

On Torre Tobin, a via ferrata of another day, (see page header) we shared the peak with two other groups. Conversations took place in three languages including English with accents from four English-speaking countries.

Back on Paternkofel, our group laughed along with a woman who stretched awkwardly over a gully (see photo above) while a male companion took a photo then passed beneath and between her legs for the next shot. The queues built on either side but there appeared to be no restlessness. Schedules (had to) drop away as we allowed, and participated in, their moment.via ferrata walking

And always the scenery. A vista opens up around a corner. Lakes appear. Sexten Dolomites lakes 7443One emerges from a tunnel to a different landscape on the other side of the mountain. short tunnel through mountain 4922There are scrambles and traverses on ledges with hundreds of metres of sheer drop.

4876 via ferrataAnd, back on the ground, the companionable milling and queuing reaches remarkable proportions.

Drei Zinnen Hut 7462

Not a spare seat in the hut’s alfresco dining terrace.

Sexten Dolomites, landscape with people7455

And the slopes below are buzzing too.

A mountain can mean patience, unity and peace.


For more on WWI see http://lagazuoi5torri.dolomiti.org/dengl/Cortina/laga5torri/musei/index.html  The Tre Sassi fort museum near Valparola Pass, close to Cortina d’Ampezzo, is stacked with information and artefacts.

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