In the Ortler Alps in northern Italy is a minor summit called the Dreisprechenspitze: the ‘three-language peak’. For hundreds of years this tiny mountain was a tripoint — where Switzerland, Italy and the Austro-Hungarian empire met. (The languages then were German, Italian and Romansh, still an official language of that part of Switzerland.) Now, Austria is over 50 kilometres away by road, after the border was redrawn in Italy’s favour after the First World War.
For me, the Dreisprechenspitze, which rises above the Stelvio road pass, was a departure point for seeking out the dramatic ruins and vertiginous battlefields that hide in between the iconic cycling roads of the Stelvio and Gavia. For my hiking companion, Tom Isitt, who is writing a book about the First World War struggles in these mountains, it was more of an ending: over the past few years, he has hiked, cycled and climbed the length of the Italian front in stages — from Hemingway territory in what is now Slovenia in the very east, past high-altitude ossuaries and a six-ton cannon still stranded over three kilometres above sea level, to here. The Dreisprechenspitze is the very western tip of the front, literally the end of the line.
The thing is, the very real problem is, that once you get things like that six-ton cannon up there, they are very difficult to get down. While a lot of the scrap metal lower down was salvaged, some of it is too high, or to heavy, or just too damn difficult. Said cannon fired 149mm shells, and it took hundreds of men 76 days to drag to its current resting place. Although we didn’t see anything as large as the ‘hippopotamus’ on the Cresta Croce, there was still debris everywhere, with barbed wire even encroaching on to the hiking tracks.
Off the beaten track there was much more to discover. Nose around at the foot of the glaciers, and you’re likely to find anything…