FPJ History lesson: We don’t know pain
This post was going to be a big whinge about how tired we were (I pulled it at the last minute because it sucked), but after a bit of digging around, I stopped feeling so sorry for myself.
Like zombies, my brain was off, my steps were slow, and I adopted a new energy saving technique by not engaging any muscles in the back of my neck allowing me to trundle along in a comfortable slump.a rhythmic ‘controlled falling’ delivered me to the top of the hills.
The Julian Alps were meant to be one of the highlights of the entire Slovenian trail, a chance to climb Triglav, the highest peak in the country at 2864m and a chance to take in the vast network of stunning peaks dropping off into lush green valleys. But, instead of marvelling at the razor sharp cliff tops or racing along ridgelines, we stared blankly at the rocky paths, tired, exhausted and grumpy after compressing the first 21 recommended stages into 10 days. Only later did I find out about the sad, dark and often forgotten history of the Isonzo front, one of the bloodiest and most wasteful offensives of World War I.
Stretching only 90km along the Soča river (which unlike us runs straight through the middle of the Julian alps), the Isonzo front was the central focus of Italian efforts to push into Austria-Hungary territory from 1915 to 1917. Due to Italy’s late entry into the war, the entire Austrian line was already heavily fortified but the Italians repeatedly attempted to break through what they perceived as the only passable front across the Soča. Over 500,000 lives were lost in the 11 offensives (all unsuccessful) of the campaign.
Soldiers climbed through the treacherous terrain to make their attacks, often up a gradient of 45%. At first, crack-alpine elites were sent forward, by the end the Italians sent any petrified conscript soldier up the moubtain side into the sights of well trained Austro-Hungarian machine gun fire. What on earth were we complaining about? Though difficult to recall in the moment, at least we had chosen to climb these mountains out of our own free will rather than clamber up impossibly high peg-less ascents only to be rewarded at the top with a close combat armed with knuckle dusters or clubs.
Ernest Hemingway’s first best-seller ‘A Farewell to Arms’, based on his own personal experiences as an ambulance driver, was also set in the Isonzo front (that’s him in the gallery). The novel tells of the havoc and ruthlessness of defeated soldiers retreating from the front. He describes the ironic nature of names in the area in a gruesome war environment:
Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages
Over 30,000 Slovene died on the front, largely conscripted by the Austro-Hungarian forces. Hundreds of thousands more of malnutrition, many in Italian refugee camps.
These stories were a stark reminder of how lucky we really are to be running these trails and doing what we love. It is so easy to waltz through the mountains on a fine day feeling sorry for ourselves, and even easier for us to forget the wasteful horror of war.
Written by Jeff
Photos from: Everett Historical, Wikimedia Commons, Imperial War Museum
The Slovenska Planinska Pot
A lesser known long distance trail that traverses the width of Slovenia. The trail is only 400km long but is effectively a peak bagging route with long stages and difficult ascents, often via ferrata which we will probably skip. The trail starts in Slovenia’s second major city — Maribor, traverses the Kamnik-Savinja alps, kisses the Austrian border, proceeds to climb almost everything in the Julian alps including Triglav (2,864m), before tailing off into the Adriatic coast near Trieste in Italy.
We shortened this stage through the Julian alps, not only because we were hammered but because large portions of it require harnesses and b-laying kits. In a way, we felt like we may have missed out but on the other hand we came to trail and mountain run, not climb. The via ferrata routes do look spectacular and I would highly recommend people check them out!
We crossed the main alps in a day from Dovje to the equally small village of Trenta via the Luknja pass. After re-ascending to the 7 lakes area at 2200m and a night at Dom na Komni, we made our way along the southern ridgeline of the Julian alps before catching the gondola down to lake Bohinj. We had a few days off in nearby Bohinjska Bistricia.
Distance: 50km in 3 days
Difficulty: Rocky scree-like paths with alpine forest in-between. Not great if you’re tired but probably fine if you’re not.
Originally published at Fastpack Journal.