Although I will try to keep the selection of photos I use for this blog varied, there is an inevitability that pictures shot in the Italian Dolomites are going to feature quite often. That’s partly because I have no shortage of things I can write about to go with them, but also because my large collection of images from the time I spent regularly in the Dolomites includes much of what I regard as my best work.
I had 15 years when I worked regularly as a specialist leader for a small, well-known and now sadly defunct adventure holiday company. This allowed me virtually every year to be in the Dolomites in May, July and September, leading parties of up to a dozen people on treks through these delectable mountains. More than that, though. Add in the time I spent there cross country skiing in the winter, or doing my research for the trips I led, and it was the case that the Dolomites landscape, people, life and culture became a part of me. It’s a part that ended in many respects, about eight years ago, when the company was bought out and asset-stripped.
For ten years prior to my time leading groups, I explored almost every square kilometer of the Dolomites with a small number of good friends. All of my annual leave, paid and sometimes unpaid, was spent there. I blogged about some of this elsewhere, a while back. The photo above is from those days.
I and my friends were amongst a small group of the first Brits who had become very keen on climbing and travelling through the mountains on what are called “via ferrata” – iron ways. These are adventurous often cable and ladder-protected paths with a whole history of their own. What we did, and wrote about, then became a veritable tide of interest by others. Nowadays, these routes are over-popular at peak times, and I am so glad to have memories of being on them while they were still a relatively unknown, or regarded as a bit of a specialist thing.
In about 1990, along with three friends, I set out on a west-east crossing of the Dolomites mountains, using as many via ferrata routes as we could work in to our route, and staying at some of the area’s wonderful mountain huts on the way. It was September, fairly quiet, and we were blessed for most of the time with wonderful weather. The journey subsequently became the basis of one of the holidays I was invited to run regularly for more than five years.
The photo is taken on a series of passages through some fantastic scenery that is known as the “Schartenweg” in the local German tongue. “The Route through the Gaps”. It is the remant of a fortified communications path created in 1915 by Austrian troops who fought a bloody two-year battle in these mountains against the Italians. Part of World War I almost totally unknown in Britain, even to seasoned WW1 cognoscenti. As a historical trail through the mountains, the Schartenweg has almost no equal, in my view, and I’ve been along it many times.
On the day in question, we were heading for a mountain hut we knew might well be about to close for the season, and were on the last but one day of our journey. We were fit, brown, very much in tune with our surroundings, and almost totally out of film. I looked back at Brian completing a particularly steep section of the route, with the iconic peaks of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo behind him. I shot two frames on my Nikon F3/T (the rare, champagne finish model, if you’re interested) and my last roll of 35mm ran out. I nearly didn’t get this particular memory on celluloid at all. I have a large, framed version of it at the top of the stairs at home, and see it every day.
Doing what I did in the Dolomites was hard, all-consuming work at times. There are bits I don’t miss, and things – mostly views, and people I met there, that I miss every day of my life. I still go back, but I go back very much as a stranger now.