I think I’m in danger of becoming a crabby old bugger.
OK, those who know me well will already be questioning my use of the word “becoming”, but on the issue at hand, I’ve got quite worked up over the last couple of days. You see, two days ago, I went for a walk in the mountains, and other people ruined it for me. Maybe that sounds selfish, but hear me out.
As I write, I’m back in the Italian Dolomites. It’s late September, and I imagined that, just like the last couple of times I’ve done it at this time of year, the circuit of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo would sooth and wow me throughout a great day’s exercise. Not for nothing has it long been regarded as one of Europe’s finest one day walks.
The route is almost all at above 2,400 metres, so it’s a high mountain trip. However, it has a vital advantage (or, as I’m now thinking, flaw) in that you can drive to 2,300 metres and use a big car park as a starting point. Incongruous, yes, but it, and the toll road up to it go back many years. The car park is even served by regular service buses in the summer. The circuit is just about possible from a valley base, but only for the very fit. Four mountain huts depend on the tourist traffic from the car park. And, as intrusions into the mountains go, it is remarkable, erm, unobtrusive from neighbouring peaks etc.
So, what’s my problem? Well, I enjoyed my motorbike ride up to the Auronzo Hut car park, from where I was staying in Cortina d’Ampezzo. When I arrived, there were, if anything, fewer cars than usual for 9.30am. However, neatly ranked up next to each other were TEN coaches – fully air-conditioned luxury buses each seating about 60 people. To be honest, coaches are not that rare there, as many companies take parties up to the commodious Auronzo Hut to enjoy a meal and the view, before descending and continuing on a bus tour of the Dolomites, or some such. However, all of these seemed to be from the same part of Germany, and all had recently disgorged a full complement of fully kitted-out walkers. Make that, by a conservative count, about 500 people in all.
All seemed to be around 65 to 70 years of age. Judging by their equipment, physiques etc, they were experienced mountain walkers. These were not coaches full of novices. I half hoped they too might have stopped off here to enjoy the view before heading off somewhere else. A few wandered over to admire my (German) motorbike as I parked up. I commented on their numbers, and asked what they were planning to do, little expecting that I’d get the reply “We are all going to walk the circuit of the Drei Zinnen” (That’s the German name for the Tre Cime peaks). “All together?” I asked. “Oh yes! We are a Club on our holiday.”
With hindsight, I ought to have got back on my bike and left the circuit for another day. However, as it seemed that these hundreds were literally walking together, and going off on the anti-clockwise circuit, I decided to do the route clockwise. I’d not been round that way for a few years. I busied myself taking photos, and shuddered at the sight of this army marching away from me. I could swear that they were grouped by their coach-load, and walking in the same rows that the’d been seated in!
I at least had a couple of hours relative peace and quiet, with no more walkers on my chosen outward paths than I’d expected. Ours was the slower route out. The “halfway” point of the wonderful Locatelli Hut (in 1987 my first mountain hut experience, and later something of a second home) comes more like two-thirds of the way round, while those going the more common direction (as the hordes were) reach it after little more than a third of the route. This meant that I was on the final, long, zig-zagging ascent to the Locatelli when I met the head end of this astonishing human crocodile coming down the path towards me.
To say the line of people seemed endless is understatement The photos above are just small parts of it all. They were like soldier ants, not quite all in step, but relentlessly streaming past, as I sat to one side of the track. It was the biggest display of insensitivity and disrespect for the peace of these mountains I had ever seen at first hand. While they seemed happy enough, no one was stopping to take photos. What they’d done for breaks, pit stops etc, I dreaded to imagine.
They passed, and I reached the familiar bustle at the Locatelli Hut. It had been two years since I’d been there, but one of the ladies serving behind the hut bar/counter and who had been doing so for as long as I’ve known the place, recognised me (which was nice) and gave me a chance to ask what had happened when this group reached the Hut. “They walked right on past” she said.
Anyhow, enough. You’ve got my drift. I just can’t get out of my head the one question somehow I never asked anyone of the 500 out on their route-march.
“Why? In God’s name, WHY?”