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On the history traces: The White War and the flower’s path.

There are stories…

There are stories that is necessary to live in order to understand. Stories that can be scarcely glimpsed at, closed as they are within few lines of the schoolbooks… yet, that cold written words that capture our attention only for few seconds, narrate adventures that nowadays are quite impossible even to imagine. Bold actions on the limit of human endurance and survival. Digging into those words means jumping into the past. It means getting closer to persons that no longer exist. Persons that lived the impossible. Some of them survived, and told the stories they lived. Many others instead were kidnapped forever by the part of history they were writing with their blood. The further you go into the twist and turns of the history the more names and surnames resurface. Remote inconceivable adventures written into history that nowadays less and less people know. Yet, for our grate gran-fathers, that few lines of history written on schoolbooks meant feelings, emotions, life, goodbyes and, unfortunately for many of them, death. During this hundredth years from the beginning of the First World War is the memory of my grate gran-fathers, who both leaved and never came back, and all the people like them, that drives me into the remotest peaks of the Alps. There I want to find those places, far away from the comfort we are now used to, and to see, remember and once again understand the true meaning of peace and the cost of it.

Rain flows…

Rain flows on the windscreen wiper in a morning of this strange august. Between the clouds we glimpse a weather improvement and with it, it comes the hope of being able to try to clamber that mountain ridge where history is carved out behind each rock. We leave the car parked near the cableway close to Ponte di Legno.

Over there, there is no joke. August does not lie and we do not expect the typical august temperatures. At that altitude, there is only one commander, the mountain and it is better to be ready at all events. The backpack is equipped with crampons, an ice axe, a rope, the hiking kit, the helmet, balaclava, gloves and so on.

The so called “sentiero dei fiori” (flower’s path) is now close to us while the cableway is getting closer to “Passo Paradiso” (Heaven Pass – 2585 m). Not only this unusual rainy august lies but also the names of topography. There are no flowers on that path and also the pass called “heaven” was a real nightmare of fights. Once reached the pass, the mountain ridge is in front of us, awe-inspiring.

On the right of the cableway station there is a tunnel with an entrance made of a metal sheet. The museum in the memory of the “Guerra Bianca” (White War) is waiting for you. Here, between sounds of submachines guns and bomb explosions, the dripping, led lights, the cold air and the frightful evidences made of pieces of bombs, war tools and so on, history comes to life.

This pass was the starting point of the daring assaults made by the Alpini (the Italian Mountains Troops) during the white war, so called because fought at heights where it is always snowy. On the Adamello Mountain were fought the most bold assaults ever during the First World War. All the battles in this area where at altitudes higher than 2500 m. The mountains ridge are all over 3000 m. Here temperature can go below zero of forty degrees.

Till Passo Paradiso (Heaven Pass) you can arrive with the cableway. Than with a chair lift you can reach Capanna Presena (a mountain hut at 2738 m) where you can eat tasty local food. Who wishes to set out for the sentiero dei fiori (flowers path) shall start the ascension from the pass to go higher to Passo del Castellacio (2963 m).

As you can understand reading the premises, this mountain path cannot be done by people not having the proper skills, competences and equipment and that are not used to walk through the heights well knowing the harsh environment of high mountains.

Our steps are following one another with a slow but steady rhythm. There is just a bit of grass here and there. Rocks are everywhere. The path is strong and steep. The small red and white painted flags indicate the path but this one is not an easy one. Huge rocks are confusing wayfarers and the snowfields cover the trail markers. Fortunately the mountain pass is just ahead with its wooden cross. Between the rocks silently signs of the battles re-emerge with the shape of bomb splinters, shrapnel and of entire barbed wire rolls that are still there as sad sentinels of history.

While Stefano and Me are hiking we meet a couple of other mountaineer: Stefano and Valentina. Two friendly lads coming from the Val di Non. We chat a bit while hiking between the rocks. The alert whistle of an alpine marmot is the only sound we can hear.

Finally we reach Passo Castellaccio (2963 m). Arriving here means to face a number of ruins of military shacks, wooden remains and signs of fighting. Everything crystallized and jealously kept by the mountain. Is now time to wear all the security equipment such as the helmet, the sling, and the via ferrate kit. After a photo together we decide to proceed separately. My personal photographic needs are not fitting their need of time. Stefano and Valentina where willing to go farer than us.

Few meters from the old shacks the via ferrata wire can easily be found and here we hook ourselves. Thinking that they were fighting here, without any kind of safety and without the modern equipment, under the enemy fire, is horrifying.

We are over hard precipices. The path is literally clung to the cliffs. Some wooden catwalk are placed where the old ones where, and they help a bit the passage. From the second catwalk a vertical rung ladder go straightaway till the top of a spur. This spur, called the eagle nest, was an outpost dominating all the harsh landscape around.

While proceeding between the snap-hook clicks the clouds and haze are continuously hiding and showing the harsh landscape around us. I suddenly start thinking to the notes of the Italian mountain troop hymn, the one I so often sang when I was soldier enrolled in 7° Regiment Alpini Feltre.

“There, between the forests and the ravines, there between the cold fogs and the intense cold,

they thrust with strength their pickaxes, they make the paths shorter…”

The notes of the mountain troop soldier are always with me while I’m hiking in the high mountains. Theirs songs, differently from the other soldier’s songs, are not rhetoric but only alive memory of an extremely harsh and cruel reality condensing within their notes icing cold, human feelings, war, mountains and death.

Continuing along the path appear also the first big blocks of snow and one of them is covering the wire where we are assured. Posing our rope we cross this part reaching the door of a tunnel that goes across the heart of the Gendarme (3047 m), a peak. That tunnel was built in order to provide a direct passage into the mountain avoiding two arduous suspension bridges. These two breath-taking suspension bridges have been rebuilt in the year 2011. So it is possible to outflank the Gendarme peak both by the bridges and by the tunnel.

With a pickaxe found at the beginning of the tunnel I remove the snow that covers the wire and I hook myself in order to go ahead to the breath taking bridges. Under us, between the fog, we see the first one. It is long 75 meters. Wind is whipping our faces.

As soon as the first bridge is over we climb up few step on a rung ladder and immediately we face another fearful precipice with the beginning of the second suspension bridge. Another 55 meter-long walk of emptiness below our feet to cross. At the end we arrive at Passo Casamadre (2984 m) with a magnificent view on Conca Presena.

As soon as we stop, we understand that the weather is drastically and badly changing. We decide to go back, this time walking through the heart of the Gendarme crossing the tunnel. Under the light of a torch we reach again the tunnel opening that we passed before. Here we start going back on the same route as before.

While on the catwalk an iced rain start falling and in a few seconds we are wet but, being ready we properly cover ourselves. Between the wind and the iced rain we eat a sandwich covered in an old gun pit.

A bit later we are at Passo Castellaccio and we start the descent between the snow and the rocks. The gash metal of bombs is everywhere on the soil. We are now close to a small mountain lake. We cross another snowfield, this time the cable way is not far away anymore.

The ruins of an old trench is in front of us, its slits are now empty making only light and wind pass. At the left of the lake Monticello (2599 m) there is monument with three flags: Italian, Austrian and a European one. They are there to remember the fallen ones of both fronts. With the last cableway of the day we leave behind us a unique experience into the heart of history.

To have detailed information, including timing, on the entire path you can visit this website at the page dedicated at the Sentiero dei Fiori (only in Italian). The technical description is really accurate. If you need a map remember that Tobacco has an excellent map with a 1:25000 scale. It is the map number 52. The path is really hard, tough and long. It is at high quote so the weather can be extremely severe. This path is reserved only to trained people that are used to walk on cliffs and that are fully equipped. Cross check the weather forecast and contact directly the local Italian Mountain Club or the Capanna Presena. Ask about the snow condition of the path because you may find snow covering the security wires.

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