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18
Thursday
18 June 2020

An evergreen certainty: the mountains’ patience

Enrico Baccanti is an Alpine guide and one of our long-standing friends. We have asked him to share some of his musings on mountains as a person who has known them intimately for a lifetime.
Giulan, Enrico, for your availability and enlightened thoughts.

Mountains and childhood
I was a city boy: I was born in Genoa and my first experience with mountains goes all the way back to my childhood when I used to spend my family holidays in the Dolomites. I became a mountain guide using the traditional tools a child had: climbing during my summer holidays and exploring the first climbing opportunities with guides from Val di Fassa, and with a friend of the time. In that way, I got closer to a universe that slowly but steadily I found more fascinating and unique.

Mountains and my profession
I did what everyone else did and started exploring the Italian, Swiss, and French Alps to the point that I started toying with the idea that, maybe, mountaineering could become my profession. A profession that would allow me to explore and fully live the mountains for what they were. At the age of 26 I became a mountain guide and I moved to Corvara.

Mountains and journeys
I am not your traditional guide. In other words, I live the profession under a modern light, meaning I also explore other areas outside the Dolomites: the Mont Blanc, the Monte Rosa, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, the Etna, Abruzzo, and Nepal – I have always travelled a lot but I never lost sight of a very clear idea; and that idea was the deep relation with the territory I live in.

Mountains and business
Do not get me wrong, after all, there are many ways of exploring this profession: some organise trips, excursions, and hikes; some people go as far as Kenya and see mountains solely as a business opportunity. When we speak of guides today it is not in the traditional way – we see them as organised structures, tour operators, outstanding managers that swiftly lose sight of the type of contact mountains demand. To me, mountains have to be seen as a profession and not only as a business: that is not the way to go about it. You have to love this profession from the bottom of your heart because it has no specific virtue if you only see it as a ‘job’ and nothing more. Exploring mountains is an art, even though Cesare Maestri used to say – with a pinch of irony – coming here is always better than actually going to work.

Mountains and modernity
We love mountains because of their physical presence and because they represent a dimension made up of different cultural elements. The concept of mountains as seen today is the result of our modern times which have transformed a hostile place on the outskirts of society, a harsh, wild, demanding place into an ideal location. The Enlightenment and Romanticism talked of the mountains’ beauty, and of a place where we can practice the art of mountaineering, discover new things, and go on an adventure. Up until recently, mountains sparked a strong attraction in a very limited part of society, yet today they have become a magnet for countless tourists, especially during winter, an enticing call which has debunked ancient truths and stripped down their epic nature.

Mountains and our contemporary times
Today, the Cervino, described by the English as the noblest cliff of Europe, is akin to the Gioconda, the Uffizi or Venice with its mega ships: a place to see, take a picture of, and leave. The same can be said about the Tre Cime and Braies Lake. This type of postcard tourism is the result of our contemporary times. There is no such thing as organic growth, we all feel the need to say we have been there, statements validated by countless picture taken with closed eyes. Nobody is interested in the traits of the place per se anymore: the destination simply has to be famous and shareable.

Mountains and UNESCO
Ever since the Dolomites have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they have attracted a new clientele. The accommodations that welcome tourists now are purely money-making structures inserted in a huge, complex mechanism. And a guide like me is just a cog. I am unsure if there is a bigger picture. However, I do know whoever is strongest rules, as can be seen by the ski slopes, turned into an artificial construct predominantly developed areas, out of sync with the mountains. Of course, of course: it all takes place in a stunning natural landscape, but the landscape is nothing more than a canvas, and the slopes are smooth, flat. Rue the day an imperfection is found, and there are signposts to the huts everywhere: you do not need any orientation nor specific techniques. Anyone with a bit of training can safely and smoothly glide downhill towards the valley.

Mountains and amusement parks
Japanese tourists who simply look at their phones before the Tre Cime, as well as group of hikers that had never considered the Dolomites, especially from those Anglo-Saxon countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and even Scandinavian countries. The risk of turning into an amusement park is high as elementary tourism dynamics based on profit alone come into play. Changing this process depends on the economic actors of the mountains who control everything: power, communication, infrastructures. But these mountain operators need cultural introspection, something that politics, society, and local administration should support and promote. Some of this already exists but it is far too weak for now.

Mountains and traffic
When we speak of linguistic minorities – and I do not only mean Ladin but also Walser and Occitan, for example – these become nothing more than mere folklore if they do not preserve that genuine aura in connection with the mountains. We need underground car parks, a different traffic management, and the passes have to be a service rather than a motorised turnstile. We require more courage and fewer blinkers. It is obvious that we cannot continue going down this path. Lake Braies is the perfect example: it is pure hell. This jewel was transformed into a huge parking space, they even created a roundabout to control the flow of traffic from and to Dobbiaco, and even UNESCO had something to say about the matter. The project of creating a farsighted transport culture requires a different awareness from the existing one. The perfect example can be found just a stone throw from here: go to Switzerland and board the Jungfrau or Bernina Express train to understand what can really be achieved.

Mountains and the future
We put our trust in the mountains’ patience.