A MOUNTAIN STORY ON THE PATH OF WWI.

Words and photos by Ulysse Daessle -@ulyssedaessle

The trail is gone now, give place to a tortuous path made of stairs, mud and rocks. Photo bag on the back, the e-bike on the shoulder, I was struggling.

Looking up, a long and rusty piece of barbed wire was hanging up on a solitary roc in the shadow of the peaks culminating at more than 3800m. Rocks were still arranged here and there to make temporary walls and cover, like they were one hundred years ago.

I stop complaining, and keep moving, the refuge wasn’t far away but the night was coming fast.

There are some rides that not only push us further, or higher, but that explore a different dimension.

Time.

Between 1915 and 1918, Italy and Austria fought World War I in one of the highest battlefields man would ever know. Passes, glaciers, peaks—nothing was stopping the craziness of war.

The efforts and sacrifices those men made are barely imaginable. While it’s an effort to get there with a bike, imagine doing the same carrying guns of all types, ammunitions, and construction materials. And once they reached the peak, they had to dig trenches and build shelters.

Nowadays people are going there to admire the view and enjoy the big alpine terrain. A fairly large amount of hikers are coming every summer to spend a night or two at the refuge Casati, 3254m high. Not sure there are a lot of bikers tho!

The refuge Casati offers a stunning point of view on this magnificent landscape. Nested close to the glacier and not far away from the Gran Zebru, one of the most impressive peaks in the region, it’s the perfect place to feel like a true mountaineer. A great place to enjoy Italian dishes, to meet cool people, to have a good sleep, and to be ready to tackle the next day’s adventures.

The refuge is built close to the old former Austrian officer’s quarters after they took over the Italian position.

There are some strong vibes there.

This is not only due to what happened there, but also to what is happening now. We are in a war of a different kind. Soon those glaciers will be gone too, like those soldiers who fought bravely. Who will be there to remember what it was like? In the Seventies people used to ski there – no chance it could happen now.

This place represents the past and the future. What happened and what is slowly dying now. And while I was amazed by the raw beauty of this scenery, I can’t help thinking about it.

On the way back on the valley, I found plenty of cool options to ride fun lines at the bottom of old glaciers. Full of loose rocks, but offering endless possibilities.

Back home, it was crazy to think about riding in and passing close to old trenches. The sign the war let on the mountains is profound and will let a mark for many more years. Wires, holes, walls, old cans, bullets, and sometimes corpses – the mountain won’t let the past go away easily.

Our actions right now are leaving even more traces – we are living the last years of those magnificent glaciers.

Let’s enjoy peace up there, without forgetting the lessons of the past and without being blind about what the future might look like.

Useful links:

Rifugio Casati: https://www.rifugiocasati.it/

 Santa Caterina: https://www.santacaterina.it/en/home-2/