Homo alpinus vulgaris and storyteller from Valais/Switzerland, President of CIPRA International 1994-2005. Director of the Swiss Parks Network 2009-2013. Board member of ALPARC until 2017, the Alpine Network of Protected Areas. Since 2005 in charge of the Binntal Nature Park (Wallis/Switzerland) for cross-border cooperation.
Under the Spell of Zlatorog
In 1993 I attended a conference in Bled and had to pass the time somehow until the departure of the night train back to Switzerland. I met Marija Zupancic-Vicar at the conference and she suggested an excursion to Triglavski Narodni Park. We drove through the wide moorland of Pokljuka to a mountain pasture below Lipanski Vrh. After a short hike, we reached the summit and that's when I saw it for the first time, Triglav. And immediately it was clear: I have to go up there. On the way back, the former park director told me about the beginnings of the park with the protection contract for the lonely, flowery high valley Dolina Triglaskih Jezer, a pioneering act of European nature conservation in the 1920s.
Two years later I was unexpectedly elected President of the International Commission for the Protection of the Alps (CIPRA) and met Marija's successor, Janez Bizjak. With him I shared not only an interest in alpinism but also in the nature and culture of the Alps. And it was from Janez that I first heard the story of Zlatorog, the mysterious chamois with golden horns that watched over the colourful flower gardens around Triglav.
Janez also gave me valuable tips for my planned hike through the national park with the ascent of Slovenia's emblematic mountain: choosing the long ascent from Trenta to Dolic and then directly to the summit. And at the end of June, beginning of July, not during the summer peak season, when columns of mountain-loving Slovenians flock to the park. Two pieces of advice that I took to heart.
In 1996 I wrote out an excursion to Slovenia for the Alpine Initiative, a popular initiative in Switzerland that opposed the transit of lorries through the Alps. We travelled via Milan, but got stuck in Udine. It was no longer possible to continue by train because the raging floods of the Fella in the Val Canale had washed out the tracks and flooded the road. The next day we travelled in a minibus via Kobarid to Bovec; it was pouring with rain, and at higher altitudes a lot of snow. Wetness and cold remained our constant companions for a week. Because of the danger of avalanches, we could not think of going up to Trzaska Koca in the Dolic valley. Climbing up from Vrsnik, we reached Dom na Komni after a tedious trudge through the snow. The next day we went to the Seven Lakes Valley, but instead of flowers, snow awaited us. Somewhere on the Hribarice plateau in dense fog, we decided to return.
The second attempt was successful. Once again, I set out for the Julian Alps in 1997 with a dozen members of the Alpine Initiative Association. Already in the first two days we found the botanical rarities, the Carniolan Lily and the Zois Bellflower n the botanical garden Alpinum Julijana we admired more characteristic species of the Eastern Alps, visited the source of the Soca, the Mlinarica Gorge and other sights around Trenta, where we usually took a rest day. The centre director Marko Pretner gave us valuable tips about his valley and helped us find suitable accommodation. The early morning climb up the old Mulatiera to Trzaska koca was breathtaking, the ascent of Triglav short and easy thanks to the many iron "boar spikes". Finally, we stood on the summit, enjoying the view of the surrounding mountains, over the vast karst heights, down into the valleys. Four more times I was allowed to accompany a hiking group through the Triglavski Narodni Park and up to Slovenia's highest mountain. And again and again, I told the legend of Zlatorog, not in Slovenian, but in my medieval Valaisian German dialect. This was also the case on 11 December 2019, on International Mountain Day, at an evening event organised by the Federal Ministry for the Environment in Berlin. An impressive story that reminds us that we humans destroy ourselves and our livelihoods when we disregard the laws of nature and wantonly or negligently transgress boundaries.
Every time I mention Zlatorog, I get homesick for the people, nature and landscapes around Triglav. So: it's high time to pack my rucksack and tie my mountaineering boots and, after a break of fifteen years, finally set off again for the Julian Alps.