Sacred Places

Imagine you are entering a calendar. The only difference is it can have more than 12 months. Each month of the unusual year 2020 is presented through a photo of the chosen mountain and an anecdote connected to it.

If only I could share one picture with you: a shepherd is taking his goats down the white slope, with the snow in the height of his hips, animals are wet, their bells are ringing in the dusk. The shepherd is my great-grandfather and the picture is black & white. Actually, it doesn’t exist, but now you can see it.

As far as I remember mountains were the place I started to travel to. I became obsessed with their beauty and courious about their history, the cultural heritage, plants and animals living on their slopes, climbing the walls and skiing from the peaks … I will share a few thoughts with you and maybe a secret.

January: Vrh Brda (2152 m) in the ridge of Bavški Grintavec

There is Žaga village at the end of the Soča valley on the photo. My grandmother comes from there and her father was the shepherd. I remember him since we were visiting the place in my childhood. Being over 90 years old he couldn’t talk anymore but his gestures seem to still fly around like bright birds.

February: Kotovo sedlo (2134 m)

Once in the evening just before Christmas I was wandering around here at midnight searching for the bivouac. I could hear sounds of the stones falling in the Jalovec‘s couloir. At that point I realised mountains have faces and they are sleeping and dreaming in the starry night.

March: Debela peč (2014 m)

When I want to visit a gentle and soft mountain, I go to Debela peč. It is like reaching the top of a big pile of pillows. When I am skiing over the summit slope white feathers from inside the pillows are flying around.

April: Vrh Krnice (2234 m) in the ridge of Loška Stena

The western edge of the ridge has no marked route. I am silently lying in the grass and observing. Dozens of chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) are lying on the patches of snow, cooling and eating it to get liquid. I am happy that my way doesn’t pass their quiet surroundings.

April: Kačja glava, 956 m

Only in 2007, in the time of the moon eclipse, the ancient beliefs were revealed. Anthrophologist Pavel Medvešček was researching the old stories for decades, talking with people in the remote villages. They believed special stones from the Soča river on the tops of the hills will protect their fields and farms. They called the stones snake heads, considering Nikrmana in the form of a snake as the main life force. I still feel goose bumps after the mysterious visit of the three sacred hills forming triangular above the village Srednji Lokovec. Reading those stories inspired me to start creating an object theatre piece to reflect on the hidden tradition.

May: Rombon (2208 m) & Mrzli vrh (1359 m)

The ghosts of the soldiers from the first world war are wandering around these mountains. I followed the deer through the grasses but when I reached the top of the mountain it turned into the sunset. Soldiers could see the sunset in the same way hundred years ago. It was not silent then. In the darkness of the cave I stand in front of the stony altar made by Hungarian soldiers. No blood on it.

June: Zeleniške špice (2127 m)

Hypnotical climbing over the sharp edges invites me every year. Rocky sculptures are speaking their own language and they can make an echo of seven answers. I can enter the hollow mountain and see what is on the other side.

July: Montaž (2753 m) & Veliki Nabojs (2313 m)

Dr. Julius Kugy (1858-1944), great adventurer and researcher of the Julian Alps searching for the mystical flower Scabiosa trenta, was fascinated by Montaž. Ascending the 50 m vertical Pipan’s ladder in the modern times and following narrow ridge in the clouds with frequent alpine ibex (Capra ibex) company make the mountain adventurous nowadays too.

August: Visoki Rokav (2646 m)

In the early morning I left bivouac towards the sharp mountain cathedral of Visoki Rokav. Although it was high summer the couloir was full of snow. It is a wild feeling climbing with crampons and ice axe in the vertical rocky environment. Many stones are falling. Mostly red stones. The remoteness here is perfect. I was descending largely by the rope, abseiling. Pure freedom to fly beside the steep walls!

August: Triglav (2864 m)

A day after descending Visoki rokav I slept in front of the bivouac Pod Luknjo. I was surprised to find it locked due to the pandemic. I met a man on the way whose both shoes fell apart – he was walking shod but barefoot, like the shepherd from the Slovenian folk tale. He would deserve a princess, as the king had promised! Looking down over the 1 km airy and dizzy Triglav’s North Wall from the famous Sfinga was definitely the climax of the journey for me. Staring at the remainings of Triglav Glacier made me think of the great climate changes we are going through.

September: Luknja peč (2248 m)

Walking and climbing over the parallel ledges leads us into the steep rocky corner. But through the narrow tunnel we finally reach the sunny side of the mountain. Later on the ridge the rope drags behind me as I was exploring the Minotaur’s labyrinth. The tour I patiently waited for years to go! After the first attempt we turned back when it started to rain, but this year we succeeded – with big, tired smiles in the end.

October: Porezen (1630 m)

Walking for four days to reach the summit of Porezen just before sunset felt like an unearthly gift for me. It is a fantastic viewpoint, with the Adriatic Sea in the misty distance. The mountain became part of me through this pilgrimage and I know I will keep returning, especially in the winter.

November: Rašica (641 m) & Šmarna gora (669 m)

Restrictions cause new ideas and adaptations. ‘The little trekking’ started in foggy fields next to Sava river in front of our home. Long distance walking makes me observe familiar environment in a new way: heron tracking its pray, monster-like electricity towers, modern bridge on the same spot where Romans crossed the river, soft swamp under the mountain. I walked over two solitary mountains to make them closer to each other. Connecting them feels like a statement in the times of omnipresent isolation.

December: Skuta (2532 m)

After the long lockdown I felt free again for a moment. I was surprised how many chamois were grazing in the yellow grasslands all over the mountain. While people were away in the valley because of the pandemic restrictions, the animals returned and spread over their peaceful kingdom. In this aspect it is an unimaginably short time nature needs to recover.

December: Deska (1970 m)

We were unexperienced and young with my friend Matej when we went to the winter mountains for te first time. Now we laugh how we were puting on crampons while walking on the icy and almost horizontal road. Somehow we survived the next twelve winter seasons tour skiing and climbing the ice and snow. I feel lucky and thankful for all the adventures.

Text & photo: Uroš