Pal Piccolo, the most beautiful cemetery in the world
A medium hike on the trails of World War I
In another blog post, I talked about Ilaria Tuti’s book “Fiore di Roccia” (it should be soon available in English), while reading it was inevitable to go back to the day I visited the Pal Piccolo for the first time.
I was fortunate enough to read the book before visiting Pal Piccolo, so I am able to tell you about the Pal Piccolo as I lived it, without the overlapping of Agata’s story.
How to reach Pal Piccolo
I insisted a lot on being brought up here.
“If you want to continue the Girarifugi, there are no stamps to do there,” Stefano warns me a few days before the trip, but I am convinced. I have wanted to go for a long time and I have been held back for too many months by COVID.
As we approach our destination, I feel a sense of uneasiness that accompanies me to the parking lot.
The Pass of Monte Croce Carnico is full of that cheerful convivial jumble, typical of mountain passes. People are preparing to walk or climb, bikers sink their mustaches in the foam of the first ice-cold beer of the day and stickers cover every road sign.
Stefano and I prepare silently. We change shoes and wear our light, robust, and waterproof trail running shoes by La Sportiva. I bask in the reflection of the windows and admire my new Salewa technical pants. Finally, we load the backpack on our shoulders, filled with the bare minimum, and set off towards Austria.
Hiking up to Pal Piccolofrom the Austrian side
Stefano has already visited the Pal Piccolo and knows that in the summer heat, it is better to tackle the upward path in the shadow of the Carinthian side that faces the north.
As we pass the semi-abandoned buildings of the border, I feel the first lump in my throat. I think about what happened about 500 meters above our heads a hundred years ago and reflect on how exceptional it is to enter the “enemy’s” country without even showing a document.
The wind turbines welcome us, and we begin to climb. The altitude difference is of few meters but the path winds often and abruptly. We stop from time to time to drink and admire the landscape that reveals what remains of the old front. All in all, we proceed quickly but it still takes a couple of hours to get to the summit.
Hiking on the steps of soldiers and Carnic Carriers
While I gasp and feel the sweat coming down from my temples, I think of the Carnic Carriers I have heard so much about, and the complaints I always reserve for the “weight” of my backpack.
Nothing to do with their gerle filled with ammunition and food. I look at myself from the waist down, I know that they went up with scarpèts (topical Friulian shoes) and long skirts, so different from the comfortable technical clothes that dry with a gust of wind and allow me to make any movement I want.
Almost at the top, we cross the first tunnel that insinuates itself into the mountain like a twisted intestine that gives off a cold breath.
We proceed and meet other galleries, vertiginous stairs, and what remains of a kitchen. I identify with those who lived in these places and I feel a weight on my chest. The effort of the climb is already forgotten, indeed, I consider, it was no effort at all.
This chaotic revelry is now a neat and tidy open-air museum, arranged by the collaboration of Italy and Austria, but when we arrive at the summit cross I realize that the summit, in reality, no longer exists. Bombs and the tireless work of the soldiers consumed the tip of the mountain as if it were that of a pencil. Like a volcano whose cap has exploded.
The Pal Piccolo is an open-air monumental cemetery
Despite the huge difference that distinguishes the two places, as I walk through the trenches and follow the road signs that give meaning to the chaos, the labyrinthine cemetery of Paris Père-Lachaise comes to my mind. The comparison is perhaps risky, but in the end, this place has seen more death than the French cemetery.
The real Friulian monumental cemetery, but not only, is located up here.
There are no tombstones because after all the entire mountain is a huge sepulcher, which guards the souls of those sent here to certain death.
There are no flags because for mother nature borders do not exist, Italy and Austria blend seamlessly with each other.
The stones of each trench are the silent and unknown testimony of those who are no longer there.
There are flowers though. Many, colorful, fragrant, and populated by lively insects, as if to remind us that something beautiful can be born from something terrible. As a result of the war, in fact, Europe was born.
The mountains where Europe was born
Europe which, although criticizable in some respects, allows us after a hundred years, to visit the Pal Piccolo during a carefree Sunday trip and to greet with a friendly Ciao or Guten Tag the cheerful Austrian with purple cheeks that we meet inside the asphyxiating trenches.
Stefano and I sit on the sidelines to eat our sandwiches.
Stefano eats but my mind struggles until it can’t take it anymore. I take out my mountain diary and write.
I write that it seems strange to me to be in this place, laughing and joking knowing the sacrifice that my every laugh has required.
I write about the sense of gratitude I feel towards those who allowed me to be here and hear only the wind’s hiss rather than that of the bombs.
Why you should visit the Pal Piccolo
I believe that a trip to the Pal Piccolo should be mandatory for anyone who has the physical ability to reach it. This mountain is a War Memorial and tells an important part of world history. The walk here should serve as a reminder whenever we feel angry at the European institutions.
Politics may be wrong but the idea of a united and friendly Europe is not.
We conclude the tour by descending on the Italian side. The CAI trail 401 is in full sunlight but when I get to the car I keep looking back, aware that I have visited a place that has changed me forever.
Pal Piccolo and Fiore di Roccia
Months later I find myself reading the book by Ilaria Tuti and the story protagonist overlaps with my memories in a continuum that often brings a tear to my eye.
This walk is not exactly an autumn trekking but, if the weather conditions allow it, you can evaluate the idea of a trip by keeping on the Italian side only, whose southern exposure and gravel pathway allows you an easy ascent and descent.
I really hope that what I have written will make you want to visit Pal Piccolo. I look forward to next summer to be able to return to those places and face the other Pal.
Riepilogo Escursione sul Pal Piccolo
- CAI trail: 401
- Altitude: 1850 slm
- Difference in altitude: +600
- Ascent: 2h
- Length: about 5 km a / r