I’m convinced that whatever success I had in Rome was predicated on the training I had done at elevation. So, with pleasure, I arrived in Valbruna, Italy, which, while nowhere near as high as my home in Aspen, does provide an extra hit of altitude for my daily runs.
And besides, it is drop dead gorgeous.
Some of you may recognize the name Valbruna from the clothing shop in downtown Vail that specializes in the very best of Italian alpine and ski attire. There was once a Valbruna in Aspen, as well, in the space where the North Face is now.
The stores are the creation of former Italian World Cup ski racer, Marco Tonazzi, who grew up skiing in this, the actual Valbruna, an impossibly beautiful town in the Julian Alps of Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Northern Italy, about two hours drive north of Venice.Here the mountains jut straight out of the riverbeds and reach into the sky like fingers of stone. The villages are a mix of Italians, Austrians and Slavs, as the three countries come together near here like the Four Corners of Colorado join the states ??
Marco lives in Vail, but also operates a hotel in Valbruna called The Valbruna Inn. It is amongst the most agreeable places I have ever set foot in. The rooms are pitch perfect with regional and local art and furnishings, and the views are so stunning as to seem fantastical. There is a restaurant that specializes in the regional cuisine, and the Friulian cuisine is as good as it gets. A library downstairs features an extraordinary selection of first edition books on climbing, with a first edition of Edmund Hillary’s personally written tome on climbing Everest that is, get this, signed by Hillary himself.
In Rome, I ran in the footsteps of Hicham El Guerouj. But here, in the Julian Alps, I am trekking in the footsteps of a man I had never heard of before, Dr. Julius Kugy.
Kugy was a botanist and alpinist who lived in Friuli a hundred years ago and made the vast number of first ascent climbs of these craggy peaks. He is also well known throughout climbing circles for his conquests of the most important faces in the Alps. And he was a philosopher. All over Valbruna and the region there are wooden signs with “Kugy-isms,” as I call them, carved into them.
I did not really get the point until I came across one of his writings in a blog called the Summit Post. It was about his obsession with finding a particular flower called the Scabiosa Trenta. It is a very rare high alpine flower, and, like Captain Ahab and his white whale, Kugy searched the mountains his entire life but never actually found it. Still, he wrote the following about his affection for the fauna:
"And thus you, the long sought and passionately desired miraculous flower of my heart, will rise some time from the dreams of my yearning, from the strength of my trust, from the mysterious gloom of your origin, of your blossoming and vanishing, and you will come and join me in the late evening of my life.
Silent and modest, soft and smooth is your sunny figure, your tiny calix has a silvery gleam, the shining white garment of petals is embroidered with golden anthers, you are immersed in a transparent mist of far-off longing, encircled with an aureole of poetry, myth and romance. It will be in this form that you, the little princess from fairy land, will be looking at me from your new castle high above the foaming young Soca. In your heavenly reality. Scabiosa Trenta!
Never did my belief in you die, though you seemed to be beyond my reach. And though you were far away, I have never been unfaithful to you. I have been on the lookout for you all my life, anxiously listening to any news about you. I have been repaid for my love by the great, beautiful, good, eternal mountain."
A beautiful piece.