What’s the difference between a mountain and a hill? Officially a mountain is over 600 metres. But I have my own distinction. A mountain is every slope that’s over 10 stairs, at least that’s what my legs are telling me.
When you ask mountaineers why they climb mountains they often reply “because they are there.” I would argue that’s the same reason I don’t climb them. That and because they are, by nature, steep. I mean if I could find a mountain that wasn’t on a slope I would be the first to climb it.
There are a few things that I know about the highest point in our county, a) it is 1,234 metres high (easy to remember) b) they used to bring ice from the caves to chill the gin and tonics of the nobility in the former Republic and c) it sometimes is covered in snow. That name kind of gives away that last fact – Sniježnica. Oh, and one more fact d) before last Sunday my feet hadn’t been on the summit. Yes, that last fact changed last Sunday.
I am not going to lie I had some reservations before starting this expedition. The internet guides stated that the hike was “not challenging” and even “easy.” But if you believe everything you read online then you’d believe that Trump had just won the election, or rather had it stolen from him. The first 600 metres were easy. That’s because I was sitting in a car being driven to Kuna Konavoska, or as us mountaineers call it “base camp.”
Two friends, my wife and two dogs started the climb, full of energy and determination. I started to feel the burn in my legs around 200 metres from base camp, in fact we were so close to the starting point I could still read the number plates on the car. This was going to be a challenge, and by challenge I mean bloody hard work.
I had actually climbed once before. But thankfully nature was on my side that time and the clouds and rain stopped the trek at about the halfway point. Although I had spent the night before praying and even doing my Indian “rain dance” the sun was as blue as the Adriatic on an August day. The crunch of the loose limestone underfoot was going to be my background music for the next few hours. “How much further?” that was a question I would ask my wife countless times that Sunday morning. And always the same answer came “just over that next corner.” I pushed on.
Somehow my legs had pushed through the initial pain and were now in a rhythm. Easy wouldn’t be the first word I would use to describe the hike, but the views helped to distract me. “If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik,” once wrote George Bernard Shaw. But he also wrote that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a “sea of mountains.” He wasn’t wrong!
It soon became clear that we weren’t the only ones having an adventure in Konavle’s nature. I had expected to see many half a dozen people all day. Wrong! There were more people on the walk than on Stradun. “We should have opened a café bar on the summit,” I joked to my wife.
In all seriousness it was extremely positive to see so many people actually walking in the fresh air, especially in these virus filled times. And I don’t mean walking from one café bar to the next in Lapad. Families, children, dogs, friends and foreigners, when we finally got to the top (empathise the word finally) there were at least 100 people already there. My dreams of emulating Sir Edmund Hillary when he first climbed Everest soon disappeared. It was probably the largest congregation of people I’d seen since the pandemic began. Only a wedding in Župa at these times would have more people.
And it wasn’t difficult to social distance, we were 1,234 metres higher than the rest of the population. And reaching the top was indeed a great feeling. A feeling that I saw written over the faces of everyone else on the top. “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves,” once said Sir Edmund.
Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to