To Mount Triglav via the Olympics

If I had my way the Olympics would be restricted to sports for which it is the unquestioned pinnacle. It is no knock on basketball to wish it expelled from the Games. It’s just that everybody knows the world basketball championship is staged by the NBA each year, just as the Stanley Cup is hockey’s highest achievement. Which naturally brings me to Mount Triglav.

I know. That’s the point. Neither had I. But I have a profound respect for the people who show up in London or Rio or Tokyo for, say, the javelin toss. It’s incredibly hard. You have to train and sacrifice, combining endless repetition with scrupulous attention to technical details. And then once every four years instead of being alone in a field you’re in front of the whole world throwing a pointed stick a mind-boggling distance to raucous cheers and animated analysis. (By the way the 1912 Olympics had a variant where you had to throw the javelin with each hand and they added your scores. They should bring that back.) And while other track events, like swimming events, have all sorts of national and international competitions on their circuit, you still know it’s the guys and gals with Olympic gold who have scaled Parnassus.

Eh? Parnassus? When am I going to throw my javelin up this “Mount Triglav”, you cry? And the surprising answer is on August 26, 1778. You see, Mount Triglav is the highest mountain in Slovenia. Which again is like having the world record in the hammer toss. People go “Oh, that’s cool” and then they say “What is the hammer toss again?” or “Did you say Slovakia?” or some such and you have to explain the whole business.

For the record, Slovenia is not Slovakia nor is it Slavonia. It has been tossed around like a bone in a wolf pack by various powers over the years, but is now a parliamentary republic and UN member east of Italy, south of Austria, southwest of Hungary, north of Croatia and with a very small bit of Adriatic coast, having burst free of Yugoslavia in 1991 and joined NATO in 2004 and the EU. (Slavonia, by contrast, is part of Croatia, and Slovakia is the eastern bit of what used to be Czechoslovakia but never much enjoyed it.)

So back to Mount Triglav. Or to it. It’s 9,396 feet high, or 2,864 metres if you like that kind of thing, which doesn’t make it the Usain Bolt of central European mountains in the sense that the Alps has over 500 of them that exceed 3,000 metres, with Mont Blanc topping the list in both senses at 4,804. But 2,864 is pretty high if you’re trying to get up it.

Back in 1778 four guys were, specifically a surgeon, a chamois hunter, and two miners. I love the amateur spirit in which nobody went “Hey, guys, miners go down, a mountain is up, you know?” Indeed it was so amateur that records are uncertain; the most commonly cited report that lists those climbers was published 43 years later, and another account suggests it was two chamois hunters and one of their former students. I didn’t even know chamois hunters had students, among many other things I didn’t know about this business.

Including that before becoming the tallest mountain in Slovenia Mount Triglav had been the tallest mountain in Yugoslavia, another “tallest building in Witchita Kansas” sort of distinction with the added drawback that under Communism it was therefore considered a symbol of Yugoslavian “brotherhood and unity” which we learned all about in the 1990s as it descended into brutal ethnic war, just as we learned all about the other virtues of communism over the years.

For all that, and to some extent because of it, I think it’s very cool to have been among the first people to scale Mount Triglav, who by the standard account were Lovrenz Willomitzer or Willonitzer, Štefan Rožič, Luka Korošec and Matevž Kos, in case you can’t remember the Olympic hammer toss champion either.

Just kidding. There’s no such event. Oh wait. There is. And Poland’s Anita Włodarczyk won women’s gold at Rio by hurling a four kilogram sphere on a string 269 feet 11 ¾ inches, a new world record. It’s kind of a weird hammer and it wouldn’t do to try to drive a nail with it. But that’s a heck of a long distance to throw anything. Let’s hear it for Anita Włodarczyk. And Willomitzer or Willonitzer, Rožič, Korošec and Kos.

You don’t do things like climb Mount Triglav for fame or money. Not even enough fame that people are likely to be able to pronounce your name or even spell it. You do it because it is there. Like the javelin toss except even more dangerous.