E&M‘s Ben Munster recounts his daring ascent and—not so graceful—descent of Monte Finestra in south Italy.  

1,125 metres doesn’t sound that high—until you almost fall off it.

Monte Finestra, a looming mountain at the eastern horn of the valley of Vesuvius, looked to be a gentle stroll.

“Maybe don’t wear jeans”, my flatmate said.

“Also, might be good if you had some actual hiking boots, instead of…trainers”, he added.

“Nah, I’ll be fine”, I said, wrongly.

Monte Finestra overlooks Cava de Tirreni, a beautiful Amalfi coast city where everybody knows each other.

Photo courtesy: Ben Munster, Monte Finestra

I was living there, teaching English in an evening school, with three other English people.

“Climb the mountain this weekend?” one of us had said.

“Sure, sounds fun”.

I’d already climbed several mountains, so I didn’t expect any problems. It turned out I’d actually only ever climbed one hill, of about one hundred metres tall, via a straight path on an almost negligible incline.

My sense of what ‘high’ was turned out to be almost fatally wrong.

It was an amazing feat that we managed to find the right trees, considering that the whole mountain was covered entirely by trees

We set off at 8am, winding through the low city streets in half-light towards the shrouded mass on the horizon.

“I can feel the air already thinning”, said Joe, my flatmate, before we’d even risen half a centimetre.

As we found the blur where the city meets its naked periphery, we started to climb in earnest.

A minor incline up a short path towards the equivalent of a base-camp tavern had me stopping to catch my breath, and I had to pause halfway up. At this point, there were still steps.

Eat your greens, kids.

Initially from this point, we went the wrong way. On one path that seemed to lead towards a large mountain villa, we were sent packing by a patrolling watch-cat.

After being told to “turn left when you see the trees” by a helpful and unintelligible stranger, we turned left when we saw the trees.

It was an amazing feat that we managed to find the right trees, considering that the whole mountain was covered entirely by trees.

Then ensued a stretch of steep, deeply forested climbing. Not dangerous, just exhausting. I lagged behind the other two, like wretched golem scrambling pathetically after the hobbits.

Photo courtesy: Ben Munster, ‘The mountain’s peak in the distance, however, refused to shrink.’

Due to a constant misjudgement of every aspect of the mountain, I assumed that we must have been nearly halfway up after the first twenty minutes of this initial climb.

Two hours later, we almost were halfway there. The mountain’s peak in the distance, however, refused to shrink.

Each new ridge revealed a new, higher summit.

As the view expanded outwards and downwards behind us, I felt more and more certain I’d never make it back. Not because I’d die, but rather because I couldn’t fathom making the effort to do so. It seemed so long.

Thankfully, my enormous will to live, and equal willingness to sacrifice all my dignity by sliding down slowly on my arse, got me through.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the author, ‘As the view expanded outwards and downwards behind us, I felt more and more certain I’d never make it back.’

The extent of my unpreparedness became apparent when the forestry gave way to an almost vertical rocky incline.

Looking up at that thing, in jeans and trainers with a heavy bag and no idea of how to climb rocks, was like looking at a football that someone expects you to eat.

Not wanting to die, I could finally be bothered. With the possibility of perishing at every step, I looked back on the breathless previous four hours of hiking with tearful nostalgia.

Reaching the top of the vertical ridge, I almost cried. There was another right on top of it.

This literally happened four times until we reached the summit.

Photo courtesy: Ben Munster, ‘The extent of my unpreparedness became apparent when the forestry gave way to an almost vertical rocky incline.’

 

By the time I got there I assumed we’d just be climbing up ridge after ridge, until the rapture.

It was beautiful. And I had a sandwich.

But then we had to go down.

Descent isn’t easy on the knees—especially when every effort is spent primarily on not plummeting 3280.84 feet into a canopy.

Thankfully, my enormous will to live, and equal willingness to sacrifice all my dignity by sliding down slowly on my arse, got me through.

By the time we’d gotten down, I never wanted to remain anything but fully level for the rest of my life.

Also, the jeans really chafed.

Cover photo courtesy: Ben Munster

  • mm

    Ben loves getting his ol' pen out and scribbling out a few rude ones. More heart-wrenching literature can be found here: https://benmunsterwriting.wordpress.com/ and Tweets here: @Ben_Munster

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