Having established in one of my previous posts that people around here love to hike and climb mountains, that consequently means we have a number of hiking clubs. One such local club exists a short walk from my home and though I am a member, I’ve never really participated much in their group events. The members are good people, but not exactly my age group and the demographic never fitted me much.
Then I ran into one of the said members a while ago, a sweet lady with short gray hair, a smile always on her lips. She’s one of those people everyone knows in a small town like mine. We talked for a while and I asked her how the club is doing – I knew they were always going places, but save for once I never attended. Her eyes lit up at that and she told me there’s a traditional new year’s hike to the top of Boč (pronounced a bit like botch, with a deeper o) that’s been held for the last 25 years or so, starting on January 1st at 10 am at the usual meeting point in the center of town.
What a great idea! I’d have something to do on the first day of the year, instead of sleeping all day and being generally worthless. And if I managed to go to bed reasonably early after celebrating the new year, I’d even get a good night’s sleep. At least that’s what I thought.
It was a tough call. I semi-promised to show up and that was promise enough to make me get up after about 4 hours of sleep. I even managed to convince one of my frineds, she convinced one of her friends and owing mostly to both of them and the lady from the club as well, I booted up, dressed reasonably warm and made my way to the meet.
I was surprised to see a group of about 15 people there, greeting each newcomer with a smile and a warm handshake. Just that first moment made me lose all doubt of waking up and if the year was to be judged by the first day, this was looking to be a good year indeed. We waited a while longer, then made our way to the base of the hill, about 20 minutes drive away.
Now, Boč is a great ol’ place for hiking. The top lies at 978 meters above sea level and while there are several different trails to get there, the one we chose took about 2 hours to summit. Nothing major, but with the right company it has the chance of seriously making your day. This is the highest hill in this part of the country and from the observation tower on top you can see as far as the Alps on a clear day.
The company itself was great as well. Sure, they were mostly older people in their 50s, 60s or even 70s, but you must remember that some have a lifetime of walking behind them. The first of these organised annual events happened around the time I was born and many of these ladies and gentlemen have summited every worthwhile hill and mountain in the country, plus countless abroad. Some were mountain guides with years or decades of experience. They might be old of age, but with age come experience, countless stories and a knowing of how to properly enjoy these things. Plus, if the need arose, I have no doubt they could outpace many a younger hiker, me included.
The tempo was not hard in any way. Some were doubtless feeling a bit tired from the night before, so no one was in a rush. We made frequent stops and every time hip flasks were passed up and down the column to warm our bodies a bit. They say no true hiker goes out without a few drops his personal choice of liquor – home made herb or fruit schnapps, whiskey, rum or rakija perhaps, all are welcome and provide a great boost to morale and good grounds for discussion.
Luckily the sun was starting to shine as we continued our ascent. We stopped at a big cross and said our prayers, wishing everyone a happy new year once again and a safe step in future adventures. There has not been a major accident in more than 25 years of the hiking club, a commendable and perhaps the most important fact of all. Hills and mountains are beautiful places, but they can be dangerous as well.
The summit was not far away now. Interestingly, there is an army base with a big comms tower there as well and I was surprised to find out they even had missile launch sites back in the day. Maybe they still do, who knows. Alongside the base there is also a smaller, faded-green metal observation tower that you can climb to get some of the best views around. There was still mist around the valleys and I only had my phone to take pictures with, so I can’t give you anything better. I’ll make sure to post some more photos at a more apropriate time.
Down below the tower someone started serving pig snout with bread and cheese. It was another tradition, one to help us plough on ahead through the thick and thin, just as the pigs do. A curious way of doing things, I thought, but I played along. I’m not much of a gourmet, but the snout tasted well enough, and if it helps me get through the year safe and sound, that’s all the better.
With that we started back down. You can go up one way and down the other, and if you do, you soon end up at a large cottage surrounded by grass meadows, ideal for summer picnics and similar events. The main hall itself seats close to a hundred and once again we made a stop here. Tea and wine were quickly served and the other hikers quickly recognised friends from other clubs already enjoying the warm and friendly surroundings. A teenager was playing folk songs on an accordion – something I seldom listen to, but here it felt right on the mark. The waitress kept bringing bottles of white wine and everyone else pulled out everything they were still carrying in their backpacks – slices of smoked meat, cheese, homemade cookies, jaffa cakes – you name it, they had it. And they were not about to take anything back down.
If you can, close your eyes and try to imagine being in a busy alpine cottage after a hard day on the trail. It may be one of the best feelings in the world and such folk music makes the perfect background.
As the wine bottles became ever emptier many people took to the dancefloor, which in turn became more crowded than many of the parties the night before. I had a feeling this could have gone on well into the evening, but we still had to get back to the car before darkness fell.
I guess all of the rituals came through in the end. Everyone returned hapy and smiling, and what was most important – safe as well. The decision to go was right in all respects, despite the uninvting weather in the morning. I can now say the year started the best way possible and I can only hope it goes on to end in the same way as well.
Have a safe and adventure-filled year and try not to shy away from opportunities such as these – in the end, they might be the ones that give you the fondest memories.
All the best in 2016 to all of you!