Information on the history of mountaineering is easier to pin down than the motivations behind it. The term ‘mountaineering’ implies a motivation of climbing mountains purely for the sake of getting to the top rather than for religious or practical reasons (look-out towers, TeleCom masts). According to Wikipedia the Emperor Hadrian climbed the 3,350 metre Mt Etna in order to see the sun rise in 121 AD. If true, that’s impressive even if he didn’t do it before breakfast.
It seems that many have climbed mountains throughout history but mostly for practical or religious reasons. ‘Mountaineering’, climbing a mountain simply for the sake of getting to the top, seems to seems to stem from Northern Europe (which I take to include the Italian Alpine region). Historically in Greece, and I think Mediterranean countries generally, the attitude towards climbing to the top of something purely for the fun of it is “Why?”
Initially in the early days of mountaineering, 19th Century onwards, it was only those from an upper class background, i.e. those who didn’t have to work for a living, who could indulge fantasies to relieve the tedium of life. However by the second part of the 20th Century the urge to climb mountains had spread to the middle and, thankfully for me, even the working classes. This was due in large part in the UK to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949.
When I came discovered the mountains of the Peak District in the 1950’s it was becoming ingrained in a whole cross section of society. Sherpa Tensing and Edmund Hillary got to the top of Everest in May 1953 ……….. and lived to tell the tale. Before that Mallory and Irvine’s attempt had been seen as heroic failure though it’s now thought that they reached the top but perished on the way down. Suddenly, getting to the top ‘because it’s there’ became common parlance and a widespread ambition.
It’s certainly ingrained in me. I have climbed to the top of the highest and many other mountains in Wales, England and Ireland and most Greek islands I have visited. It’s a compulsion, a drive, something that nags away at me until I’ve done it.
Nisyros is no exception. I have savoured the anticipation of the pleasure of climbing Oros Diavatis until today (Tuesday). Sometimes I’m ambivalent about which walk I will do. Something familiar? Something new? Occasionally I only decide when I go out of the door. But Tuesday was the day to go up Oros Diavatis. At just short of 700 metres it’s not a huge mountain but it’s straight up from sea level and is a sustained uphill climb all the way to the top.
On top is a small church dedicated, as is so often the case in Greece, to the prophet Elijah and because of that there is a path all the way up. Much of it is stone paved but the final section to the top is very loose. It’s another of the Greek Island Walks I’ve written up:
It was a great day for it. Cloudless sky (isn’t every day!) with a good breeze to take the hammer out of the sun. From the hotel in Mandraki to the top in 1 hour 45 minutes, including buying bananas on the way.
I clambered around all over the top part of the mountain for about 2 hours in order to get better views from subsidiary peaks and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. The views are stunning. Down into the caldera of which the mountain is the highest part of the rim; across to the village of Nikia on the other side and beyond that to the island of Tilos; northwards across the pumice island of Yiali to Kos and if the visibility is good to Kalymnos beyond. Within Nisyros there are views east to the caldera rim village of Emborios and the lava bubbles I walked past a few days ago and almost vertically straight down to the ancient settlement of Nifios.
As I find so often on mountain tops everywhere, having spent the energy getting up there it seemed a shame to go down again. But go down I had to …. and then a swim in the sea. There is great satisfaction swimming on your back in the sea and looking up to the top of the mountain and thinking “I was just up there”, smug in the knowledge that no-one else splashing around you had been.