Question. Let’s start over at the beginning of that day. You say you do not recognize the person in the photograph I have shown you.
Answer. I do not recognize it, I forget the faces and even more so after so many years. I will only be able to repeat what I have already said.
Q. It doesn’t have to be this way, you can add something that you haven’t said before.
A. It is possible, but this is not a conversation between two travelers on a train. A judge is questioning me. You decide the topics, but I decide whether a memory should be referred to or not.
Q. It is understandable. But I ask you anyway to review what you did that day.
A. I get up early, around five. I wait for seven to go down to the living room to have breakfast. I go up to my room, brush my teeth, go out, get in the car and head towards the mountain I intend to climb. I look for uncomfortable places, off the beaten path, so that I can be in a space without other people. That day I choose the Bandiarac cornice, Val Badia. It is a difficult and dangerous place.
I leave the car and head down the obligatory path that goes up from the alpine hut to Col de Locia. At half past seven there is usually still no one around. I was surprised to see a person above me who preceded me.
Q. A man?
A. Yes, a man. There is a curious behavior in the mountains. One notices that someone comes from behind who climbs faster and speeds up the pace so as not to be overtaken. It is childish but frequent. It is clear that if the other is faster, he will eventually catch up with you. The one who precedes forces his rhythm and after a while he has to slow down or stop to catch his breath. There are those who pretend to tie a shoe, look at the panorama, take a photograph. If it is a couple, then I hear the man inviting the woman to go up faster. He says it out loud, he wants to record that he would go faster in the ascent.
When a faster one happens to me, I slow down and give way. I don’t like having someone pressing behind.
Q. Do you see it? This consideration was not in his previous testimony. It bothers him to have someone behind him. He prefers to stay behind, to be the one to follow. It is interesting, continue.
R. I continue until I must overtake. I didn’t catch up with that man, he had obviously forced my way. Better this way, I prefer to avoid it. When I go up at a steady pace, there is a kind of meditation of the body, while the head is distracted between light thoughts and other solemn ones, fantasies, verses of songs, dialogues at a distance. It is an intense journey and it bothers me to interrupt it to pass someone, to say hello. When I go up I don’t take breaks. If I am to slow down, I slow down, but I don’t stop.
The fact is that I reached the end of the Col de Locia trail, where the Fanes plateau begins, without having to overtake anyone. From up there it deviates from the established route to head towards the Bandiarac ledge, below the vertical of the Conturines summit. A place well known among poachers of old. It bothered me to see that person rushing past me in that direction.
Q. Did you hurry?
A. From Col de Locia you have to first go down a concavity, then go up again. That man was running downhill. With slower steps I continued in the same direction. If that man wanted to put distance between us, that’s fine with me. For a while I stopped seeing it, then I found it again when I began the walk along the ledge. It was a few hundred meters away in a straight line.
Q. How long did you see him again?
A. No more than two hours later. He walked fearfully.
Q. What do you mean by fearful?
A. He was holding onto the wall. On this gravel terrain, you have to support your entire body weight on your feet to avoid slipping. That man, on the other hand, by holding himself against the wall impaired his balance. It is the journey of those who do not feel secure in their own support.
P. Understood, go ahead.
R. I did not think about him again. The transit through that ledge requires concentration, gazing at the ground, step by step. It is similar to when someone tries not to make noise, because the noise means that the gravel is sliding under the feet. On the Bandiarac ledge you have to take the right steps next to the precipice.
I went on like this for another hour or so. I reached a point where the terrain had collapsed. Rains, snow drifts last winter wash away some chunks of the trail, leaving a crack in the middle. I couldn’t go on. He had to go back. I did not regret it, my goal is to move through deserted places and I had already obtained my ration.
The landslide was not recent, but something was visible in the background. I pulled out my binoculars and saw remains of clothing among the rocks at the bottom. It was impossible to go down to check it. I called ER and reported. I waited, to point the point to the helicopter. It came in twenty minutes.
Then I retraced my steps. And now, after a few days, I am here repeating for the third time what I did that day.
Q. Didn’t they go together?
A. No. I go to the mountain alone. This man evidently did the same too.
Q. Didn’t you hear screams? A person who falls screams.
A. I did not hear screaming, otherwise I would have rushed to try to be of help.
Q. What do you usually carry in your backpack? Binoculars and what else?
A. A piece of rope, carabiners, in case you have to help someone in distress. A waterproof fabric and another to warm me in case of forced bivouac. I do not bring food or water.
Q. No compasses?
R. I am not going to the sea.
Q. Did you find out later who that body belonged to?
R. By the newspaper.
Q. A very special surprise, right? They were on the same little-traveled trail forty years after the trial.
R. To him or to another, in the mountains accidents occur. I have gotten rid of several. It’s all about luck.
P. Accidents. It is up to my department to establish whether this fits within the definition. The coincidence is suspicious.
R. Coincidence: one of the innumerable that occur around us and which we do not even realize. But in this case the word coincidence it is not enough.
Q. Between that man who was once a collaborator of justice and contributed to the arrest of many, you included, and for that reason he served a long sentence, and you: to decide that it was an accident I have to arrive to exclude that there was an intentional meeting between the two.
R. You are willing to define as workplace accidents what are, on the contrary, homicides of workers, pushed to exceed the limits of their resistance and safety conditions. They treat the tens of thousands of injured and the 1,000 victims of manual labor as accidents each year in exchange for wages. But here they doubt the word accident referred to a dangerous, festive activity, of risks assumed spontaneously, with full responsibility for the danger that is run.
That ledge trail is difficult. Did I take that man up there? Did I carry it on my shoulders to throw it into the void? Whoever goes there checks the cliff.
Your question should be: under those conditions, who forces them to do it?
The answer is: nobody. We have no instigators. They are not necessary, the mountain is enough for us as a mobile. Fun pun, right? The mountain, immobile by constitution, is our motive. That’s right: it makes us move towards it. Everyone has their own reason for going. Mine is to turn my back on everything, to distance myself. I throw the whole world back. I move towards an empty space and also towards an empty time. I see what the world was like without us, how it will be afterwards. A place that will not need to be left alone.
Up there I am a stranger, uninvited and unwelcome. Not even the Hundred Years War etched its marks on the mountains. The rocks shattered by the explosions rolled as in any other time, without leaving a signature.
The book of a French mountaineer is entitled The conquerors of the useless. Useless: this adjective has a value for me. In the economic life in which everything is calibrated with respect to the double entry give / receive, interest and profit, going to the mountains, climbing them, climbing them, it is an effort blessed by the useless. It is not necessary and does not want to be.
I work and continue to work in manual trades for someone else. They involve mandatory dangers, these are also accounted for in the payroll under the heading “dangerousness supplement”. In the mountains I take my own risks, free from imposed, festive and perfectly useless tasks.
Who forces us to do it? The beauty of the earth’s surface that touches its confines with the air, as the shore does with the sea. Spending my free energy up there rewards me.
Dammit. When I talk about the mountains, I get carried away.
P. And it drags me too, I do not know those places and I do not understand very well who goes there. Please continue.
R. You think that I have been carried away by the story by fatigue, by a weakening of defenses. You are wrong. I have learned from my body that when I am tired I increase my attention and clarity. In any case, I do not want to repeat that day.
Q. We are doing well. You are explaining very interesting things to a layman in the city. Had you called the emergency number before?
A. No, it is the first time.
Q. Is this the first time you have witnessed an accident in the mountains?
R. Being alone, yes; in other cases the alarm had already been raised.
Q. What effect does witnessing a disaster on the mountain have?
R. The first thing one tries to understand is how it happened, if he had to see an error or force majeure. One tries to put himself in the other’s shoes. Then come the comments, the chatter about the mountain that kills. But that is a wild environment, indifferent to us. It is not a sports field, an amusement park. There you go without a pass. We enter a terrain where no previous experience and no equipment guarantee that we will return unscathed.
Q. And fear? I haven’t heard him mention it.
A. Fear is useful. To begin with, it is a form of respect and also of obliged reverence towards the immensity of the place you pass through. Fear is the premise of concentration. Does not hinder movements, increases your precision.
These are well-defined fears that have names and occasions. They require precautions and decisions.
They are the alarm of the conscious body to put itself in danger. On the ledge of the Bandiarac, your hands are useless, you go up and down small strips of a path barely outlined by the passage of chamois, next to deep cliffs.
But what I am telling are things that have to be lived, they cannot be transmitted with an explanation.
And for me it has lasted long enough.
Q. Please continue your story.
R. I see it. I have the option not to continue.
Q. Do you want to take a break? Drink coffee?
A. No thanks, I want to stop. His technique of making me repeat everything until exhaustion has achieved the goal: I am exhausted.
Q. It’s your decision. For my part, given the circumstances of an alleged murder disguised as an accident, I must take the precautionary measure of judicial detention against you.
A. Am I under arrest?
Q. You can appoint a lawyer you trust or one will be assigned to you ex officio.