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Saturday, 22 August 2015

THE PATH OF THE GODS - SUITABLE FOR EVERYONE?

An awful lot has been written about the Path of the Gods following the unfortunate death of an excursionist a few days ago and it is more than evident that a lot of the people who have been so generous with their comments, have in fact no idea at all about the true nature of the path and have certainly never walked it.
I have read with interest and empathy both Nino Buonocuore's article "The Path of the Gods is not for everyone" published in the PositanoNews and Giovanni Visetti's latest blog Underestimating the risks is the cause of many accidents, but not all of them
Nino, President of the GEA Association, affiliate of the FIE (Italian Hiking Federation) states as follows:
The Path of the Gods is classified E which means that it has characteristics requiring a knowledge of mountainous terrain and a certain sense of direction, as well as a degree of fitness, suitable footwear and equipment.
Although the path is not particularly long (approx. 6,7km) and not particularly high, this does not mean that it doesn't merit attention:
1) a lot of the trail is rough and with loose stones making it easy to slip, so suitable footwear is important.
2) some stretches have no shade.
3) there are some high steps along the way.
4) at times it is very narrow and you need to pay attention.

To these four points, I personally would also add that there are some of it is very exposed and here it is essential that you watch your feet, don't get too close to the edge and don't take photographs whilst on the move.
Mr Buonocuore continues, evidently in reply to someone's suggestion that additional fencing or parapets are necessary, if not essential:


As for the parapets, in my opinion, it would be very difficult and counterproductive to have them along all the path, also in consideration of the known technical difficulties; it would be better to have a few strategically placed parapets (discussed and agreed by the appropriate authorities), but only if proper maintenance can be guaranteed (in order to avoid them collapsing the moment someone leans on them). If this is not possible, then best not to have them at all, since they would become a source of danger rather than  security.
With regards to signposting, since the Path of the Gods is classified as an  "E" , further signs are not necessary since it is clearly indicated as a mountain trail suitable for hikers with certain skills and techniques.  We must rather fight the"misinformation" that makes people believe that the path in question is suitable for everyone and can be covered without any problems. 
After all, the Path of the Gods is  a mountain trail. If in any doubt at all, it is always advisable to contact and be accompanied by trained and experienced people rather than venturing out on your own. Expert guides are not only experts in explaining but also and above all in safety, capable of dealing with any problems or difficulties. Let us not forget that in the mountains the unexpected is always round the corner and knowing how to deal with it can make all the difference. 
With regard to greater control, I believe that this topic deserves a separate discussion, be it a long discussion in the appropriate forums, since this important subject involves the various authorities, associations and volunteers.
Giovanni Visetti fully agrees with Nino and emphasises the need to limit as much as possible futile railings (for example at the start of the path coming from Nocelle there are two overlapping rails protecting a drop of roughly one metre..). He  concurs that it necessary  to put a stop to superficial and often incorrect information provided by people who just want to make a sale, thus sending people unprepared and inadequately equipped onto the trail putting themselves and others at risk. He also stresses the importance of consulting the experts, namely the Club Alpino Italiano, professional hiking guides and the various local hiking associations, about any planned interventions or proposed signage along the paths, since these are the people who know the terrain and can identify the points in greatest need of protection. 
Let it also be said, that there has been no indication as to the dynamics of the accident the other day. We do not know if the  lady slipped, tripped or was simply distracted, whether she had a dizzy spell, fainted, lost her balance or was taken ill. The only certainty is that the Path of the Gods holds no blame.
Giovanni continues with the assertion that prudence and good sense can certainly help minimise problems both to ourselves and others, but they are not total guarantees. There is no sense in restricting freedom of choice (one suggestion was to close the path entirely, or to limit access to people with appropriate qualifications unless accompanied by an official guide).It is however appropriate to provide the correct information (including warnings), so that each individual may evaluate, analyse and choose what to do on the basis of their own skills and abilities, ultimately taking responsibility for damage caused to others or to themselves without seeking other scapegoats when things go wrong. 

I myselfconfirm that it is NOT a path for everyone. I already touched on this subject in one of my previous Blogs back in January when I wrote:
It is not the simple, flat, shady path that some cruise ship companies, keen to sell the excursion, make it out to be. It has some fairly ferocious uneven and steep stretches, both up and down, whichever way you decide to walk it. It is definitely not for anyone suffering from vertigo or having gammy knees or hips.
It is also not for people in flip-flops or flimsy sandals (yes, they can sometimes be seen limping sadly along), since the surface is often rough, stony and slippery. It can be blisteringly hot in summer and there are long stretches without any shade at all, but suitably clad and shod, and with a good supply of water, if you are unable to come at any other time, do not be put off.
Having occasionally helped out my guiding friends  accompanying cruise ship customers along the path, I too have had some dodgy experiences with a variety of extremely unfit and overweight people in the groups, who had been sold the excursion as a pleasant stroll along wide, flat and shady paths...and this in the height of the summer. On one occasion, what  was programmed as a 3 hour hike  took almost twice as long and apart from the risk involved, the customers faced the prospect of their ship sailing off into the distance without them. How many times during my own weekend hikes,  have I encountered classical Sunday day-trippers just a few hundred yards from the start of the path asking how much further it was, as they teetered along in their totally unsuitable footwear and not only? How many times do people venture forth with no idea of where they are going or what the trail is like,  with insufficient water, intent on walking the path just because it is famous?
It is not the path in itself that is dangerous. Yes, you need to be careful and watch your feet and yes, best not to go if you suffer from vertigo, but a main road, a beach, a swimming pool or even our own homes have a far higher incidence of mortality and accidents than the Path. Mis-information   coupled with the fact that some people   over-estimate their own capabilities and under-estimate the trail's difficulties certainly play their part, but as Giovanni quite rightly says in conclusion: in the mountains and on the trails you have to go equipped and prepared, both physically and mentally, but this does not necessarily protect you from the unexpected.. even the best Alpine guides sometimes die during an excursion. 

So please let us  not over-react. The Path of the Gods is not for everyone, it is true, but it certainly does not merit being renamed the Path of Death.
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