This was the domain of Colonel Mazzoli, Governor of the Ortler.




This was the domain of Colonel Mazzoli, Governor of the Ortler. The Colonel was a fanatic of the mountains, and he lived for one thing alone to kill the Boche. He might have sat as a model, with his long fair hair and beard, for one of the Old Masters' pictures of an Apostle, and he was burnt up with the fire of patriotism. He was the nephew of Orsini, who threw a bomb at Napoleon III., and his enthusiasm for liberty was equal to his love of the mountain solitude. A veteran soldier, he had fought all over the world, and in the Ortler he had earned from the enemy the nickname of " He Who Never Sleeps." “Colui che non dorme mai”.
Night and day he was on the watch. He never undressed except to change his clothes, and if he had two hours' sleep in the twenty-four, he thought he had done well. All through the night he sat by the telephone when he was at headquarters, always ready to ring up unexpectedly the outposts on which all our security depended. The worse the weather, the more keenly was he alert. Night and day he never failed to assure himself of the unceasing vigilance of his men.
The complicated accounts required by the Italian army drove him wild, and he spent the greater part of his pay in making up deficits due simply to his hatred of office work. The strain of this life had told on him ; his eyes were always suffused with blood, yet, with his long fair hair and beard, he was a magnificent figure. For seventeen months he had never slept at less than 10,000 feet above the sea, except for one fortnight when he was called home by the death of his mother. His men worshipped him. He would take no precautions, and was to be seen everywhere with his hair streaming in the wind, a figure which was the target of every Austrian sharp-shooter.
He was the " King of the Ortler," and the Austrians expressed their respect for him by firing at him every time they saw the tall, hatless figure striding across the glacier. He had been wounded eleven times, but physically and morally he was a giant of strength. He was kept up by the fanaticism of the idea : all his life might be summed up in the words " hatred of tyranny." I stayed for some time with him in his headquarters, and from there made daily journeys to his front lines that were in truth on the very roof of Europe. In the evenings we returned very weary to the shelter of the huts expecting to sleep, but at first sleep was a mere word, for the air was so rarefied that it took at least forty-eight hours before one's system was accustomed to it. One dozed off, only to wake immediately gasping uncomfortably for breath, and climbing one puffed and blowed with surprising zest.
However, it was consoling to find that the hardy mountaineers who had been living there for months and years were nearly as much out of condition. At such an altitude a great strain is thrown on the heart, if the lungs are to obtain the amount of oxygen required by the body. Men stationed for long at these altitudes paid for it with over-strained hearts. Yet they all of them looked in marvellous health, burnt copper brown by the snow and dazzling sun. The Alpine troops were marked out from all other soldiers by the colour of their faces, and one officer told me that when he went home to Genoa people stared at him as if he was a savage.
One day I went with the Colonel to his front line on the Ortler Pass, about a thousand feet above us, and almost all the journey was done in ice tunnels. The Ortler group was a fortress of ice and frozen snow. Its highest battlements rose to a height of between 11,000 and 12,000 feet, and in this outer wall the enemy was always trying to make a breach. In this attempt he had an important advantage, since he held on the west the Cima di Campo (11,600) and on the east the summit of the Konigspitz (12,860). These great mountains were, like towers at the extreme points in the semi-circle which the Italians were defending, forming an integral part of the fortifications, and from them the Austrians had extended views into the interior of the fortress. This interior consisted of a big glacier broken here and there by an emerging peak of rock, and to avoid the observation of the enemy it had been necessary to bury the defensive organisation below the surface of the ice.
There could be no communication trenches, since not only could the enemy look down into them from above, but also cold and blizzards were at such altitudes far more deadly to unprotected men than Austrian bullets, so the Italians burrowed deep into the ice of the glacier, building miles of tunnels. The front lines consisted of continuous galleries with a roof of ice several feet thick which ran along the crest of the mountains and were only broken by the huge masses of rock that formed the mountain peaks. Some idea of the extent of the sector defended by 1500 men may be gathered from the fact that it took the Colonel seven days to visit the whole of his front line.
Trenches are mean and sordid, and have no aesthetic attraction. The ice galleries all formed part of a fairy fortress, an ice palace, which was beautiful beyond human imagining. As the mountaineer knows to his cost, the glacier, even when its snow-covered surface stretches smooth and unbroken to the eye as the sugar on a wedding cake, is seamed with treacherous crevasses of untold depth. It was these crevasses which made the glory of the fortress below the ice. Out of the burning sun one plunged into the cold stillness of the ice. Outside the snow was dazzling in its whiteness. Below the light filtered softly through walls of transparent blue. Then as the tunnel burrowed into the heart of the glacier, always inclining upward towards the front lines on the peaks above, the light faded away and all was dark except for the flares carried by the guides.
There were long staircases to be climbed, and sometimes to avoid a crevasse there would be a series of deep steps to be descended. Then as a corner was turned, there appeared far ahead a mysterious blue radiance. As one approached it grew stronger and stronger, until the light of the flares seemed dim and yellow. Half-dazzled one stepped out of the tunnel on to a crazy narrow bridge of planks. A huge cavern of ice and snow, with the light pouring dazzling white through the mass of snow above and filtering blue through blocks of ice, stretched endlessly on either hand. Beneath, it descended into gulfs of nothingness. A hundred feet overhead, glistening snow crystals, shaped like flowers, formed capitals to pillars of ice, which supported huge blocks perilously balanced to roof in the fairy throne room. Never artist of the Renaissance essayed decoration so rich, never did architect conceive so dangerous and so marvellous a beauty. With regret we tore ourselves away and crossing the bridge went forward along the never-ending tunnel. Again and again we crossed crevasses that were great natural cathedrals, until we came back again to the surface at a point far away up the glacier slope, screened from Austrian observation. There were miles and miles of these tunnels in the ice, and their construction never ceased throughout the war. In some parts of the glacier there was already a labyrinth of passages, joined up in every direction with special arrangements for protection against poison gas, and so planned that, if the enemy were to establish a footing at any point, he would find himself surrounded and attacked from every side through unexpected galleries. It was the patience and untiring labour of a handful of men which had accomplished this gigantic task. In the circumstances of mountain-warfare, only a handful of men can be fed and kept warm enough to live. Everything had to be brought up the first ten thousand feet on the aerial cable, which had only a limited capacity.
Other and smaller cables connected with certain points of the front line, but there were many places where it was impossible to construct the teleferica, and the only possible means of transport was the human back. In snowstorms and blinding mist, the alpine porters struggled up precipices and ice walls carrying provisions, ammunition, and the firewood without which existence was impossible. Twenty-two pounds of wood is a man's load, and a very heavy one for such climbing, and even in summer stoves had to be kept going night and day in the first line posts, which were all over 11,000 feet above the sea.
Sometimes the best climber in the world could not venture across the glacier. It was possible to run the gauntlet of the machine guns but nothing could face the Alpine blizzard, and in winter for days the men, who were as yet unconnected by tunnels to the central point of the glacier fortress, had to live on stocks that had been accumulated at endless pains. Always cold, with their clothes either wet through or frozen hard, suffering from the great strain on the heart caused by the rarefaction of the atmosphere, the Alpine soldiers of Italy worked on and on till human nature could do no more, and they had to be sent down to the valley below with their constitutions ruined.
Most of our journey to the Ortler Pass was carried out in ice tunnels, but for the last few hundred yards we had to come out into the open and scramble up as best we could through heavy snow. One of the most maddening enemies with which the Italians' engineers had to contend was the perpetual movement of the glacier. Eternally the whole glaciei' glides down towards the valley, a few yards a year and quite enough to ruin a tunnel that has been the work of months. The top of the glacier moves more quickly than the lowest stratum, which has greater friction to overcome since in its movement it is rubbing against the solid rocks beneath. Consequently there is a strong tendency for the ice tunnels to close in or collapse after a certain time.
The movement of the glacier is mysterious, as it seems to have something of a lateral motion. On the way up to the Payer-Joch, we had to pass through a gallery which was absolutely pestilential. For a long time the men who built the tunnel could not account for the horrible odour which made a gas-mask almost necessary. It seemed that nothing could be cleaner and sweeter than the virgin ice through which the gallery was broken. Eventually it appeared that the ice had shifted and that the tunnel ran through a portion of the glacier which had once lain below the " Pass of the Volunteers," where there had been an encampment of considerable size at the beginning of the war. In the soft snow, fast movement was impossible. For the last part of the journey we were in full view of the Austrians on the Cima di Campo, and for that matter they were well within our range of vision. We watched three Austrians struggling along the snow arete, loaded with wood and provisions, and saw them disappear into an ice-tunnel like rabbits into a hole. They did not interfere with us and we did not interfere with them. An enemy machine gun, however, fired away noisily at a line of Italians who were crossing the glacier 500 feet below. They were coming downhill and travelling fast and the Austrians merely wasted cartridges.
The front line of the Ortler Pass consisted of a long ice tunnel parallel to the enemy, with openings in its walls for machine guns. Behind the first line of trenches were three wooden huts with their backs resting against the naked rock. Here the garrison slept and warmed itself in comparative comfort. Peeping cautiously round a pinnacle of rock, too sheer for the snow to stay on it, I looked for the Austrian position. Immediately beneath my feet was a precipitous ice wall falling sheer a thousand feet. It seemed inconceivable that any troops could climb it, even if there were no enemy waiting for them at the top. Yet in the last war such feats were accomplished.
The Austrian mountain troops were magnificent climbers, especially on ice, though on rock the Italians were decidedly their superiors. In mountain fighting a few audacious men had only to climb to a commanding point supposed to be inaccessible in order to turn a whole fine of defence. As the Colonel Mazzoli said, if three Austrians could establish themselves at certain points of his line, they might compel him to retreat from the whole of his first position and indeed from the whole of the Ortler fortress. In mist or in a blizzard, which made it impossible for the defenders to come on the crest out of cover while the attacking party was partially sheltered by the mountain side, three or four men roped together might, if the most careful watch were not kept day and night, work their way up the glacier wall and rush one of the openings of the gallery. The value of every post of vantage was clear when we looked down from an ice observation post on the rear of the enemy lines. Every yard of the enemy main line of communications, the great zigzag road up the Stelvio Pass, was clearly visible and we could see for miles into the Austrian Alps, which formed a gigantic background of ice and snow. On the next day, the Colonel and I were accompanied by the chief guide, who was known universally in the lines as "II Mago," " The Magician," since he was always performing the impossible. II Mago, the great guide, was a strange contrast to the Colonel, whom he adored. Bearded, with quiet eyes and a smile like the sun on the glacier snow, he recalled the type of a Drake or a Frobisher. A man of many wiles, he was the " King of Guides " : nothing could tire him, and not a stone of his mountains was unknown to him. There was a simple reverence about the man that was very touching ; for him the mountains were all the world ; they were to him what the sea is to the sailor.
" Respect the mountain," he said to me one day, " that is the first principle of all mountaineering. Those who do not truly reverence the snow and the glacier and the peaks, those the mountain punishes with death." There was one mountain that he loved, a mountain that was the perfection of the Creator's art. It was the Turmweisespitz, the tower-like peak. It was well named, for its perfect proportions recalled in some way the Lily Tower of Sienna. Of all mountains that I have ever seen, it is the only one suggestive of lightness. It always seems to be on the point of leaving the earth and losing itself in the sky. Our destination that day was the Payer-Joch, 12,000 feet up. Here the ice wall was too precipitous to allow of the building of galleries, and it was only to be reached by straightforward climbing. The track across the glacier immediately above headquarters was marked by a line of telephone posts, but it was not advisable to follow that track on so clear a day. The enemy detachment on the Konigspitz had a way of firing on men they saw on the track and they had the range to a nicety. II Mago led the way, and I, as the novice, came next, and Colonel Mazzoli, a magnificent climber, brought up the rear.
Between us and the summit of the Konigspitz there were some rock pinnacles, and it was our object to dodge about in such a way that one of these pinnacles was always between us and the enemy's machine gun. The surface of the glacier looked smooth and safe enough. The snow was dazzling white and as smooth as sugar on a cake. It was, however, treacherous. There were crevasses everywhere, covered with a thin roof of snow that would give way under a man's weight. We were not roped, as the Colonel hated such precautions, and II Mago had the mountaineer's sixth sense, which told him instinctively when the snow was safe or dangerous. So we followed him, zigzagging here and there, until we reached the foot of the ice wall. In preparation for our coming, steps had been cut in the ice and we worked our way up at a respectable speed. The enemy loosed off a few bullets at us which, if unhappily they did not lend us wings, at least encouraged the weary climber to struggle on, and reach shelter as quickly as possible. About halfway up we saw an Alpino coming down towards us. He bounded down the ice precipice as easily as a fly runs down a perpendicular wall. He was II Mago's faithful lieutenant, the second guide, hasting down to meet us. Even II Mago could not restrain his admiration at the man's extraordinary agility. " Non e un uomo " said he, " ma un camoscio." " He is not a man, but a chamois."
After his arrival it did not take us long to reach the advance post on the Payer-Joch, where we found a small party of very cheerful Alpini. They had just accomplished a great work which menaced very serious trouble for the enemy, and the working party had been rewarded by ten days' special leave. After a few minutes spent in the hut nestled against a rock, which, apart from the ice tunnels, was their only shelter, we went out to see the great work. The Alpini, all of them territorials between 35 and 45, were as keen as children to show us what they had accomplished, and they grudged every minute that we spent in regaining breath. They had built a new tunnel through the further slope of the glacier, right away into Austria, far behind the enemy lines. The front line in the Ortler followed pretty closely the old frontier, and at this point the Alpini had carried forward their gallery over the most difficult of glaciers, seamed by enormous crevasses, to an isolated, inaccessible rock, a thousand yards away and some seven hundred feet higher than the starting point. Only the night before the workers had broken through into the outer air. In the darkness they could not see if their object had been attained. All the operation had been directed by rough and ready methods and the most complicated instrument used was a pocket compass, so that considerable error in direction was not impossible.
The Austrians were above and all round the men as they worked, yet they had succeeded in blasting a passage through the rock where it cropped out near the surface of the glacier without arousing the enemy's attention. The noise of the explosion had no doubt been taken by his sentries for the roar of an avalanche. Just beyond the rock the Italian working party had opened a window in a huge hummock of ice, and from there they hoped to have new and valuable views over the Austrian position.
It was a long thousand yards to the end of the gallery, up and down ice staircases and across perilous plank bridges, spanning vast crevasses. The exciting moment came when we reached the end of the tunnel, and the mysterious window that overlooked new ground. No one as yet had seen what lay beyond the pile of rocks which masked the window. When the work was finished, the opening had been closed with snow and backed with a tarpaulin held in place by a pile of rocks so that there should be no danger of the enemy perceiving a dark opening in the white glacier wall. This shutter had frozen into the consistency of metal and it took many blows of the pickaxe and miner's hammer to break it open. I was given the honour of the first glimpse of the undiscovered country. It was indeed " a magic casement opening on fairy seas forlorn," on a headlong, tumbled sea of ice and on a melancholy grey moraine, which deserved the name of the glacier behind it, " Das Ende der Welt," the end of the world. La fine del Mondo
I wriggled my way through the narrow aperture to the outer sheet of snow and lay with a heap of snow masking my cheek on the side nearest to the enemy's observation post on the Konigspitz, trying to realise that my window had been made not for the greater glory of the mountain but for the grim realities of war. At last I grew accustomed to the wild beauty of the scenery that seemed so dazzling after the icy darkness of the tunnel, and I began to see that the gallery had more than accomplished its builders' purpose. At comparatively short range, I was overlooking the entire communications of the Konigspitz position. The one path passing steeply up the glacier side by which the Austrians could revictual their advance positions, lay open and exposed within easy rifle shot. Lower down the valley I could trace the course of an aerial cable on which the provisioning of the whole valley must depend. Once it was screened in perfect security by the mass of the mountain, but now the Italian observers could direct upon it the shells from their batteries stationed on the further slopes of the glacier. Near the black, sheer peak of the Konigspitz above my head, there was a dark opening which I recognised as the mouth of an ice tunnel, such as that through which we had passed. Here two men were at work carrying into the gallery wood that had been brought up from the aerial cable below. They took no precautions and worked in the open as they had worked for months before, secure in the illusion that there were millions of tons of rock between them and an hostile eyedently been working. Part of the wall had been removed and there were signs of camouflage.
It seemed clear that the Austrians had turned the hut into a battery position, and guns at that point might have caused us considerable annoyance, as the Colonel Mazzoli calculated that their shells would drop almost exactly in the middle of our headquarters. The Capanna di Milano was bombarded by the enemy from time to time, but, owing to the mountains, the shells
always landed too low to damage anything except a few store huts. The living huts were built under the shelter of great crags, and up to that time the Austrians had had no guns in any position that could reach them. As a matter of fact, the enemy was never able to use the battery which we had spotted, as, thanks to the new observation post, the Italians were able to knock it out before it did any harm. The working party richly deserved its coveted reward of leave. The whole gallery had been built by a party of ten men under the command of a corporal. These men had not only to work at the tunnel and keep perpetual guard, but also to bring up on their backs all their provisions and fuel from two thousand feet below. It was only six weeks before the completion of the tunnel that their labours were lightened by the construction of a teleferica to a neighbouring peak. For seven months they toiled with
the pickaxe, tunnelling through ice that was almost as hard as rock and strata of compressed snow that were harder than ice. They had had to dive down hundreds of feet to avoid crevasses, and a part of the tunnel had had to be remade, because of the movement of the upper walls of a big crevasse. One Alpino boasted that his pickaxe was responsible for one half of the gallery. During these seven months they had no rest, except a few hours in their wooden hut 12,000 feet above the sea, and in time of blizzards, when the wind was so strong that a man outside could not breathe ; the only living room was thick with driving snow-dust that forced its way through every crack. There were few achievements of this war which could surpass in patience and endurance the work of the Alpine soldiers.
We became very cold standing about in the ice tunnel. The Colonel, after looking out over the enemy line, discussed where an opening should be made for a machine gun, and how the observation post could be most conveniently finished. Almost freezing, we got to the huts on the Payer- Joch and there hot coffee restored our circulation. Later we watched the guide, who was " not a man but a chamois," accomplish one of the prettiest pieces of climbing I have ever seen. About a thousand feet above, there was a row of jagged teeth of rock, which stood out black against the snow. Eighteen months before, a party of Italian Alpini had tried to surprise the Austrian garrison on the Konigspitz, by working their way up the mountain past these teeth. A guide had fastened a rope to one of these small peaks, in order to help his comrades. The enterprise had failed, as it was quite impossible to scale the Konigspitz at that point, and the rope had been left behind when the party returned. The rope was still there, and at that moment rope was a scarce and precious article in the Italian mountains. The second guide, the " chamois," announced his intention of going up and bringing back the rope single-handed. The Colonel Mazzoli was a little afraid that the man might break his neck, but II Mago reassured him and leave was given. The solitary little figure worked its way up along the edge of a snow cornice that overhung a sheer ice wall several thousand feet high.
From time to time the climber would stop, throw himself flat on the snow and peep over to see that he was not getting too near the edge. In a surprisingly short time he reached the foot of the peaks and found the rope. Through the glasses we saw him pulling at it hard, but the knot still held and he was forced to give us an exhibition of rock climbing. Somehow or other he made his way up the sheer teeth of rock, untied the rope and then came down upon us at a gallop, trailing it behind. We returned to headquarters without any incident of importance. II Mago wanted to draw the enemy's fire, as he was anxious to discover the exact emplacement of the Austrian machine gun on the Konigspitz, so he stopped by one of the telephone posts on the trail and levelled his field-glasses at the enemy's position. A machine gun banged away and after a few moments II Mago found things getting too hot for him, so he started off at a great pace, despite the heavy snow, to rejoin us.
The evening spent in the mess on that island on the glacier will always remain among my pleasantest memories. There was an abundance of food, and after dinner, as it was fine, we collected on the terrace of the Colonel's hut to watch the Alpine glow. It was at that time the dogs were fed. There were about a hundred of them, and they pulled sleighs valiantly across the glacier. Of those hundred there were twelve that had the special privilege of having their kennels near the General's hut. They were the General's own dogs and he treated them with the same paternal authority as he treated his men. They were of all sorts and sizes and every dog had his special dish. When dinner-time came the dishes, big and small, were ranged outside the kennels, and the kennels were opened. Every dog poked his nose out, snuffing and whimpering a little at the thought of food, but not a dog moved until the order came. Then each dog went to his dish and gobbled up his dinner with the appetite of a mountaineer. There was no quarrelling or confusion, but there was one chartered libertine. He was a black mongrel of no particular breed and had a highly developed brain. He had struck up a friendship with a great St. Bernard, which was the unquestioned lord of the pack. The Italians used to call this ill-assorted couple, " Gli Alleati," " the Allies." If anyone, man or dog, dared touch a hair of the small black mongrel. Lion, the big St. Bernard, was on him in an instant.
At dinner-time the small dog refused to eat out of his own dish, but insisted on bolting half of poor Lion's food. Lion protested and tried to push his black friend aside, with an enormous paw, but the greedy beast would only turn on him with a snarl and Lion would retreat abashed. Eventually, however, things straightened themselves out. When the black dog had eaten as much as he could possibly contain, there was still a good bit left in Lion's basin for its rightful owner, and he wound up by eating the black dog's untouched dish. It was a glorious life
for the dogs. Loose on the glacier, they would race away up the mountain sides under the care of two guides, scrambling up and down precipices and barking with delight until the Colonel's whistle called them all back at a gallop to their kennels.
Il Gran Zebrù o Köenig Spitze 3857 m, con il suo inconfondibile profilo conico, fa parte del gruppo dell’Ortles (m.3902)-Cevedale (m.3769) di cui è la seconda cima per altezza (ma altre 15 cime superano i 3000 !!!!). 

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il capitano sepolto dai ghiacci http://www.alpinia.net/libri/berni/pre.htm 

bio Mazzoli http://digilander.libero.it/fiammecremisi/carneade/mazzoli.htm