In Blog nr 1119 I wrote my first impressions about this book (buy it here!). It is not an easy task to make a summary of its contents, because mr Zwerger chose to write his book in a diary-form, with a lot of different information, collected over many years. But the knowlegde he had about Athos and especcially about hiking on the Holy Mountain, is like a goldmine. It would recomment the book to all pilgrims who already paid a visit to Mt. Athos, but not to people who plan to go there for the first time, because the information he gives in his book is too specialized.
The main theme in his book is his enormous effort to restore the old foothpaths during the period 1990-1996. At that time he already had the age of 66 and he continued to visit the Holy Mountain until he was at least 70 years old (from 1956: 49 times in 50 years!).
I am quite impressed by the amount of kilometers he walked on Mt. Athos during his explorations of old paths. On one of his trips he made a big mistake: during a trip he found out that the path led to a death end and he was unable to continue his way. He wanted to go to an Athos-monastery, that was nearby and he already had it in sight. So he decided not to turn around and follow the path back again, but he chose to go his way through the wilderness. This is a classical mistake many unexperienced visitors to Mt. Athos make, and the mistake might be even dangerous too (we made this mistake in 1997). Sometimes people die getting lost in the wilderness
Mr. Zwerger discribes how he gets into trouble, because the terrain gets very steep and the thorn bushes make it almost impossible to go on. Because he had his map and an altimeter he could save himself.
But there are stories told that pilgrims disappeared on Mt. Athos without any trace.
Mr Zwerger even recollects two actual deathly victims on Mt. Athos (page 162). In the mid or end of 1990 a German pilgrim simply disappeared on a trip between Sografou and Chilandariou. Some people claimed that a group of Albaniens commited a crime, but there is no prove for that. Mr. Zwerger beliefs he probably died of a heart attack. Because only his rucksack was found, he thinks that wild animals must have taken the body or bones to an unknown spot.
And than there is the story about an Austrian, who started ahike in Lavra. He had planned to walk
to the top of Mt. Athos. After he was last seen at a dry well at 500 meters high, he never returned and his body was never found.
Mr. Zwerger poses a theory that he might have been tempted to descent the mountain from a different slope. Sometimes it looks easier to go down, and especially when you make a jump, you might never get back and climb up again. Nowbody knows what happened to this pilgrim (while his family was waiting for him on a nearby Greek Island). So take this warning: never leave a path and try to go your own way, unless you are in a group, but even then this warning is valuable.
Skulls in the Skete of St. Andreou – Serail
Mr. Zwerger also told this crazy story. While visiting Docheiariou his eyes fell upon the skull of a young child. A monk explained that this child probably died of an illness during the Second World War, when women from neighbouring towns fled to Mt. Athos!
Wim Voogd, 20/1 (NB.: today our application for the Athos trip 2011 was sent to the Pilgrims bureau!)