I was just looking through my hard drive for nothing in particular when I came across a folder containing some pictures from our trip to the summit of Triglav, Slovenia’s tallest mountain at 2864 meters high and a proud national symbol.
It was quite some time ago, in late summer of 2013. At the time there was a call going around our local volunteer fire department to organize a group trip, as is often the custom in these parts, and not surprisingly many people were interested. It’s a thing of pride to be able to say you’ve been to the top of Triglav – a saying goes that you only become a true Slovenian after doing that and if you’re any kind of hiker at all, it is certainly on your to do list. Beliefs and sayings aside, it’s still a formidable challenge and not one to be taken lightly. I was surprised to see that many of the people who signed up for the trip had no previous hiking experience or indeed the fitness to accomplish it.
In the end there were about 18 of us – friends, colleagues, unknown people others invited. One of them, a burly bloke named Rene, who was determined to make the 2-day hike in high spirits and an old fireman helm, all 160 kilos of him and his backpack. Others were similarly ill-suited. Some, including Rene, only got their hiking boots a few days ago and have never even seen mountains from up close. It seems they were there only to prove the others they could do it. It made for a rowdy bunch and pretty soon they started talking of who would turn back first.
We had a career army man by the name of Frankie to guide us. He’s a family friend and I’ve gone hiking with him before, so I knew we were in good hands as far as navigation was concerned. He knew the trails around Triglav National Park like the back of his hand and could help out with tips and pointers for getting the less fortunate across the tricky sections.
The shortest way to the summit is marked at about 5 hours walk and it was this one we originally planned to take. Some people go for one-day round trips, but we had 2 days planned for the endeavour, with an overnight stop at Kredarica (2515 m), the highest lying alpine cottage in the country just below the summit of Triglav.
It turned out that Frankie the hard-faced army man had decided on a slightly different route, one that would take us about twice as long to complete. Luckily we weren’t in a rush. We left our cars and vans just after daybreak and set off. We had been hoping for sun, but the day was foggy and chilly. The dirt road we took was level at first, going through a grassy valley past lonely stables and cottages, but it soon turned into the woods and started to climb. The path there was littered with limestone chunks which made walking even more difficult and my 12 kg of backpack didn’t help my cause.
The line of march was beginning to stretch now. We received word from the back that Rene was struggling with the weight of his body and backpack. One of the girls had trouble with her newly bought shoes, the sole of which was starting to come off. A small group of them was falling behind as they tried mending the shoes and waited for Rene to catch up.
In the meanwhile we moved on, higher and higher through the mist. After about 4 or 5 hours we came to the Vodnikova koča cottage. Though often very basic, these cottages are a real treat for weary hikers and provide some much needed rest and warmth after a long hike.
There are dozens of places like this scattered through the Slovenian mountains. They provide simple meals, drinks and a bed to sleep in if the night catches you. As they are far away from towns or even roads, a caretaker or a small group of people will most likely live there for months on end, working tirelessly to provide services for the passing hikers. For the right kind of person a life in the mountains, away from the roar of modernity is like a piece of heaven on Earth.
After a regroup and a short refreshment it was time to move on. By that time Rene and his group were far behind and we had suspected they meant to spend the night here. It was the sensible thing to do, as they had no chance of reaching Kredarica by nightfall. We still had some way to go though. The trees along the trail were spread thinner now and soon gave way to bushes, then lonely patches of grass and finally even that was scarce. Still the mist clung all around us, even thicker than before.
Red metal signs stand at certain points along the way, telling you how far you still have to go. Just as we passed the one hour mark, we got out of the mist and a beautiful cloudless sky appeared around us.
The last hour seemed to go on forever. We could see the crest of the ridge where Kredarica stood, but the way zigged and zagged up the steep mountain slope. By that time we were walking for almost 11 hours and our bodies were done. Our morale was all but done as well and all we could see was the great cottage, standing proud in the shining sun. Sure enough, a few steps later, there it was.
More like a hotel, really. At 2515 meters above sea level, this 300-bed cottage comes complete with a helicopter landing deck, a nearby chapel and also serves as a weather station. During winter, snow falls so high it covers the ground floors and completely changes the surrounding area. During summer this is one of the most popular destinations for hikers and despite the 300-bed capacity, you’d be sleeping on the bench of the common area if you came in without a reservation.
The summit of Triglav can be seen over the roof of the building on the picture. The trail runs right along the ridge and you can watch the hikers climbing the wall or walking along even after nightfall, their headlamps lighting the way up and down the mountain.
That is, if you can turn your eyes away from the view.
The common area was lively and getting livelier as hikers kept coming either up or down the mountain. Our group was slowly forming back together after getting separated out on the trail again. As we’ve thought, the challenge proved too much for Rene and his group who decided to stay in the lower cottage and start back down after a good night’s sleep.
We ordered some warm stew to fill our bellies and after a while someone produced an accordion and started playing. Suddenly the whole place turned into a party. You’ll often see people carrying all manner of crazy things into the mountains. Guitars, accordions and other instruments often find their way up there. But there are some even more wonderful and amazing stories to be told – such as a group of people carrying their disabled friend up to the summit, or even a small steel tower. More on that later.
As darkness fell we began to feel the effects of the day behind us. People were slowly going off to their well deserved beds. I remember sleep taking me the moment I closed my eyes. Large rooms can get quite noisy sometimes, but that night I heard nothing. Sleeping that night felt better than ever.
That’s it for day 1. Don’t forget to follow my blog and come back for day 2, where we finally reach the top and look into some of the other stories surrounding it.