The past four years of my life travelling the world has been one big adventure. Whether it’s navigating to a new destination, cycling across India or hiking up a mountain in New Zealand, my adrenaline was on a constant high. In October, I had been back in England for four months and was longing for an adventure. Summiting Slovenia’s highest mountain seemed like a good one.
Slovenia is a mecca for hikers. It really is the perfect place for an adventure, especially if, like me, you’re doing it alone. With no shortage of mountain huts to stay in and well sign posted paths, life on the mountain here is good. There is even world-class catering in many of the huts. I however, was heading there “out of season” and all the mountain huts were closed. Damn.
At the time of my trip I was milking cows most mornings at 3:30am and again most afternoons until 7pm. Planning took a back-seat which is unusual for me, so I was a little unprepared as I stepped off the plane that afternoon. I arrived at the airport as a huge red sun was setting over the Julian Alps. Magical. It was my first time hiring a car and driving on the right side of the road. I was nervous but after 15 minutes or so I got the gist of it. There was only one small incident when backing into a telegraph pole at the local supermarket, but I kept the hire guy talking whilst he checked the vehicle on my return and thankfully it went unnoticed.
What better mountain to climb in Slovenia than Mt. Triglav, the country’s tallest. Standing at 2864 metres, the climb to the top is regarded as a pilgrimage by locals. Milan Kučan, the former president, said it was the duty of every countryman and woman to scale its full height at least once in their lifetime. Once I started reading about marvellous Mt. Triglav, there was nothing else on my mind.
There is a weather station up the top and the mountain hut is occupied by its workers, even in winter. This meant there was somewhere warm to stay, it was too cold to camp at this time of year. I checked into a very empty hostel just outside of Lake Bled and bumped into some French backpackers who had just returned from the mountain. They talked about nearly freezing to death up there with the hut only providing small woollen blankets. Shit. I had gone against the idea of packing a sleeping bag in a bid to save weight.
I spent the night slightly worried about my lack of equipment and eagerness to make an early start the next morning. I still needed to pick up a helmet for the Via Ferrata to the summit. For those who don’t know, a Via Ferrata is a roped walkaway which you clip into for safety when climbing. A harness, helmet and a small device are required.
I made an early start, chomping down some left over pizza for breakfast, and drove to Lake Bled. I was in contact with incredibly helpful Altitude Activities who were ever so good with advice and hiring me a helmet. They came to meet me at the office super early just so I could hire a 7 euro helmet!
I drove to the Triglavski National Park, into the Krma Valley and parked my car where the road ended. The parking area was full so I popped my little hire car up on some gravel. There’s many routes to summit Triglav. Being alone and “out of season” I chose the winter route; the longest but easiest.
For me the first part of any walk is always the worst. It takes me a good hour or two to regain the feeling in my legs and start to enjoy it. After a slow upwards slog, I reached Pragarca Hut (1763m) in 2 hours. It was closed as expected but I stopped for a bite to eat admiring the most spectacular autumn colours around me.
With no map or working GPS (my phone is useless) I was beginning to wonder whether I was on the correct route. After 30 minutes or so I didn’t see a single trail marker. Thankfully a couple came running (running!) along and stopped long enough for me to ask the way. I was on the right track. I said “Hello” to everyone I passed, still unable to converse in Slovenian. I never did learn a single word, us Brits are so lazy when it comes to languages.
I noticed that a fair few were sipping out of hip flasks and I could put my life on it that it wasn’t water. On I walked, it took me another three hours to reach Triglavski dom na Kredarici, (Kredarica Hut) the hut closest to the summit. I went off track at one stage but luckily I manage to navigate back. The landscape above the treeline changed dramatically from vibrant autumn colours to vast rock faces. It was a perfect autumn day with the sun shining brightly.
With a weather station and its own chapel next door, the hut resembled something out of a Mad Max movie. People appeared from everywhere and the restaurant and bar was even open. I did have a slight grumble to myself about lugging my uninspiring couscous and tuna from the UK up the mountain for no reason at all. “It’s best to be over prepared than under prepared” I tell myself each time. It was a mere two hours until sunset and the summit was at least an hours climb. Conditions, however, were perfect. I would have been silly not to attempt it. My theory was, as long as someone was behind me and I was not the last person to ascend or descend I would be fine.
I put my helmet and harness on and started to climb. I noticed that no one had their harness clipped in and to be honest, I felt no need to clip in myself. I had good grip and I was able to hold on the whole time. I summit. Greeting me was the most spectacular 360 view of the Julian Alps. A couple and a trampy looking man were up the top with me. All drinking a celebratory beer and having a fag.
It was so chilly my phone died so I didn’t get to take as many photos as I would have liked. Sometimes it’s nice to just forget technology and take in my surroundings. It was magical. Mountains, summits, sunsets; nothing beats it. I was the second to last to make my way down the mountain arriving at the hut 45 minutes after sunset. It was a little risky but I eat my carrots, I can (partially) see in the dark.
The hut was chockablock. I asked about a bed but the “staff” seemed to be more interested in doing shots so I was left there waiting. I sat down and cracked open my pre-mix rum and coke. It wasn’t as if they would turn me away and make me walk all the way down the mountain in the dark. Surely? A small old man tapped me on the shoulder and signalled for me to follow him. I was led to a large dorm where he pointed at a small mattress in a row of about 12. I paid him some money. I seemed to be the only solo hiker and the only one who didn’t speak the language.
People made their way to bed one by one and I was left with a group of Slovenian guys and one German man. They clocked on that I could only speak English so adjusted the language accordingly. We got talking and they bought a few shots of the local stuff. Yelch! One was so bad I couldn’t even drink it. Time went on and things were turning into a party. Who would have thought? 2800m up a mountain on a cold October evening. A rather eccentric man got his accordion out and we danced the night away.
I had planned to summit Triglav for the second time for sunrise that morning and got up at 6am for the occasion. Visibility was zero and there was news of incoming snowfall so I decided to descend the mountain. Fast. I said goodbye to my new friends I partied with that evening and watched the locals and staff have their 7am schnapps. I practically ran down the mountain in less than three hours thanks to the incoming weather and my unfortunate toilet issues. Thinking I was the best trail runner ever, my cockiness got the better of me as I fell and cut my knees. As well as avoiding the rain, I was attempting to sweat out the schnapps which, among other things, had left me with terrible stomach sickness which continued throughout the rest of my trip.
As soon as I reached the car the heavens opened and torrential rain fell. I took the scenic route back to Bled which resulted in a few moments of getting lost. I had mastered the art of driving on the right but trying to concentrate on driving whilst trying to navigate with mobile GPS was a skill I was struggling with. On this occasion I needed a buddy. Parking in Bled is a nightmare and I spent €4 on two hours before asking the guys at Altitude Adventures where best to park. They pointed me to a €7 a day car park around about here.
I enjoyed Kremna Rezina, a traditional Bled cake, at Slascicarna Zima. This girl was not going to let stomach sickness ruin any culinary enjoyment!
I was so tired, not just physically but mentally thanks to living on very little sleep each night. I really wasn’t feeling well but I was eager to explore and took a walk around beautiful Lake Bled (1-2 hours). Half way round I climbed up to viewpoint, Mala Osojnica, which I had read about online as a good spot for photography. Another bloody hill! I was seriously struggling to move my legs but I kept telling myself to push on, I may not get another chance.
Ojstrica, a slightly higher hill on the route provided an alternative view across the lake. I sat here watching sunset with a young girl from Hungary. It was dark by the time I set off and I couldn’t see the path. Presuming the girl knew her way I asked for assistance. She had no clue either and we spent a good hour trying to make our way down in the dark. It was rather amusing. Back at the lake side we parted without saying goodbye. I never saw her again.
I was exhausted. It was time to return to my hostel for some much needed rest. On my way home I passed Altitude Activities and couldn’t resist booking myself in for a rock climbing course early doors the next morning. One last push for adventure, who knows when I will get the chance again. Awesome trip.