These days were memorable and I have kept thinking about them afterwards. If you’ll read this report you may understand why.
Lipanskji vrhFour years – for four years almost I have been a member at SummitPost but so far I have not met a single of my fellow members in person. Virtually, yes – there have been lots of discussions and I think I know some members very well already. But do I really?
Anyway, this is bound to change tonight. Ever since I announced to Vid that I would spend three weeks in Kranjska Gora in Slovenia to have a look at the Julian Alps, we have plotted to meet and maybe climb somewhere. Vid went even further, he suggested a date and a pizzeria, asked other members to join and put up a message on the Europe board. Before I left home he told me Bor would attend and ganesh70 and possible some others. One guy from Hungary maybe wanted to come but I had to leave so I didn’t get to know the details. At Kranjska Gora I had no internet access so I was closed out from any SP-discussions.
But today will be the day, Friday Sept. 14th 2007, at 8:00 p.m. at Pizzeria Kotnik. I’m exited!
Currently I stand on the top of Lipanskji vrh, a mountain slightly below 2000m, part of the ridge which contains the easternmost 2000ers of the Julian Alps, Debela Peč and Brda. I have been on both already, traversing the ridge and there will be a fourth summit today, something called Mrešce, which I suppose is a collective name for several summits. The ridge has gorgeous views across the three northern valleys which lead up to Triglav and though I have been not very enthusiastic before the start now I’m enjoying myself throughout. The summits are separated by saddles which are not very profound but there are several descents which are steep enough to be protected by cables. So there has even been a bit of adventure to this trip.
Now we’re leaving the summit and come to one of these protected sections. It’s not very long, maybe 10 – 20m but going steeply down. Moreover there is scree all over the place and I have to wait until Judith has got safely down and around a bend in the track. It’s my turn and I have to take several huge steps, easy enough for my long legs but no wonder Judith took so long. She takes some pictures of me, then we start out for the saddle and the final climb of the day. She passes by me – then I get into motion and ouch! - there is a sharp sting in my left knee. Another step – again! And another …
No doubt about it – this descent has somehow damaged my knee – inwardly I howl with frustration. It’s only the sixth day of a three week vacation and will I be reduced to hike the valleys and visit waterfalls? There has been so much on my schedule! And tomorrow will be the climb with the other members – I’m afraid I’ll have to ask them to do something easier than Dovški Križ, which Vid has proposed…
While walking I find out that I have to avoid big steps with my left leg so that I manage to get up another protected section towards Mrešce. With no big interest for views I head down the otherside immediately, hobbling like Captain Ahab. We’ll have to descend some 800m from here until we are at our car! By the time we are at the end of the first stage, at the mountain hut Bleiska koča, my right knee hurts as much as the left one. Dovški Križ definitely won’t be possible tomorrow!
The remainder is a long walkout from the hut to the car, not steep at all and my legs seem to get adapted to their new state. Knees hurt but it is possible to walk. Waterfalls, here I come…
The MeetingWe arrive at the apartment a little before 6 p.m. There is plenty of time to take a shower and have some coffee and tea. By the time I start with my tea I turn on my mobile to see if Vid has left a message concerning the meeting. Sure enough the thing beeps and an SMS comes in: “We start at 6 p.m. already”. A look at the watch: 6 p.m. exactly. I write back to say we just returned and that it would take us until 7 to join the crew. A few minutes later Vid calls to tell me not to hurry, they’d be two only with Bor having gone to fetch two friends from one of the valleys and drive them to their car in the other one. It appears that they had been overtaken by dusk and couldn’t rappel from the Julian Alps third highest mountain Škrlatica across the west face but had to take the normal route down into Vrata Valley.
As we reach the restaurant someone gets up from his chair on the platform outside. It turns out that this is Vid, whom I never would have recognized as he never appears with spectacles on any of his SP pictures. Introductions are quickly made – we are only four currently: Judith, Vid, Fabrizio (ganesh70) and myself. Bor will arrive in about an hour and Jasmina, Vid’s wife will join us around 10 p.m. Andrej Mašera won’t be able to come at all due to private reasons but says hello to everybody. I’m a bit sad as I was prepared to tell him that he is the main reason why I’m here. His last guidebook uses some half dozen of my SP pictures and as a way of saying thanks he has given me two guidebooks, “Mountaineering in Slovenia” and “Alpi Giulie Occidentale”. In her quite particular way Judith had decided that “since we have the guidebooks we might as well go there this summer”…
And then there actually will also be Norbert, morceaux, who will drive all the way from Budapest in Hungary to meet us at Kranjska Gora. He’ll be driving for five to six hours and has calculated to be arriving around 11. Now that’s devotion to SP and the mountains!
We go inside and sit down to order a beer – and since Judith and I are very hungry after today’s climb a pizza apiece is also ordered. We start to discuss tomorrow’s climb and I explain the knee-situation. Though pretending that it doesn’t matter both Vid and Fabrizio are less than reluctant to sincerely discuss alternatives. Maybe Mojstrovka? But Fabrizio has been there today already. Without so much as a final decision the talk drifts to other places and climbs, everybody trying to convince everybody else of the beauty of some place. “… it’s only up to grade II (UIAA that is) …”, “… in the Julian Alps there is no such thing as a difficult ferrata …”, “… once it’s marked it’s also protected …”, “… a fantastic mountain …”.
Somehow SP is spared out from the discussion and as our pizza arrives further talk is somewhat muffled. After eating Vid explains about his selection of Dovški Križ: “… not marked, not crowded, steep ascent, a little climbing section (not much more than grade I), beautiful views, a scree zone, perfect for surfing downwards after summitting, …”. It appears that the scree figures greatly in Vid’s mind – strange. Judith is less than enthusiastic about it but Vid tells us that the ascent route bypasses the scree. Finally we’re decided by Vid’’s words: “Jasmina will be disappointed if we don’t climb Dovški Križ. She likes the climb and has been preparing for it.”
Ok – I will go but if my knees pose problems I’ll stop at bivouac II, a tin shelter in the cirque beneath the Rokavi and leave the others the honor to ascent the mountain.
Suddenly a tall young man stands in front of our table. It turns out that this is Bor – I would never have recognized him. In order not to forget their faces I pull out my camera and my flashlight and make a handful of shots:
We discuss Dovški Križ once more and both Vid and Bor say it’s nonsense that the guidebook “Mountaineering in Slovenia” calls it the most difficult climb of the book. “I don’t know their selection, though…”
Jasmina arrives and for the sixth time we explain which mountains we have already climbed in the first five days of the vacation: Golica, Jôf de Miezegnot, Zadneškji Ozebnik, Ŝpik, Monte Cimone, Debela Peč – about 8000m of elevation gain. After tomorrow we will have climbed Everest from sea level - so to say - all in six days. Not bad – but hard on legs and knees…
Around eleven we prepare to go deciding on the time when we should start. “We’ll have the whole day, no reason to hurry” – Vid and Jasmina opt for something like 8 a.m., Fabrizio suggests 7, so finally we decide to meet at 7::30 at one of the local gas stations.
Vid’s mobile rings – it’s Norbert (morceaux), telling him that he has been delayed by a blocked motorway back home in Hungary and that now it will take until 2 a.m. until he’ll arrive. Would we still be at the pizzeria? A glimpse around us tells us that there’s no way to stay for another three hours. The waiters pointedly are cleaning up, putting the chairs on the tables… Vid directs Norbert to Vrata Valley, he should sleep in the car and we would pick him up at 8 in the morning.
That settled, it’s time for the nightly blackout…
A Dried-Up WaterfallHere we are at the trailhead, Jasmina, Fabrizio, Judith, Gangolf. Bor and Vid have gone to pick up Norbert at the parking lot at the end of the valley. After some ten minutes they arrive with Norbert coming up in their rear. Time for some new introductions, then Norbert tells us that there was a heavy traffic accident back in Hungary and that he got help up for three hours with no chance of going back or forth. He arrived at the parking lot exactly at 2 in the morning and got wakened by Vid ringing his mobile. It turns out Vid found him sleeping under the eyes of the guards who collect the parking fees. They quickly saved him from monetary bloodletting and now we are ready to go.
Not quite as it turns out – having been alarm-started by Vid and Bor, Norbert still needs to pack his things. He asks whether we had breakfast – which we had – and whether he can quickly eat something. Vid explains that there is a waterfall a third up the mountain and that it would make a much nicer place for a breakfast than the trailhead underneath the trees. If only Norbert could hike for an hour…
Being impatient we all decide that Norbert can and set out accordingly…
Vid, Bor and Fabrizio lead the way, Jasmina and Judith somewhere in the middle and I conclude the crew with Norbert in the rear. The first hour turns out to be a steep hike among dense woods. There is a path but other paths cross and it is good we have Vid and Bor as guides. There are several scree fields which have to be crossed. “I don’t remember them” – Vid searches for excuses why he didn’t tell us – probably someone put them up since he was last here ;-)
“There’s the waterfall” – we all look over to the right where Vid indicates a big step over which – he assures us – ordinarily a small waterfall trickles. Today there is no water in sight but we prepare to make our first break above its top. But there is a good view to Triglav, making it a good resting spot.
As we reach it, Norbert assures us that he finally has run out of energy. 8 hours of driving, a short sleep, no food since lunch yesterday have taken their toll. Everybody searches for a seat and watches Norbert unpack his food. I’m sure some of us got hungry again.
Vid tells us that this place is where the scree fields end. From bivouac II at 2100m a set of consecutive scree slopes leads down to here at 1600m. Finally the screes run into this little gully which ends in the waterfall. He tells us to take care in the afternoon, not to step too far. We smile dutifully but Bor tells us that a friend of his lost balance right here at the very end and they had to fish him out of the gully with three people. Maybe we should really take this thing seriously.
Norbert is happily munching his breakfast so Vid explores the area searching for the lost water – which he finds underneath a wet rock. A slight trickle runs out from there but vanishes after several centimetres. Filling his water bottle takes him forever. I follow his example and fill mine, later Norbert does the same.
Eventually we get so restless that after he has filled his bottle the whole group sets out to climb the next stage without waiting for him to pack and catch up. I realize this after some minutes and wait for him – anyway my knees need to be taken care of – and waiting for Norbert is a good excuse.
The Pancake Disaster
The going gets steeper – we are out of the woods at last and views keep getting better – and we catch up with Jasmina and Judith while the other three are stomping ahead high above us. Bor even makes a detour to explore unknown terrain. We close in on the huge cirque, in which bivouac II is located, an impressive place,, surrounded by sky high vertical walls. However, it turns out that the bivy site has already taken been taken over by the competition. There’s folks up there – and we had been promised a lonely climb!
“Dober Dan” – we pass them and search for a place for our second break which we find right behind the tin box. Bor points out the summits to me: the Rokavi, Oltar, Škrlatica somewhere behind. Across Vrata Valley there are Stenar, Rjavina and the king, Triglav with its incredible north face. Everybody takes photos – it looks like a competition.
Suddenly I see the crew smile. What has happened? “I wanted to spring a surprise on you. But now it is spoiled – I might as well tell you”. Vid explains that Jasmina and he have brought dough and equipment to surprise us with pancakes after the climb. However, the lid of the box containing the dough has opened, spilling a third of its contents. In the same backpack Vid had stuffed his anorak and you can imagine where the third of the dough went.
Now Jasmina and he are mock quarreling who was supposed to have closed the lid before packing. Smiles and laughs all over…
Jasmina decides that she can fill up the dough with some yoghurt so that there will be enough pancakes at least. Then we discuss whether we should bake them now or go for the summit beforehand. Everybody agrees for the summit so we have to search a place where to stack away the cuisine. Seems like Jasmina knows one, so we set out for a small detour to put away the stuff. Vid complains that this has been an ingenious trick played by Jasmina – she won’t have to carry a pack to the summit now.
Dovški KrižSo far we haven’t been able to see our mountain yet. Though 2520m high, and thus one of the higher summits of the Julian Alps, Dovški Križ is not very spectacular. In fact when seen from afar you have to look very closely to make it out among the surrounding mountains. From the bivouac we could only see its southernmost side and it can be argued that this actually doesn’t really belong to the mountain. We step by a smaller summit, one which has accompanied us the whole morning with its big south faces but which from our current poin of view has been reduced to a mere bump above the bivy. Since all (?) other Julian Alps summits have already been posted to SP, Vid jokes that I can have it. It is called Splevta. We’ll see…
We wait in a small saddle to the north of Splevta until Vid arrives who has stowed away the cuisine. Now it gets real steep, grass slopes with ledges, rocks strewn in between and an abundance of scree on top of everything. Not difficult to ascent but the decent might be trickier. I feel all those 9000m which I have climbed in the last days including this one. Norbert also seems to be fighting too, probably he still hasn’t quite recovered from yesterday’s tour-de-force. I take a couple of shots, then pass him and catch up with Judith. Above us the rest of the crew is waiting. Vid explains that now the only climbing section will follow – a chimney ascent, a short ledge traverse, the descent into a saddle (grade UIAA I) and back up out onto the Dovški Križ south ridge. And yes – this mountain in front of us is Dovški Križ. We look up and see a broad summit, looking unspectacular throughout.
So there is a ledge to cross – not a very difficult one – actually there are several possible paths, which all end in the same spot. Here suddenly everything drops for several metres tovards a v-shaped saddle on the other side of which the mountain drops of into the abyss. He assures us that this is “Jug's Couloir”, a route he described for SP as a ski tour! Those Slovenians must be mad to go up this thing in winter!
I get pushed out of the saddle (from which I was taking a picture of Špik) by Judith who complains about traffic jams and those that cause them and head out for the south ridge. Again easy going but – again – lots of scree. This won’t be fun on the return journey. Feeling outpowered I take the chance of shooting pictures every other dozen steps – the scenery is very inviting. The Rokavi, Škrlatica, Velika Ponca, Mala Ponca, Špik, Siroka Peč, Kukova Špika, Škrnatica and above everything mighty Triglav. Vid has chosen our destination well!
Finally everybody is on the summit, including the usual visitors, the alpine choughs. Everybbody (minus the choughs who seem to be used of it) take pictures of the views and again Bor points out the summits to me. I retaliate by pointing out to him that we climbed 1600m exactly. Also, it’s time for some food now and we take a rest. From the Škrnatica a climbing party of two heads in our direction, then a second. Yes, this is place is remote and nobody ever goes here ;-)
After some 20 – 30min we start to get restless since – remember? – the pancakes are calling us from the bivouac site. Time to goof around with a group photo of the seven SP summit heroes, then we pack and prepare for the descent.
Yoghurt PancakesAs expected, coming down the broad Dovški Križ south ridge turns out to be scary. There are enough narrow places where a slip could be fatal so that everybody takes extreme care. Bor and Fabrizio take the lead and soon put some distance between themselves and the gals who follow. Bor even climbs to the ledges while we all are still struggling and stands up there like Mr. Cool supervising our efforts. It takes quite a while until we all finally get to where he is.
The remainder is unspectacular – the usual descent – but the scenery strikes me as very beautiful. Escpecially as I look up to see where Vid and Norbert have disappeared some nice towers and rock outcroppings surprise me. Strange that I haven’s seen them during the ascent, but weather has turned for the better, illuminating the structures. And here Norbert and Vid appear, a double headed monster
Before unpacking the cuisine we decide to climb Splevta – as an appetizer, so to say. It turns out that the ascent is easy, that there is a small meadow beneath its summit, perfect for pitching a tent, and that the mountain is ideally located as a lookout peak. Right in the focal point of the large cirque, which the Rokavi make up together with Oltar it nevertheless offers views deep inside the Julian Alps. Even Krn, one of the southernmost 2000ers of the range can be seen.So this will be “my” Julian Alps summit. Nice.
Back at the cuisine we pick up the things and search for a good place to bake pancakes. After some more steps it is easily found on a broad, grass covered ledge in full view of “my” Splevta. Jasmina starts the procedure but now it turns out there is too much yoghurt in the dough and it takes forever to bake a single pancake. Judith’s first, then Fabrizio, afterwards all the others. Only Jasmina refuses. “Never trust a cook who doesn’t eat her own cooking” – Vid jokes and actually she is missing something. Hot pancakes with jelly or chocolate here in the fresh mountain air. A unique experience!
Unfortunately the mountain air is getting fresher by the minute. Clouds have obscured the sun and a nasty wind has sprung up, directly from the wrong direction. We have to secure our “fireplace” with all the backpacks we have to shelter the flames from the air – otherwise we will be baking pancakes all weekend long. “And I tell you - I won’t take anything down the mountain”. Jasmina is quite resolute. There is a second round for everybody and finally she has a pancake herself.
Like it was a sign – we all pack up and prepare for the descent. A memorable descent!
A Scree KangarooVid tells us we should be going as fast as possible – there’d be a lot of fun to gain. Actually we should try jumping. “No need to do that” – Jasmina breaks in, “I only know one person who does this. He actually bounds down the slope in long jumps”. “Like a kangaroo…” – I comment. Considering the state of my knees I know one person who won’t jump. And Judith assures me she won’t either.
So we take a few steps until we reach the edge of the first scree slope. And off they go – Bor and Jasmina start of at high speed with Fabrizio right after them. Judith slowly marches through the scree with me following.
And then it happens! Out of the corner of my eye I see something accelerating behind me, with a few steps it paces by both of us and then it is airborne. A scree kangaroo! Maybe the last one surviving!
|(For those of you who are zoologically interested:|
The northern scree kangaroo – Macropus borealis pogachniki – is an almost extinct species which occurs on the scree slopes of the Slovenian mountain ranges. Rumours have it that it has been sighted as far away as the Dolomites but those rumours have not been confirmed. Only very few specimen survive and for decades the species has thought to be extinct. Sighting one specimen beneath the Splevta south face in the Julian Alps thus amounts to a zoological sensation.
Unlike its southern brethren the northern scree kangaroo does not bounce with both feet. It rather takes a few steps to accelerate, then takes off to land on all fours. It is a very specialized species having sprouted pole—like protuberances from its forearms, which help it to stabilize while landing. Moreover, Macropus borealis does not have a tail to keep it steady while airborne and it is a mystery to scientists how it stabilize its flight phase. It has a pouch, which - strangely enough – resembles a camera bag, strung tightly across its shoulder.)
It chases Bor and both head down the mountain like rockets. Every now and then both – or one of them stops to look at all the others coming down the slopes – then they bound off again. During one of these relaxation phases I sneak by and head down the next slope before the scree kangaroo does its next bounces. I position myself at the bottom of the slope and put my camera to shoot constantly. Off it goes and I take a series of some twenty shots – the only ones known to exist from this reclusive animal!
The Accident – The Waterfall RevisitedExuberant as we are – almost everybody tries a jump here or there – we finally reach the lower end of the scree slopes. Vid warns us before he heads down the last section that we have to make sure to step off the scree in time – better to early than too late. We nod – and down he goes, followed closely by Bor. Fabrizio and Jasmina go more slowly with me following quite close. Judith and Norbert take their time. Finally we reach the place where the slope narrows into the gully which goes on for some 30m before heading out into the void: the waterfall. Bor and Vid head down the gully and easily step aside 5m atop the fall. Jasmina and Fabrizio step out way before that and I slowly slide by them, happily telling them that you only have to push enough scree along with you to surpass any of the small obstacles which bar the gully. Finally I step out of it right next to Vid and Bor. Jasmina and Fabrizio join us and we wait for the other two. Judith appears on our horizon and steps out of the gully immediately, following the well trodden path to its side. Norbert is still nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly – not 5m from us – Judith’s concentration slips, she steps on a scree covered rock without being prepared for it and goes down like felled by an axe. She comes down heavily on the bordering of the gully with her left side, tries to hold herself up but then her feet disappear in the gully and she smashes her face on the same bordering. I immediately jump into the gully to try to secure her if she slides towards the fall while vid – far more reasonably rushes to her to see if he can help. I fight with the scree for the next thirty seconds which seem like minutes, finally extracting myself from that damn gully. Vid waves Norbert frantically aside, who has appeared on top of the gully and so far seems to be unaware of what has happened.
To spare any details – it is a bloody affair. We are lucky to have collected all the water when we first visited this place in the morning – now we have enough to wash the wounds. Bor sacrifices a package of tissues which at the end of the day will be bloodied all over. After a while Judith assures us that all her teeth are still firm in place and that her nose does not feel broken. Her side hurts and there is still a lot of blood gushing out of her nose. There is a cut from the nose to her upper lip – more cannot be seen.
After a while she tries to sit up – then lies back because she feels like fainting – then again sits and tries to quell the bloodletting. After about half an hour she gives the sign that she wants to give it a try. “I have to get down anyway”. Jasmina inspects her face commenting with the same remark that Judith said to me after my famous fall near Monte Pelmo: “That doesn’t look good!”
What Remained Of The ClimbIn a very subdued mood we set out to descend the remaining 500m to our cars. Vid mumbles “what a pity” every now and then, the others are moot. Fabrizio watches over Judith and me for a while – the others have already gained some ground on us. Finally – when he sees that we can cope – he passes us and lets us to ourself – thanks a lot for that! We descend in our own pace and rhythm, taking breaks each time the nose starts bleeding more. Naturally we get lost again but somewhere Fabrizio hovers about us and after a quick call he set us right. If only there wasn’t so much scree around. Judith descends into a little creek bed to do some rockhopping there but eventually the next scree slope cannot be avoided.
Finally we drop under the cover of the trees and know that the trailhead can’t be far. The others finally have vanished from sight but since we are on a dirt road now we’ll be sure to find our car. Reaching it we opt out of any arrangements for the day and for tomorrow, just wishing to be home and inspect the damage. We say our quick good byes, Judith receives a lot of well-wishes, we get in the car and are gone.
“I think I’ll have to check with some doctor – could you call Vid, to see if he thinks we can arrange consulting one tomorrow (Sunday)?” – Judith has just come out of the bathroom – “ I think something is cut within the nose. It feels like I can reach behind my cheek”.
Vid’s mobile is turned off – he had already said on the summit that it was running out of power. We don’t have any number of the other crew members so what shall we do? Suddenly I remember our landlady and Judith calls her, while I’m preparing dinner. After some discussions back and forth Judith puts away the phone. “She’ll be here presently”.
After ten minutes there’s a knock on the door and Mina steps in. She has a look at Judith’s face and immediately suggests we should go to the hospital in Jessenice. “They’ll take all day and night so you can even go right away. Bleeding hasn’t stopped so we decide we will go. It’s 8 p.m. now and the nose has not stopped bleeding for three hours now. Mina places a call with the hospital and says that it’s ok to come now. “But first I need some dinner”.
I’m sitting in one of the waiting rooms of the hospital in Jessenice trying to concentrate on my book. Judith has consulted a doc, they made some x-rays of her face, then another one and now she’s gone missing. A nurse has appeared and has given me her spectacles, telling me that now she’ll be operated on, “just a few stitches”. The waiting room is empty now. Apart from Judith, there’s only one patient left and I’m the only visitor.
Around 11:30 p.m. I hear voices, one a familiar one. Judith returns with the doc who gives her the last instructions – no mountains tomorrow, find yourself a good restaurant and drink a coffee or two – but nothing serious. Tomorrow will be the last fine day before a bad weather period. Too bad. The nurse with whom we have to pay the bill, repets the instructions – lie low tomorrow.
The Day After
No doubt those instructions were ok. We’re in Soča Valley, trying to hike to the source of Soča. At each effort the stitches in the nose start pulsing and we’re creeping along like octogenarians…
Still a day without many efforts. The weather has turned for the worse and we have hiked to the waterfalls near Gozd Martuljek. It was almost a normal hike, only her rib was hurting at each motion. Judith has found a protected chimney, through which you can climb to the basin of the upper waterfall and starts climbing it.
Seems like we’re back in business again!