This trip took place more than two years ago, but I thought it would be good for the mood to post it in the middle of this gloomy winter. I wrote a text in french about it before, and translating it was in my mind for some time, partly also because the community of this part of Europe is quite active on SummitPost. There is no picture gallery in this trip report, because I created a dedicated album some time ago.
Triglav and Slovenia were already an old dream for both Dorota and me. From my side, I felt a strong curiosity for this southern country from which originate the mediatic "beasts" of my home mountains. More seriously, my knowledge of the Alps is below zero, a paradox for a Frenchman, so let's start with Slovenia ! But this journey is above all a double pilgrimage: first of all to my origins, since my paternal grandparents were Friulians (not exactly the same region, but almost), and also my new country of adoption in the "widest cultural and linguistic sense", since I expatriated to Poland, this other slavic country.
For Dorota, who has that nationality, the fantasm is even greater. Triglav, the highest point of Slovenia, is a truly emblematic summit. Present on the national flag and on coins, no other mountain in the world symbolizes so much one nation. So much so that its fame extends well beyond its borders, especially in Central Europe, where we can meet countless Czechs, Hungarians, Slovaks, Poles and so on, who come to climb the fetish mountain of the Slovenes, kind of jealous of not owning such a beautiful and charismatic one at home.
In short, Triglav is a kind of sacred mountain and a fascinating destination, no matter if said to be crowded.
After visiting the beautiful cities of Maribor, then Kamnik, followed by a couple of days of wicked weather, a new crenel of three days of almost perfect weather tends to confirm. We had to jump on the opportunity. I would have prefered to do some sort of warming up like a gentle day-hike (Dorota hasn't walked for ages) before eating the biggest part of the Slovenian cake, but it was taking the risk of missing the sun. What's more, this "window" had the advantage to be located during the weekdays, sticking with our idea to avoid the crowded mountain-huts during weekends. Without any hesitation, Dorota and I decided to head to Triglav.
No more time to loose. After a delicious restaurant in Radovljica (« Gostlina Lectar »), and a brief walk in this pretty medieval town, we immediately start shopping, then to look after for a dry place near our starting point (last night was pouring rain and we are all wet !). There is a multitude of possible approaches to climb Triglav. All those from the North side have the advantage of being very direct, but the elevation is excessively important, almost 2000m ! Too much for Dorota's knees. There is also the Soča Valley in the West, but that's kind of convoluted trailhead, and too long to reach by car for today. We choose the South, from the Bohinj Lake. This starting point is renowned for its beauty, and this route will allow us to cross a multitude of various sites of interest. This approach is certainly longer, but much more progressive, and the hike will keep us busy for three days, making a decent overview of the area, another of our goals.
Bohinj is a huge natural lake three kilometers long, lying in the large central valley of this part of the Alps we call the "Julian Alps".
Upon our arrival, heavy rain-clouds still struggle ro retreat, and Bohinj looks like a Scottish Loch. I had printed few adresses of accomodations, but they all turn out to be full, since we didn't book anything, prefering to follow the divine commandments of the weather, as we always do. Discouragement slowly takes over as we ring further and further, and despite we both avoid the topic, the perspectives of another wet cold night in the campsite increase. Then, we decide to move up in the hills of Stara Fužina, the village adjacent to the lake. Our first attempt fails, but for the second, an old woman invites us to stay while she gives a phone call. The next second, a little girl guides us few houses away, and install us at the second floor of a hundred years old house, for a very affordable price.
The genuine smell of real mountain hamlets goes up into our nostrils, and we immediately prefer this place than the touristic ones near the lake. In addition, our vehicle will be safe here, since we just noticed that all places neighbouring the lake have parking fees. The delicate operation of the making of hiking rucksacks starts just as we finish a warm dinner, full of excitement, while the inside tent canvas dry in the staircase.
As we always do, I will play ma favourite role of the sherpa, since the cartilages Dorota's knees are fragiles, and we must optimise as much as we can. This way, I inherits of two duvets, all warm clothes, as well as two bottles of mineral water, since I read this limestone range is kind of dry and desertic, without many sources, which Dorota additionally tends to drink with suspicion. We know from experience than loaded this way, we go about the same speed, except on the flat...
The Seven Lakes
We wake up at the first ray of light, abandoning with a slight regret our providential accomodation. Some cloaks of mist still float over the lake, but we recognize suddenly the silhouette of Triglav through a gap, remote in the north and bathed by the pink of the sunrise. This early awakening is justified by the fact that our starting point is different than expected, and we must walk along the whole shore of the lake before starting elevating. We leave behind us the car parks, shops and cafés, desertic at this time, to walk along the road, next to the the water where scull boats are moored here and there. The opposite end of the lake if even more luxuous than the first, with pretty B&B in the traditional local style, and grassy gardens as clean as English golf courses. The end becomes a path as we leave the last houses, and we soon start a steep ascent.
That's one of the reasons why I thought about making the loop in this direction : there is a huge wall of 400m of height ("Komarca"), all under the forest, to walk up all at once. In the middle of this amphitheater is located « Slap Savica », one of the country's tallest waterfalls, to which most of the hikers we meet are heading to. But many groups go the same way as us, and we keep passing each other as we make breaks. We keep seeing a couple of English, two Australian girls, and two old fellows from France, which gaves us a foretaste of the popularity of the area...
The beginning of the climb, initially generous, gradually reveals limestone outcrops as pure as white chalk, between green beechnuts and various other trees fruits, fallen during yesterday's rains. Slovenian forests are beautiful and smell nice. Many laces higher and later, hardwoods have given place to conifers and we pass the last and sharpest ledges, secured here and there with chains. I feel very admirative towards the people who traced this path, following to most generous slopes and accidents of this huge and complex wall, all hidden in the forest... It must have been a huge trail-building work !
The climb suddenly stops and leave place to a flat area, which we follow for a couple of hundred meters, before breaking over a small lake, Črno jezero (Black Lake), very surprisingly nestled in the middle limestone area, between some wall rubbles. The atmosphere of the place is kind of strange. We both have the same feeling, like if we walked the wet and green forests of the French Pyrenees, and suddenly reached the dry Spanish ones. I do feel like being on the road to some sort of place like the Cotiella, a feeling that will be confirmed as we walk further.
We just reached the first of the "Seven Lakes", which make the name of the valley we ascend, an extremely popular destination, leading to the hut Zasavska koča, our goal for this first day.
The rest comes in the form of a gradually rising trail, without interruption into the forest. Here and there, we walk along the foot of limestone walls, sometimes very tightly with my huge rucksack. Then the trail ends up turning right into a small climb, leading to nearby out of upper level of the forest, made for now of scattered larch and dwarf pines, growing just like if planted as a true garden, in the middle of sparkling lawns.
Ahead of us appears the second lake, a beautiful blue and wide pond overlooked by the first rocky peaks, dazzling white under the sun. We both stop speechless, amazed by such beauty, and both already conquered by the charm of the Slovenian mountains. Just after, almost contiguous, lie another marsh of water with the same dimention, on the side of which, with great taste, was chosen the location of "Koča pri Triglavskih Jezerih", the "hut of the Triglav lakes".
We stop here for a lunch. The sky is pure, clear of any single cloud, but the wind is blowing furiously, and we quickly give up a sunbathing attempt to go inside. We have the strange impression that all nations are represented around us, except the Slovenes! A bit anxious, we wonder if they all have planned to sleep in the same place than us ... After lunch, we hit the road again, and start rising into an arid valley, whose two sides are made of limestone boulders, and whose only bottom has a little bit of greenery... for now at least. A few kilometers later, after a bump, while our eyes are looking for the place of the next break, we are once again dazzled by the blue. Veliko Jezero, a huge deep lake, unfolds its beautiful azur tones, fifty meters below us.
Really, what strange place, geologically speaking, this Valley of the Seven Lakes! How did the king of limestone mountains could afford as many coquettishries ? One certain thing, this is clearly from glacial erosion, the opposite side being constituted by an impressive slab of karren in one piece. From now, everything is no more than stone and grass, as we continue to elevate gradually towards the hut, in an arid environment. As we reach a junction at the end of a hollow, the "Zasavska koča" building appears at the end of a sloping surface, as if perched on the edge of the void. The location is spectacular, and the view offers a breathtaking panorama on all the western Alps of Slovenia, with startling dolomitic perspectives on the great tenors: Jalovec, Mangart, Grintavec ... Indeed, this is perhaps the Italian Dolomites far ahead in the distance, against the sun. And these dark ones on the north are likely part of the Austrian Hohe Tauern. On the opposite side, we overlook from about a hundred meter the terminal basin of the Valley of the Seven Lakes, dominated by an immense rocky wall of marbled rock, in which lie the last three lakes. Half dry, fed only by some snow fields in such inhospitable area, they remind me of the sceneries my home Monte Perdido and its frozen lake.
For now, there is no time for any further examination of this panorama, which will entertain us all the rest of the evening. By the biggest of the lucks, we inheritate from the two last beds of the hut. The only bad new of this glorious day are two awful blisters on the heels of Dorota. At night, the last rays of purple just inflame the great wall that faces us. After this last show we had dinner and set off to bed without delay. In the evening, the last rays of light offer us the most gorgeous show possible, inflaming the limestone walls with purple lights. By the end of the show, we suddenly realize it's freezing cold, our eyelids suddenly remember of the early awakening and we'll go soon to bed.
Summit and blisters
The night, as always in small shelters, is punctuated by sneezes and snores of all possible sorts, and the sleep is all relative. I need no help to stay awake while I look for the arrival of the sunrise through the skylight. Dorota still sleeps like a new-born child, but I am standing at 5am in the right moment on the terrace of the hut with my camera. The wind is even more freezing than the day before, but once more the show annihilates my sufferance. The reverse of the day occurs as expected, towards the view that I already described. As most of the mountaineers tend to start very early in such places, the breakfast service comes soon after, and here is my team-mate coming down the creaking stairs, with a Bonnie Tyler hairstyle, "made in Triglav". When the tea is swallowed, plasters placed under the socks, we are again on the path for the D-Day. We descend a few hundred meters to yesterday's junction, which we take this time in the direction of "Hribarice".
This barbarous name gradually reveals its meaning: the place is about as inhospitable as its pronunciation. This is a high pass, a vast area of limestone debris from cracked karren, sometimes difficult to walk over, with no vegetation, where landmarks are scarce, and where despite the cairns, I prefer not to lose sight of the route those four hikers took just before us. Some squeaks pop from a corner, and we see two beautiful alpine ptarmigan taking off like cannonballs.
We finally get on a big notch, "Mišeljski Konec", quite spectacular pass, from where the "beast" suddenly appears: Triglav rises from his full height, its top holding some nebulae, like a shark fin cutting through the air. We look each other, half-scared, "How far?". However, the path that we are already seeing, reassures us someho, because it is a long gradual climb to the mountainside until the hut "Dom Planika", located just below the summit stops, whose roof shines in the sun.
The introduction requires the descent of a preliminary steep 200m gap under the pass, on sometimes unstable screes. After we reached the lowest point, we pass another hut, Tržaška Koča, near where we swap the heavy morning clothing against shorts and sunscreen, as the sun now shines straight on us, with a power multiplied by the surrounding whiteness, and we will only increase. This stage is kind of long and monotonous. Dorota's feet hurt and we periodically stop to readjust the plasters. "What ? Giving up Triglav ? Crazy or what ? I am bleeding all my feet, but no way I let Triglav slip away !". Everything is said ...
The few times when we turn back, we can admire the gate of "Mišeljski Konec" where we came from, and whose appearance becomes more and more spectacular as we move away. Triglav, on the opposite is less and less visible we precisely go to him. We pass a large grassy hollow in which we surprisingly find few grazing sheep, before we elevate to "Dom Planika", which we finally reach at 13pm.
Planika Dom is a real hikers anthill, arriving and departing from Triglav. More than a hut, it is a place to drink tea or plums liqueur for those who descend, here and there people congratulate themselves loudly. It also looks like the kind of place where to leave the bags, including an entire room to this purpose. Along the way, I also realized how foolish it was to lug my sherpa load to the top, making the roundtrip to the summit with a simple bag was much better. Dorota goes only with a small water bottle and a camera. After a meal, our turn has come to join the procession of the candidates.
Fog has envelopped a bit more the top, and masks the view of the corrie below, to our big dismay. We head to the base juqu'à base of the ridge, which, in my very personal opinion, makes the hardest part. Few chains and bars are here and there to secure the most exposed places, but the stone is loose, and one must be careful for a couple of steps. On the other hand, once the backbone is reached, except that the path can be impressive for newbies, it doesn't oppose any real complications, and the role of the ramp is mainly psychological.
We keep walking in the mist, to a large ledge, followed by a slight descent. It is indeed the first of the "three heads" of Triglav, the middle one being formed the true summit. Suddenly, a gust of wind sweeps a heap of fog and suddenly reveals the views of the North Slope, which we are still supposed to call the "Triglav glacier", but being in a pityful condition comparable to our Pyrenean glaciers. The roof of the hut "Dom Staniča", Dom Planika's alter ego on the other side, shines below. Just like some "way to heaven", the end of the ridge overlooks the clouds, and the metallic turret appears at last. The crowd swells On the last meters. We manage to find a nice spot to sit, near a group of Dutchmen that we met last evening at the shelter.
We are not really fans of crowded tops, but today we put aside these selfish feelings to rhapsodize instead about the class of this summit.
What a grandeur, what an atmosphere ! Triglav overlooks outragously all other surrounding mountains, within an incalculable perimeter. And how deep precipices beneath our feet! The three valleys north, with dolomitic walls, seem of unfathomable depth. Triglav is "only" 2863m, but very few peaks in my whole mountain life provided me such feeling. Though I try recall some pretty Pyrenean three-thousanders, I have the vague feeling of delivering myself a guilty chauvinism ... We are witnessing a ritual at least unusual: it is the custom here, for those who chose a rock-climbing route, to whip the "newbies" on the summit with ropes, "hazing" which they happily accept, under the flash of cameras.
The descent is made gently on the same route, without clouds this time. We finally get back to the hut after 5pm and multiple breaks. We spent not less than 4 hours for the top ! We get back big bag and redistribute the load, and it is with some regret that I re-metamorphose into a wandering elephant. The day is not over yet because we planned to sleep at the hut located still below, "Dom Vodnikov" in the valley that runs south-east.
The trail first descends quickly, thanks to small and sharp laces. There is suddenly no one around us. A beautiful light of late afternoon illuminates the ridge of the mountains in front of us. Only the chirping of some bird who breaks the silence. As we reached a crossroads, we turn right to follow a gradual descent, along the mountainside, to the hut.
The vegetation gradually reappears. The smell of pines, mixed with that of aromatic plants, is wonderful, perhaps it produces this effect to us as it was absent for so long now. Dom Vodnikov, the "quide's quarter" finally appears on the side of the slope, in an oasis of greenery, while the last orange rays of light finish to colour the landscape.
The sound of cow bells resound from the meadow below, the place is idyllic. Yesterday's Zasavska Koča, by its spectacular location, dazzled us as much as today's Dom Vodnikov is remarkable for the picturesque side. We congratulate eatch other for this judicious choice (much better than the probably crowded "Dom Planika") and sit until sunset, philosophizing on this unforgettable day and all sorts of things. I must say that rarely I spent such a nice moment in my life.
This time, there is no rush to book, there is certainly room in this huge building, looking friendly managed and family-like. The manager, unlike that of Zasavska, does not speak a single word of foreign language, except some basics of German, but she is nevertheless warmly affable. We are doubtful when we read the menu:
- "What does this mean? What's in it? "
- "Yes, of course we have it!"
- "Uh ... and it .. I mean, finally ... what is it exactly, what ingredients?"
- "Yes, that too we have! No problem!"
Finally, Dorota and I choose respectively a "Jota" and a "Vampi" without having the slightest idea what it is, except that it is recommended ... Our meals are copious mixtures of meat and vegetables, half-boiled half-soup, which finally turn out delicious. We share the room only with two German hikers extremely loaded: despite the park regulations, they brought a huge tent with them, even with the hammer to pitch the pegs !
I get again an early awakening, this time because of the lowing of cows that gathered next to the hut during the night, and thanks to this, I manage once more to be ready when Triglav is adorned with pink.
I chat in French with a Swiss guy here for the same contemplative purpose, until the arrival of the breakfast. As we discuss how fine is the place, he asserts me that Slovenian Alps are much nicer than the Italian Dolomites, crowded and disfigured by big concrete huts in the scenic places.
Returning to Bohinj is only a formality from here, but we chose to make it a little more complicated in order to visit some secret places. Rather than following the "highway" trail, we'll switch to a less crowded neighbouring valley, in the center of which is "Planina v Lazu".
I stumbled across this place by accident while typing map names on Google before leaving, and the pictures made me immediately fall in love. Planina v Lazu is a kind of vast clearing in the center of which lies a hamlet of wooden barns and farmhouses in the prettiest local style.
Although knackered, butchered blisters on her heels, Dorota eventually adopts this idea too, knowing that we had all our time to walk this last stage, with no rush for any summit or anything like this.
Below the hut, in the cows meadow, is a small farm. "Sir & Mleko" indicates the sign. Without my basics of Polish, I would not have the slightest idea of the meaning. But understanding each other one great advantage of all slavic languages ! A few minutes later we leave with a nice portion of Slovenian cheese. The farmer greets us cheerfully as we move away.
We cross flat bottom of the meadow, soft grass where the river flows in pretty meanders, before a temporarily raise to switch back into the next valley. There's not any single soul around. Who said that Slovenian mountains are overcrowded, apart from Triglav, yet so close ?
As I walk ahead, I fall suddenly nose to nose with a beautiful chamois, dark-haired and looking vigorous, ready to scamper if I move. As amazed as I, it remains motionless for half a minute, staring at me. Only when I think of my taking my camera, he reads into my mind, and disappears in a split second.
While we reach the pass, it is the turn of Dorota to fall on another dazzling demonstration of the nature: tens of square meters covered with edelweiss! We can not resist the urge to keep as a souvenir of one these delicate fluffy flowers...
The sun heat is getting heavy, and we make a break on a rocky passage under the pass, in the middle of a complex and anonymous lanscape of pastures and screes. In the distance, I spot a brown-red thing that moves. "A cow?" "A new chamois ? "A bear?". All assumptions are discussed. The animal eventually turns to be half-naked old man, scanning the area with binoculars. We are invited to share his activity for a short moment. "You see, there, these vultures ? And here, here, in the wall?". We do not see any but have a nice chat with him, before heading off again. He also decides to go and, unloaded unlike us, descends the slope at a running pace quick as a lightning.
We finally get to "Planina v Lazu" at the end of our slow descent. There is animation with people bustling around, some sitting outside, running children and hikers roaming around the houses. As we choose a bench to sit in the shade, someone calls us: "come and try!". The old man with binoculars is seated with a bowl, and makes energic hand signs. "The milk is fabulous, come!". Dorota hesitates, but I'm trying. An old woman of a certain age is dating a bowl for me. Hunchbacked, bent by years of work, she still has a beautiful face, red cheeks with a smile full of generosity and kindness. My milk is rather a kind of liquid yogurt, a little fermented but not bad at all.
Further, we are intrigued by another hut at the entrance of which strange wooden cylinders are drying in the sun, just like after some dishwasing. Noticing our perplexity, a man invites us to enter, and explains how these templates are used to press cheeses of various diameters. We end up leaving with another piece of cheese and satisfied with this cultural interlude.
Below is another place that had aroused my curiosity, while reading the map, to which we are heading. "Jezero na Planini" is a lake, again, in the Triglav range, entirely located in the forest level. A large lawn faces a delicate shore, like a beach. Another welcoming and very beautiful place, with a few old wooden farmhouses nearby. We stop in the nearby hut to drink some water. After this break, we feel increasingly reluctant to resume our way on the descending path, the feet of Dorota are excessively suffering from the slope, my legs and shoulders, carrying the burden for 3 days, are starting to ackowledge this fact too.
We reach Planina Blato, one step below, again with a couple of wooden farms, but unlike the latter the area is served by a track on which some vehicles are parked. "I'm exhausted!" exclaims Dorota, throwing the bag, looking bewildered at the length of track that we still have to descend through the woods to get back to Stara Fužina ...
Then, a popping sound suddenly comes from behind us. The driver of the old scooter is no one else than the old man with binoculars. "Tired, isn't it?". We do not reply but the dismay in our eyes certainly says long, and before we answer, he addresses a group of three old people loading a car trunk with crates, who he obviously knows: "What are you waiting for ?".
Certainly, a mountain is not entirely climbed if not completely gone down, but we didnt' ask for so much. We are immediately seated in the old Zastava with bags on our knees, sharing the space with a third behind. "I worked in England," explains the driver in a very proper English, as the conversation starts.
As agreed, they drop us in front of the bridge of Stara Fužina, near where our vehicle waits patiently, burning hot, in the place we left it which we hardly recognize. Triglav greets us a last time up there, shining in the sun, immensely far. In an outburst of joy, we jump into the arms of each other, enjoying the indescribable feeling of being back after such a fine trip.
We spend the rest of the evening wandering in sandals on the sunny shores of lake Bohinj. The statue of the "Zlatorog", above the emerald water, looks proudly to Triglav, the mountain of the Slovenians. The legend says that this "immortal golden Chamois, guardian of a hidden treasure, brings misfortune to all poachers trying to hunt him". I try to persuade myself that it was him I met.
Failing to have stolen his treasure, I am certain to have adopted the Slovenian mountains. Those in Poland may be very beautiful and pleasing me very much, but there is something I missed relentlessly. A Cocktail made of scents, lights, authenticity all in the same time, a gift that I thought only restricted to my Pyrenees so far.
I found in the Slovenian mountains the dose of "meridionality" I missed so much, which kept me dreaming so much during the long winter months. I like also the culture, which represents to me the perfect blend between the order of the Austrians, the relax of Italians, and the Slavic hospitality. From where we live, going to Slovenia barely equals a trip from Paris to the Pyrenees.
That's decided, Slovenian mountains are mine, they will be my spiritual second homeland.