Expeditions, Navigation, Guided Walks and Trekking
I know, this is so last year, but I am behind on my blogging while I research the history of my backyard mountain. So I’m currently catching up while on a winter holiday. This is the story of our climb up Triglav, the highest mountain in the Julian Alps and Slovenia. This splendid peak is important to the Slovenian’s, it is on their national flag and the summit and its turret are protected national monuments.
We were in Slovenia late September last year on our annual trip to the high mountains. None of us could make it until late in the season, university drop-offs and other work taking priority until then. So we looked for mountains where the season stretched to the end of the month with the huts staying open. Slovenia is great, the mountains are friendly but challenging, paths and huts everywhere. Roads and tracks take one into the valleys or high up onto the passes. We stayed at Kranjska Gora, a small winter and summer resort, with a handy RV park and Airbnb for the seven of us.
On our third day there, four of us set off to climb Triglav. That’s usually a two-day trip, with an overnight at one of the huts on the rocky plateau below the summit. It’s either a long long walk from the south of the mountain after driving from Bled or a shorter drive from Kranjska, a long climb up through the woods and the edge of the north face. We were for the harder climb of course, so the drive from Kranjska Gora took us through the forested Vrata valley to a large car park by the Aljazev Dom (Dom is a Slovenian alpine hut or hostel). This late in the season the Dom was closed and the car park free, a result.
A track headed up the valley to a 5-metre piton and karabiner, a monument to the Patriots in the second world war who hid out in these remote valleys. Across the river, the path started up the lower wooded slopes of the Tominskova Pot (aka Tominsek route). As we gained height the path crossed ribs of rock and then out onto exposed rock faces to scramble across. There was plenty of wire protection where needed with the occasional stemple steps to ease a steep section. As the exposure increased we put our VF kit, mostly as a confidence booster.
The higher we got the vegetation became smaller, tall trees replaced by dwarf pines. Coming out of the trees the temperature rose from a chilly 2° in the valley to a much more pleasant 15° high up in the sun. Spectacular views opened up across to the giant vertical north face of Triglav. We gradually worked our way through the rocky ribs and out above the wall. As the climb started to level out, we came out above a canyon to the right. Here, the Prag route dropped down into the dark face from below a vast scree slope. This was to be our route down the next day. It looked tough and very exposed, although according to the guidebook, it was slightly easier than our way up.
So far, we had met just one other person since leaving the car park, but as we reached the junction with the way down other climbers started coming down the track. These were the early risers who had been up to the summit from the hut and now on their way down. Grassy patches at the edge of the tree line were a good place to stop for lunch, both on the way up and down. A small spring dripping water down the rock face was just enough to refill an empty water bottle. From there it was a slog up the side of the scree to a vast limestone pavement and a struggle to follow the red path markings through the maze of rock, bolders and holes that were the remains of the bottom of the Triglav glacier. Another 90 minutes across the pavement took us a final wall scramble to the Dom.
This was a tough route to the hut, some 1,600m ascent across some rough and steep terrain. An exhausting climb, but we made it eventually. Spectacular views were to be had from the hut, the summit block of Triglav to the west or looking down the valley to the south and east towards Lake Bled. From the terrace, there is a grandstand view of the climbers going up and down the face to the lower summit of Triglav, then silhouetted on the arete and summit.
As we arrived, helicopters were delivering a large stack of batteries. The hut was installing more solar power making it self-sufficient in power. Shame the hut had run out of water though, sanitation relied on dry long drop toilets with an upwards draft of cold air circulating the ripe smells. You had to be careful with toilet paper otherwise it would fly into the air between your legs when let go. A new experience, even for me.
The hut had no record of our booking, but there was plenty of rooms left for just the four of us. It was good to avoid the noisy dormitory, although one had to be careful leaning against the cardboard dividing wall, it looked like just a sharp push and one would be in the next room. Food quality was lacking; sauerkraut soup with a large sausage thrown in was the best on offer. I made the mistake of ordering the beef soup which had no pasta, sausage, or beef in it at all. So I filled up with the extra yummy Apple Strudle and a few beers. All the tables were full and we were squeezed up next to a Slovenian who had walked up from the south, a route he took every year or when he was a young lad. But as he got older, he said, he started to miss the walk and not been up for the last 10 years. Now he had turned 70 he decided to revisit Triglav. He was sad his wife couldn’t be with him, she used to come but was not good after breaking her leg. We met him next day on the summit, such a wonderful Slovenian.
Outside, I took a short stretch of the legs and caught the juxtaposition of the moon setting behind the col between the main summit and the south top. Tied up outside was a friendly dog of unknown breed, but a well insulated one to cope with the mountain cold. It played with the stick I found and was gone later no doubt leaving with someone who had summited that evening.
At dusk, many climbers left the hut to spend the night at the summit, catching the sunset and sunrise. A squad of reserve soldiers stayed late, getting louder as the evening drew on and breaking into their own marching songs. An evening’s impromptu entertainment was provided by a local walking group, singing and dancing to guitar and accordion well into the night. They must have been in the next room to us, the noise continued well past lights out, keeping us awake, even after the long day and hard climb.