Walkabout California

Hiking Inn to Inn

Slovenia's Julian Alps - Hiking Hut to Hut

Beautiful Slovenia, a pastoral country of 2 million, lies in So. Central Europe, nestled between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea.  Set in its NW corner, in the Julian Alps, Triglav National Park is a land of raging rivers, crystalline lakes, alpine meadows, and soaring peaks.  At its heart stands Mt. Triglav, Slovenia’s tallest mountain.

After spending a few days in Slovenia’s enchanting capital, Ljubljana with my wife, Heidi, we took a bus to the mountain resort town of Bled.  A 30 minute taxi ride brought us to Rudno Polje (1,347m), the starting point for a six day trek from mountain hut to hut. 

It was raining lightly as we hit the trail, climbing through a forest of fir, pine, and larch.  The feathery larch sprays glowed in the mountain mist.

The park’s trails are well marked, and signs give hiking times, not distances.  The trailhead sign said it is a three hour hike to our first hut, Vodnikov dom, but we were in no hurry on this trek.  We wanted to go slow, to savor the journey and the destination.

 Ascending out of the forest, we entered a rocky glaciated valley at the foot of barren Mt. Visevnik and climbed steeply on loose scree to the pass, Studorski Preval (1,892m).  The trail then leveled, winding along the mountainside.  Lush, verdant valleys lay below us.

Rounding a bend, we stopped, awestruck.  The three limestone peaks of Mt. Triglav (2,864m) came into view.  Clouds enshrouded the summit, then moved on, and the sun shined bright on the mountain’s white face.  A kilometer later, we arrived at our first hut.

Vadnikov dom (1,817m) is a two story wooden house with dorms and private rooms.  After our 8k hike, we were delighted when upon our arrival, the two ladies who managed the hut offered us beer, wine, or schnapps.  We settled into a private room with two twin beds and a mountain view for 37 euros, then joined two Americans and five Slovenian climbers for a spaghetti dinner.  Tales of hikes and climbs across Europe were spun over glasses of wine while our clothes dried by the wood stove.

There are dozens of huts and miles of trails in the park.  The Alpine Association of Slovenia (www.en.pzs.si) is a great resource for maps and books.  A membership, which can be purchase online for 55 euros, entitles you to accident insurance while in the mountains and discounts at Slovenia’s mountain huts as well as other European and Canadian huts.  Ciscerone (www.cicerone.co.uk) is also a good resource for books on hiking all over the world, including Slovenia.

We hiked in late September.  In another week, many huts would close for the winter.  It’s good to make reservations during the summer, but we didn’t need them this late in the season.

Mt. Triglav towered high above us as we set out on day two.  We could just barely make out our destination, Dom Planika (2,401m), a hut perched on a bare rock plateau below the summit.  This day’s hike, beautiful and challenging, was only three kilometers.

Our trail hugged the mountainside.  Sections were so narrow and exposed that steel cables and anchors had been fixed to the stone, a via Ferrata or Iron Way.  We reached a pass, and a howling wind almost knocked us off our feet.  The trail climbed steeply over loose scree.  At times the mighty wind pushed us backwards, and we staggered for a few steps.

Then it started to rain.

We were happy to reach the hut.  A Slovenia hiking club soon joined us.  They were exuberant, breaking out flasks, buying beers, and tossing back shots of schnapps with shouts and laughter.

This remote hut is supplied by helicopter, so the menu is a bit more limited than other huts.  We dined on cabbage soup, goulash, polenta, and sausage.  Outside, the wind roared, reaching hurricane force, 120k/hr.  We briefly ventured out before nightfall to take in the last moments of sunshine on rugged peaks stretching to the horizon.

Fortunately, the hut is built for severe weather.  It has two large dorms.  The hiking club took over one, and they partied until the wee hours.  We were thankfully assigned to the quiet dorm along with a half dozen hikers from all over Europe

It is said that every “true” Slovenian needs to stand atop Mt. Triglav once in her life time.  The summit is about a two hour climb from the hut with via Ferrata to manage stretches of wicked exposure.  Helmets are recommended because of falling rocks.

It looked like none of us were going to summit this day. A gale still blew at 80k/hr., so we headed out for a 7k hike to our next hut.  The wind quickly tore off Heidi’s pack cover and sent it soaring over the ridge, never to be seen again.  Once we left the exposed flank of Triglav, the wind began to calm.

We hiked methodically over loose shale and wet rock. The cables and iron steps of the via Ferrata made difficult sections easy.  What a joy it was to hike these high alpine trails through miles of rocky terrain.  We ran into only two other hikers all day.

We passed a small lake and spotted our next hut, Zasavska koca na Prehodvcih (2,071m), high on a ridge.  It was like the other huts, unfailingly pleasant at the end of day’s hike.  People from all over the world are happy to meet and eager to talk.  The food is simple and nourishing.  The beer and wine is plentiful.  The staff is friendly and helpful.

As we left in the morning, we spotted a chamois, an alpine goat-antelope, lounging on a rock, studying us.  We were now hiking on the E7 European Long Distance Footpath.  The idea of following it to Portugal was tempting.

Descending through Triglav Lakes Valley, we passed beautiful ponds and lakes, leaving the raw rocky slopes and dropping below the tree line.  The two remaining huts at lower elevation are more easily supplied.  They are more posh and the menus more varied.  We even got to take a shower!

On our final day, we descended 1,000m to Lake Bohinj (526m), another beautiful Slovenian mountain resort town and arrived just in time for the annual Cow Festival.  Hundreds of locals gathered for the bringing of the cows down from the mountains into the valleys for the winter.  They celebrated in traditional costumes with music, dancing, food, and beer.  And we joined them, happy to celebrate Slovenia and a long walk through amazing Triglav National Park.

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