Present: Claire (organiser), Richard N, Sarah, Bruce, Paula, Dave W, Rhoda, Bob, Sue, Si, Laura, Andy H
The Julian Alps of Slovenia were a new destination for NMC, although not at all new to “tour leader” Claire, who was on her third visit in three years. On Saturday morning, 12 people assembled at Stansted for full English breakfasts and a “who has the lightest backpack” competition. Si lost, his bag weighing in at nearly 10kg (“I don’t know what I’ve got in there…”), while Paula had managed to pack everything into a 22l rucksack – apart from the few things that Dave was carrying on her behalf.
On arrival in Ljubljana, the heat was immediately noticeable; not just because we’ve had hardly any summer here, we don’t often get 33-degree-plus temperatures anyway. We caught a bus to Bled, where our first night’s accommodation was in the Youth Hostel. The lake at Bled is almost unbelievably picturesque, with its castle on an island in the middle. When told that the planned dinner location was an hour round the lake in one direction or 10 minutes in the other, hunger won over any desire to stretch our legs, and we swiftly arrived at a local pizzeria for food, beers, and a chance to watch several hundred runners in head torches circumnavigate the lake. On our way back to the hostel, Rhoda decided to join in with the runners and got a few cheers, possibly because she was also carrying a pizza box. Many of the group diverted to a bar to end the evening with a few local schnapps.
Sunday morning required a prompt start: the 8.15 bus to the lake at Bohinj, which was the start and end point of the walk. Once we’d acquired a few 1:25000 maps of the area (which served to remind us how spoilt we are by having the Ordnance Survey in the UK) and taken a few photos while we were all still pristine, we set off on a long, hot and sweaty ascent which ultimately took us to Dom na Komni, a nicely appointed hut at 1520m. The hut is approximately 1000m above the lake, but there was a lot of ascent and descent on the route – Claire swore that the walk was 15km, but due to the temperatures and the backpacks, it felt more like 15 miles. There were a couple of huts on the way for beer stops and water refills; at the first hut Rhoda became convinced that she’d left her passport in Bled. Two phone calls to the Youth Hostel later, it turned up in her bag.
The first day’s route also took in the summit of Prsivec (1761m) and Crno Jezero, a high-level lake. As the day wore on, the group spread out: Andy turned his ankle, and Laura fell twice on the downhill section by Crno Jezero – no injury, but all we could hear was hysterical giggles as she attempted to get the better of her rucksack and recover from her “upturned beetle” position. Richard was first to arrive at the hut, shortly before 8pm, and the rest came in over the next 45 minutes, more than ready for dinner and a few drinks. The dinner menu seemed to revolve around cabbage soup and tripe, but the apple strudel was much appreciated and nobody had much room for Richard’s birthday cake, which had survived Easyjet baggage handling and being dragged up into the mountains. It wasn’t a late night for anyone – the dorm rooms were comfortable, although Dave did complain about being kicked in the head by Bruce during the night.
At the start.
Paula descending from Tolminski Kuk.
On Monday morning, Andy’s ankle had swelled up, so he and Laura set off on the downward path to Savica. The remaining walkers split into two groups of five. Claire led Dave, Paula, Richard and Si on a high route over Bogatin (1977m), Tolminski Kuk (at 2085m the high point of the entire route involving a slightly exposed scramble) and from Skrbina pass (1910m) down a nasty scree path leading eventually to the hut. The entire route gave us superb far reaching views and spectacular mountain scenery, with a welcome cooling breeze accompanying us along the way. Dave didn’t let us linger for long, determined to beat the other group to the hut.
Meanwhile, Bruce led Sarah, Bob, Sue and Rhoda on a lower route, through high Alpine meadows and valleys with plenty of opportunity for flora and fauna spotting. Bob was convinced he’d seen a bear in the mouth of a cave through his binoculars, but further scrutiny established it was probably a deer. Once again it was very warm, and we were quickly all dripping with sweat in a very attractive fashion. Every piece of shade and breath of breeze was welcomed with relief, and reaching the Globoko pass at 1828m was extremely refreshing. From there the route dropped down to Koca na Planini Razor at 1320m, and the group succeeded in their aim to reach the hut before the others, by a mere 30 minutes or so.
Koca na Planini Razor is an Alpine cottage in very pretty surroundings, and even had a boulder for us to play on. After relaxing (recovering) in the sun and demolishing the remains of Richard’s cake, we availed ourselves of large amounts of goulash washed down with local wine, and then attempted to play an over-complicated card game called Backpacker, which Sarah regretted carrying in because it really wasn’t worth the effort! Later on Bob and Rhoda disappeared on a bear hunt, and there was some star-gazing before going to bed.
10 remaining at Razor
On the summit of Vogel
On Tuesday the whole group ascended Mount Vogel (1922m), reaching the summit in less than the 1-and-three-quarter hours stated on the signpost at the hut. On the way up Paula spotted a family of marmots which seemed to be waving at us. The descent from Vogel was slightly exposed, which is always interesting when you’re wearing a heavy rucksack which seems to have a mind of its own, and there were a few other sections of scrambling on the ridge walk to Mount Rodica (1966m) and finally Dom Zorka Jelincica na Crni Prsti (1835m).
By this time four members of the group had taken a different route, to Orlova Glava, and then the cable car down from the Vogel Ski hotel – Sarah was worried her knackered knees wouldn’t like Wednesday’s descent to the lake, Bruce accompanied her, and Bob and Rhoda fancied trying out some of the activities around the lake (not just drinking, really). They all met up with Laura and Andy in Ribcev Laz for a meal and some more star-gazing, and at the end of the evening Bruce and Andy met their alcoholic match in the form of some wormwood-flavoured liqueur.
The six at Crni Prsti enjoyed the evening views from the summit accompanied by a few beers to celebrate another superb day in the mountains. Apart from another English couple we had befriended along the way, we had the hut to ourselves, but only had the choice of cabbage or barley soup for dinner, followed by some wafer biscuits (luckily Paula didn’t open the text from Rhoda displaying a photo of their dinner). It filled us up though, and we spent the remainder of the evening drinking more beer and playing cards by candlelight. Although a stunning location, the hut is basic, without even water, so the wet wipes were put to good use before going to bed.
On Wednesday the remaining walkers descended from Crni Prsti in very good time, and met up with everyone else at the lake for a much-deserved swim. Temperatures by this time were definitely in the mid-thirties, and it was slightly bizarre to look up at the mountains from the lake and realise just how far had been walked. After a good lunch, it was time for a bus journey back to the airport and home, not to mention an opportunity to compare bruises, scrapes, insect bites and sunburn.
The Julian Alps turned out to offer fantastic scenery and a few days of challenging hut-to-hut walking, with significant amounts of ascent and descent. Everyone had a great time, and the trip felt like much longer than five days, because we packed so much in.
Sarah Davies, Claire White