Misadventures in Slovenia – The Julian Alps

“An adventure is a situation where the outcome is not entirely within your control. It is up to fate, in other words” – Henry Youngman

TriglavTriglav, at 2864m, is the highest mountain in Slovenia and the highest peak in the Julian Alps. The mountain is the Slovene National symbol and is the centrepiece of the Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s only national park.

With a resume like that and the fact it looked just so inviting in so many photos a plan had to be hatched to go and climb it!

While in India in 2018 I’d met two fellow mountain enthusiasts (enter Ben and Matt), we’d all climbed to the top of Stok Kangri together in Ladakh that year and had all shown an interest in having another adventure together. Fast forward to September 2019 and here we all were in Slovenia!

Plan A
The plan on paper was pretty simple, we had selected a medium difficulty Via Ferrata route on the northern side of Triglav named the Tominskova Pot which ascended to a mountain hut (the Triglavski dom na Kredarici). The next morning we would leave the hut early for a summit attempt before an afternoon descent all the way back down to the valley floor. Not overly ambitious if the weather played ball, which having strategically picked the most stable time of year (September), all looked infinitely achievable.

Tominskova Pot

We left on the morning of Friday the 6th September flying out to Ljubljana where we picked up a hire car and then drove on up to Bled where we had picked a working farm stay in Kupljenik as our base to stay while in the foothills of the Triglavski national park.

However, from the moment we had touched down in Slovenia the weather had taken a turn for the worse. We knew the weather was looking a trifle bad from the weather reports but this rain was almost biblical in its ferocity and only Noah would have felt comfortable venturing out into it.

As we arrived at our lodgings conditions had not improved. The usually beautiful and picturesque farmstead The Dolinar Kraener was shrouded in thick mist, so much so that we almost missed it completely while driving up the steep and winding country lane out of Bled.

Dolinar KraenerFinally having spotted the farm we knocked on the wooden door of the chalet type building where the owner greeted us with incredulous surprise that we had made it this far while then proceeding to tell us with great foreboding that we must be mad to want to still try and climb Triglav in these conditions which were now due to set in for the weekend.

In true British fashion we dismissed the warnings. A chorus of derision and disbelief ensued from the owner and her husband who had now made an appearance ending in something along the line of the British were all completely mad! We resolved to press on as before with our plan.

Dolinar Kraener FarmAfter a meal, a beer and much conversation around plans down in Bled we hankered down for the night back back at the farm. We packed our gear into our rucksacks and tried to get some sleep before tomorrows big adventure.

We awoke on Saturday to thick clag and mist accompanied by the constant drizzle of incessant rain! Visibility was down to a few metres and all thoughts of climbing a 2-3B graded VF route seemed dashed. I concede I’m a slightly mad Brit, but I’m not suicidal and neither were my colleagues, a plan B clearly had be thought up and quickly!

Enter Plan B
We really did not have a proper plan b so we hatched one quickly. Instead of our now overly ambitious plan to summit via the North Face of Triglav from the Vrata valley using the Tominšek Route we set our sights somewhat lower and arrived upon the Pokljuka High Plateau route. This is the easy option on the mountain but given the adverse weather, the next to zero visibility and a forecast of thunderstorms and possibly even snow we thought it a prudent decision

Plan B Route MapWe’d prebooked into the Kredarici Mountain hut based on a northern ascent but now getting to it would just add extra mileage to the venture so we blew that idea out of the water and decided to make for the nearer Dom Planika hut instead. We had no reservation but banked on so few people being mad enough to be out in these conditions that there would be space a plenty.  If when we arrived and we felt conditions had improved then we would make a summit bid there and then.

Most people trek to the hut, stay overnight then summit on day two. We did not have this luxury given that the weather forecast was due to worsen still further on the Sunday wiping out any possibility of a summit. It was just a whisper but it was rumoured that there could possibly be a two hour weather window around midday on the Saturday and we were aiming for that, not ideal, but our only real chance of-gleaning any success from the trip.

So with a new plan and hastily rearranged trail head co-ordinates tapped into the car SatNav at 6am in the morning we set off into the dark to find Rudno Polje the 1347m starting point of our new route.

The torrential rain continued and after several attempts at finding a way to the start point along a road that was not blocked or flooded we eventually rolled up at the Slovenian Army Barracks at Rudno Polje. We parked, kitted up and left immediately starting up a forest trail in the misty first light of dawn.

En route to the Dom Planiska HutThe route was an easy follow through dense forest followed by low alpine meadows. We could hear cow bells jangling in the distance and the noise of water tumbling over rocky beds but we could never sight the beasts nor see the streams due to the all enveloping mountain mists.

Along the trail we inched past many precipitous edges with drop offs into the depths below but could never gauge the real danger due to the appalling conditions. After four or more rain soaked hours of trekking and misery we finally sighted the elusive Dom Planika Hut as it emerged from the swirling mist and fog.

The Dom Planiska HutWe entered the warm and dry hut asking the warden if we could (a) stay the night, evidently 160 other people had cancelled their bookings due to the weather and (b) if we could dump our heavy gear in the boot room in case we thought we could make a summit bid. With a yes to both we hastily dumped all unnecessary gear out of our heavy rucksacks and harnessed up for a summit push.

The route from the Planika hut is considered the easier summit ridge route but in these wet conditions and with impending thunderstorms due we were looking for a quick smash and grab up and down. We were desperate to avoid being harnessed onto the metal cabling and pins enroute when the storms arrived.

So with harnesses on and more or less everything else dumped we emerged from the mountain hut to take a serious look at the route ahead of us and to see if realistically we thought we could get up and down in time before the afternoon storm.

Ascent from The Dom Planiska HutMiraculously the skies began to clear! It was unbelievable! We did not need a second invite. We started to ascend the rock face. The route to the ridge was fairly easy as we followed the red and white path symbols upwards. A few protected areas at the harder pitches of the route added interest.

Start of the ridge from Mali TriglavWe arrived at the famous Ridgeline leading first to Mali (little) Triglav and further beyond to Triglav herself. The wind buffeted us for the first time, the rocks were polished and slippery and we gingerly made our way along the ridge. The rain abated and for the first time I thought to myself that possibly just possibly the summit might be within grasp!

The ridge seemed to go on forever in a series of ascents and descents always getting gradually narrower. We passed only four other lunatics along the ridge. I had one eye on my foot placement and one eye on the weather the whole way.

The famous Triglav Ridgelinesnapseed-13I confess I did not clip into the fixed cables at any point. A dangerous decision in the conditions but I was more concerned on timings with the weather window than my ability to climb. Both Ben and Matt felt the same way and we all made the decision to ditch using the lanyards. This gained us valuable speed but at the risk of a slip or at worse a possible fall.

Then the clouds burst open and the elusive yet familiar sight of the Alujez Shelter on the summit came into view. A few more careful strides and we would all be on the summit of the highest mountain in Slovenia.

Summit success at the Alujez ShelterWe’d made it! Elated we rested for 5-10 minutes before hitching the rucksacks up onto our backs and beating a hasty retreat down. But the weather Gods had not finished with us yet!

Within minutes of starting our descent sleet began to fall. The wind picked up and the rocks became super slippery. It was now a battle to get safely down. The balance of expediency and safety had to be just right. Conditions worsened and we had a couple of slips and slides which alerted our senses.

Dangerous descentWe emerged from the gloom of the encircling storm clouds to pop out just above the Dom Planika Hut, a very welcome sight. I let out a shriek that echoed around the mountainsides. Ben and Matt felt the same kind of relief I’m sure. We waddled, limped and dragged ourselves back over the scree path to the hut. It had been an 8 hour marathon of a day and a herculean push for the summit then back down to the hut all in one day.

Ben and Matt back down and out of the cloudsWe sat knackered in the hut ordered some cold beers and felt lucky to have had a chance against the odds to get a summit in before collapsing onto exhausted slumber.

During the night the wind howled, thunder echoed outside and lightening lit up the windows. We knew we had been lucky. When morning came we started to descend in the gloop and rain the same route we had trekked up the previous day. Later upon our return to civilisation we learnt that the snows had swept in a day after we had been up there and the mountain was now smothered in the white stuff.

We had just made it in the nick of time. Not as originally planned but we had still returned home from the adventure having summited the highest mountain in The Julian Alps and Slovenia and that was a great way to sign off the season of 2019.

Check out more photos from my adventures at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/albums

Download GPX data for the route at:
http://www.shareyouradventure.com/map/81666/jamehand/Triglav-2864m-Julian-Alps-Slovenia-2019

Accommodation:
https://goo.gl/maps/

 

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Piz Da Lech (Via Ferrata VF3B) – The Dolomites

Later in the year I want to attempt to climb the mighty Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia. To summit the mountain in style a series of Via Ferrata (VF) routes can be taken all the way to the summit. However, before attempting such a trip I thought it would be a good idea to get some practice in and where better to do that than in the home of VF itself the Italian Dolomites!

snapseedLuckily for me I had a week booked in July to go to Italy where I’d be doing some hiking and mountain walking based in Corvara in the Sud Tyrol, so while I was out there I booked myself onto a VF day on a one-to-one basis with a local Mountain Guide.

The Alta Badia Guides Office suggested a route called the ‘Piz Da Lech’ rated at a VF3B. VF grading is easy to understand. Difficulty is rated on a 5 point scale (1 being easy and 5 being the most difficult). Exposure (as in how steep the drop offs are, or how catastrophic a tumble might be) is rated as an A, B or C, with C being the most exposed. So the route seemed pitched pretty perfectly for me, moderately hard but with a few serious moves and some exposure to get used to.

Some technical details of the route:
Via ferrata, completely secured with steel cables
Type of path: 95% steel cables, 5% steps.
Complete gradient of the climb: 380 m, 2-2:30 hours
Complete gradient until the beginning of the via ferrata: 30 m, 20 mins.
Gradient of the ferrata: 190 m, 1:00-1:30 hours.
Gradient to the summit: 160 m, 30 mins.
Descent: from the Piz da Lech summit, 2,910 m, descend along the normal route (with red signs). The last short steep stretch of the descent is secured with metal cables and fixed with steel; 1:30 hours.
Facing: South.

So I set off with my guide Michel up the Piz Boè Gondola from Covara in the early morning bound for the rocky slopes of the Sella Range above. I was ready for a bit of adventure and the day did not fail to deliver.

There was some excellent climbing to be had on the rock itself whilst the wire, ladders and stemples were all well-positioned for when it became too impractical to climb unaided. There were also the two famous ladders towards the end of the climb to negotiate, these ladders themselves were airy and fun but required a bit of force to pull through, especially on the top one.

The route finished with a nice mountain walk across a lunar landscape to the summit which had the ubiquitous cross upon it and far reaching views across the Dolomites.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first real taste of Via Ferrata and the surroundings couldn’t have been better for a climb with stunning mountain scenery. Hopefully my little adventure will have put me in good stead for the sterner test to come in September out in Slovenia.

Check out more photos from my adventures at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/albums

Download GPX data for the route at:
http://www.shareyouradventure.com/map/81662/jamehand/Piz-Da-Lech-3B-VF-The-Dolomites-11-Jul-2019-at-0903

Guides Website:
https://www.altabadiaguides.com/en/index.html

Stok Kangri Expedition, Day 3 – Exploring Ancient Leh

To climb a 6000m peak you need to acclimatise and to do this you need to spend a substantial amount of time at high altitude so another acclimatisation day was required to firstly get used to already being at 3,524m above sea-level and secondly to prepare us for the much harder task ahead. Today it had been scheduled that we were going to take a walking tour around the ancient city of Leh in which we were staying to help with this ongoing process.

Leh is the main town in the North West Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and sits at a high altitude along the Indus Valley. In years gone by it had been the old capital of the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh and we were here for the next three days. Continue reading “Stok Kangri Expedition, Day 3 – Exploring Ancient Leh”

Stok Kangri Expedition, Day 1 – Arrival in Ladakh

We flew into Leh on the first day of our adventure aboard a very early morning flight out of Delhi. The approach to Leh airport is what could be termed interesting. 360 degrees of surrounding mountain ranges, a narrow valley and a dusty ex military airstrip to try to land on. It was a sick bags out and hold onto the seat of your pants kind of a landing!

Prayer Flags - LehAfter eventually clearing the never ending bureaucracy of the airport (which is in more or less lock-down mode due to volatile political tensions in the region) we finally emerged to grab lifts in a convoy of small taxi vans waiting outside which whisked us at speed through the labyrinth of dusty and bumpy roads to our local hotel.

View from my room - LehAfter a nail biting cab ride that only third world countries can deliver we arrived at our hotel/hostel where we were cordially greeted with traditional prayer scarves by the genial hotel staff.

Meet and GreetFollowing on from being fed and watered the rest of the day was spent just sleeping and gaining some much needed R&R. Later after awaking from barely enough sleep I had a quick walk into town.

Very dusty and muddy with potholes everywhere is the best way to describe the streets of Leh. The town is a strange fusion of Indian and Tibetan influenced cultures. Many Tibetan refugees have made the town their new home and Buddhist influence abounds through prayer flags, stupas and the Tibetan markets.

Ladakh House - LehI ended up wandering around one of the many Tibetan Bazaars that litter the town and made a timely investment in some prayer flags, (always good to have as much spiritual support as can be mustered when attempting to climb a 6000m peak).

Street Stalls - LehNothing else of much note happened for the rest of the day as this was just one of what would come to be all too familiar acclimatisation days.

Day two of the trip though would hold the hope of some much needed physical exertion by means of a trip to the very old and famous Alchi Monastery some distance away up the Indus Valley. Catch the next post to read all about our trip to the monastery.

Check out more photos from my adventures at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/albums