The tremendous traverse of Triglav
The greenturkeys set out to conquer Slovenia’s mighty three-headed mountain, Mt Triglav, but missed out on a good spanking on the summit. Brett also finds a new friend of similar disposition – the fiery salamander! All in all, an excellent outing in the Julian Alps.
The rocky landscape of the upper reaches of the Seven Triglav Lakes valley is an improbable place to find a salamander. We were making our way over the rubbly boulder-field between the last two of the seven lakes when Brett stumbled upon this tarry-black amphibian with diamond shaped impressions on its body, slowly making his way through the labyrinth of limestone rocks in the early morning cold. After a close-up inspection, the wee fella managed to scuttle off under a rock, we’d disrupted his long, uncertain journey through this alien landscape. Alpine Salamanders are pretty rare, and only live at altitudes above 700m – this fella must have been at least 2000m high. At this altitude, female salamanders are pregnant for three years!!
We were on day two of a three day traverse of mighty Mt Triglav (2868m), Slovenia’s highest mountain and their national icon. We had been recommended this route by our friends Nic and Grevo. It’s a stunning way to climb Mt Triglav, but is also the longest – the route starts from the west end of Lake Bohinj at 653m altitude, so to get to the summit you climb 2215m over two days. The start is an absolute killer, and pretty much goes straight up the Komarca Cliffs for 700m before the track levels out a bit and you reach the first lake, Black Lake. From there its up up up for another 900m or so up through the mixed spruce and beech forest to the 7 Triglav Lakes Hut (1676m) where you can get a dorm bed with sheets and bedding for €11.50 (with 50% BMC alpine club discount), and a good feed for €6.50.
On the second day we had got up very early and set off from 7 Triglav Lakes Hut at sunrise. It was going to be a long day as we wanted to reach the summit before the weather turned. The hut is set on the north side of Dvojno Jezero (Double Lake),which was incredibly still and crystal clear, showing a perfect reflection of the limestone mountains and coniferous forest surrounding the hut. At that time of the morning, there was not a soul around, and it was very peaceful as we made our way up the track, past the series of stunning emerald green lakes that give the valley its name. The rivers in Slovenia are truly astonishing, bright turquoise, crystal clear and sparkling clean, they are certainly a highlight of the country.
Walking along the valley under the cliffs of Mt Ticarica and Kopica, we could hear these loud shrieks ringing out across the valley – a burly wee marmot poked his head up out of a crack in the rock, screaming and carrying on like a football player, calling to his mate to watch out for these two greenturkeys trespassing in their valley. These lively chaps are quite vocal and emit loud alarm whistles or chirps at the slightest provocation, vigorously defending their territory. Marmots were introduced to the Julian Alps in the 1960s and are now ubiquitous across Triglav National Park.
The landscape became less and less vegetated, until there was only rock all around. The track winds its way up through karst terrain, under Mt Kanjavec and over the barren Hribarice plateau and pass at 2358m. From here, although you can see the formidible three-headed monster of Mt Triglav, it looks a long way away, and it was still several hours before we arrived at the plateau below the final ascent to the pyramidal summit. By this stage it was getting quite late in the day, and the wind had picked up considerably. The routes to the summit are pretty exposed and also polished by the thousands of people who climb Triglav every year. We were going up by the less-commonly used southern ridge, and returning down the normal ridge over Mali Triglav. We kitted up with harnesses and via ferrata (self-belay) gear – the routes to the summit have fixed cables which you can clip into, and we decided since we had carried our kit all this way, we were damn-well going to use them! I was pleased I did put on my harness as the route was a bit hairy in places. By the time we reached the final ridge line, the wind was gale-force, quite scary when you are on a ridgeline and being blown about a fair bit! The views were expansive and absolutely magnificent – Mt Triglav is quite a bit higher than the other mountains in Slovenia, and there was simply row upon row of craggy, karst peaks as far as the eye could see. We could see down to the Mt Triglav hut, over 400m below and the steady stream of people coming along the normal route up the eastern ridge.
There were about 30 people on the summit, drinking beer, taking photos and generally having a laugh. Climbing Mt Triglav is almost a pilgramage for Slovenes, and has effectively become a confirmation of their national identity. Apparently it’s rare to meet a young Slovene who hasn’t done the trek. It is tradition that anyone who succeeds in climbing Mt Triglav recieves a good spanking on the backside with a birch whip – unfortunately we couldn’t find the chief spanker anywhere! Brett was very disapointed as he had been looking forward to it for days. We would have to find a birch tree on the way down as a token effort!!
By this stage it was late afternoon, the wind was roaring over the summit with nothing in its path for miles around. The weather was changing, a storm was a-brewing. We needed to get as far down the mountain as possible. We headed off down the razor-sharp eastern ridge, battling against the gusts and dodging around the multitudes of people still coming up. We came across a large guided party on a very narrow section of the ridge, the guide made his group all crouch down, they were clinging to the fixed cables for dear life like wee limpets, while we skirted around them, a look of terror in their eyes.
Again the views were phenomenal, to the north we could see the second highest mountain, Škrlatica (2740m), and the beautiful “crystal mountain”, Mt Jalovec (6th highest at 2645m) which we had hoped to also climb but didn’t have time. To the Northwest we could see the rounded bulk of Mt Mangart (4th highest, 2679m) which we climbed a week later.
Down, down, down, it was good to get out of the wind. After a quick break at Dom Planika hut (2401m) we headed back and forth along a series of switchbacks down a heavily eroded slope into the valley towards Vodnikov Dom (1817m) which was our lovely abode for the evening.
The hut was run by a stern old Slovenian matriarch who was absolutely hilarious, and had us in alternating bouts of hysterics and disbelief. We gulped down a few cold beers, soaking up the last rays of the setting sun, listening to the other hikers’ tales of their day in the hills. What a day! We were both in a pretty happy place, settled into a lovely wee mountain hut, in the heart of the Juilan Alps.
After a delicious and nutricious bowl of goulashsuppe with homemade bread for dinner, we were sorted for the night. The hut was very homely, with a huge ceramic stove in the centre to keep us toasty warm and even inside flush toilets! A bed in a dorm room cost €10 (with 50% BMC alpine club discount), we took our own sheet and pillowcase which saved a few bob.
The next day the weather had really turned poo. We headed off early trying to beat the rain, but only got about an hour before it started raining in earnest. It rained a lot, and we got very wet. It was incredibly beautiful descending through the misty beech forests, the forest floor was littered with bright orange leaves. Before long we came across an exotic looking creature traversing the track – this time a fiery salamander! A fiery ginga amphibian after Brett’s own heart.
Near the end of the track close to Stara Fužina is Mostnica gorge, an amazing slot gorgeonly a few metres wide but about 20m deep that carves through the limestone – pretty impressive watching the raging torent roar down the cleft.
We headed down to the tiny hamlet of Stara Fužina to catch the bus -we had enquired about public transport back to our car, and had been told there was a bus – what they failed to tell us is the last bus of the day leaves at 10.30 in the morning! It was a long, cold walk back to the car along the shores of Lake Bohinj to our faithful steed, Rodders. All in all a fantastic trip, and one we would definitely recommend. We did it at the start of September, it would have been great to be there a few weeks later because the autumn leaves would be out in all their glory. September is a lovely time to visit Slovenia, and especially Triglav National Park.
Further information and tips
- There is a really good route description on the Summit Post website: 7 Triglav Valley Lakes Route. This website also has a host of other great information and route descriptions for other treks.
- We also used the excellent guidebook The Julian Alps of Slovenia By Justi Carey, Roy Clark. It describes most of the route (as well as many other fantastic trips), but you have to piece a few bits together.
- We took three days to do the trek, starting at Koca pri Savici hut (E3/day for parking) and finishing at Stara Fužina. The first day was only about 3 hours up to 7 Triglav Lakes Hut, but the second and third days were pretty long. To cut down the length of the second you could stay at the top hut in 7 Triglav Lakes Valley – Zavaska koca na Prehodavcih hut, or even Dolic Hut.
- If you are planning on spending a long time trekking in Slovenia (or elsewhere in Europe), it might be worthwhile joining the BMC to get 50% discount off the hut fee. You are supposed to buy a “Reciprocal rights card” for £40, but we ran out of time so didn’t get one, and just showed our paper BMC discount card which worked every time.
- Make the most of the Slovenian Hut network – there are more than 50 huts in Triglav National Park, they are pretty good value for money, and a number of them are at the road end.