” So, tell me about Triglav.” I said to Neca Jerkovic, who was living on a sailing boat in the Marina of Portoroz, while my skin was drying after a swim in the Mediterranian Sea, “I want to be up there by tomorrow afternoon….”.
This probably requires a bit of background information….
Triglav with nearly 3000 m altitude is Slovenia’s highest and also its National mountain, placed in the center of a national park right at the border to Austria. There are only a few places in the world where you can swim in the sea in the morning and stand on the country’s highest mountain on the same day – Mulhacén in the Sierra Nevada and Galdhøpiggen in Jotunheimen are a few other examples. Climbing Triglav is not only a thing you have to do if you want to experience Slovenia, it is also a rite of passage for Slovenians themselves.
Despite the fact that her parents own a sailing boat, Neca is really a child of the mountains and I found it always useful to listen to the locals before embarking on a new challenge in an environment I was not familiar with.
“It is quite a walk, but the weather is supposed to be good and you will be fine. Are you good with heights ?”
“It don’t like them, but I can handle them. Do I need any climbing equipment ?”
“No – if you have some good hiking boots you will be fine!……”
And this was the last time that I listened to local advice…….
The sun hadn’t risen the next day when I immersed myself in the warm water of the Gulf of Trieste, before hitting the motorway due North…..
After a brief breakfast at a roadside cafe in Bled, I reached the trail head near the ski shooting stadium in Pokljuka where I left my car at the end of a dirt track with the strong hope that I would not find it on four bricks and without the tires upon my return……(so far this has never happened to me, but it is something you should never talk about or you might jinx it…..).
On a well signed-posted track it took me only a couple of hours to reach Vodnikov Dom, a beautifully located mountain hut which I had visited a few years ago in the late autumn together with a Croatian mountain guide, but by that time there was already too much snow so that she deemed it safer for us to turn.
With hindsight this was clearly the right decision, as right after this hut, the first exposed sections with steel wires and with individual safety holds in the walls started. However, with a blue sky and with dry and warm conditions it was not a problem this time and I made good progress to Planika Dom, another refuge resting on a rocky ledge, just a few hundred meters below the summit. This place has absolutely no natural water supply and all drinking water has to be carried up the trail. Washing facilities are none existent….
After checking in at the hut, I reduced my equipment, had a drink and “hit” the mountain again – just another 400+ altitude meters – how hard could that be ?…..
It unsettled me slightly that most – but not all – people who were coming towards me were equipped with helmets and Via Ferrata harnesses featuring a double set of solid karabiners. The people without this equipment – to make matters worse – didn’t look like experienced mountaineers…..
Soon I reached the first overhangs and the vertical sections which would have been difficult to scale without the solid steel ropes anchored into the wall.
While being faced with another challenging climb, I started to fall into the trap that has caused a lot of accidents in the mountains: although I was not sure if I could do the next section, I was just too lazy to turn around because I had gotten so far already….
The ascents became more extreme the further I went and I was happy that I was only responsible for myself. What kept me going was that the weather was great, there were a few other people around and once in a while I came across another idiot who had seemingly managed the ascent without the necessary gear as well.
Eventually the small tin box, that is such a well known feature of the summit, came into sight and after nearly three hours of climbing, I finally was able to rest in front of it.
The view on this day was truly breathtaking and well worth the effort, but probably not worth the risk taken.
Another mistake of mine was to think that going downhill would now be much faster…being well aware that more accidents happen on this part of a climb, I was extra cautious and looking now downhill, I came across several sections where I wasn’t sure how I had managed them uphill in the first place.
Moving them downhill was only possible by focusing just on the rock features in front of me and by having blind faith, that if it had worked on the way up, it must also do so on the way down…..
Finally, just when the sun was setting, I reached the ledge of Planika Dom and with that the safety of the hut, especially as the outside temperature was now dropping fast.
The hut was packed, with dinner served in three sittings and with all the mattresses taken in the dormitories (I had bed number 30 in one small room…).
With beer now seemingly being the main liquid to replenish any fluid deficits (remember, there was not even tap water…), the atmosphere became progressively jolly and all Covid restrictions – if there were any in the first place….- went by the way side. Admittedly and as I really had no choice to go elsewhere, other than freezing to death or breaking my neck outside in the darkness, I decided to just enjoy my time at the hut and to rely on my double Astra-Zeneca jabs……
I can’t deny that it was a brilliant feeling being in a mountain hut with simple but good food, with something to drink and to enjoy the time with a lot of likeminded people from other parts of Europe.
My hangover the next morning was not so much due to the amount of alcohol I had (probably a couple of beers ?!), but more so due to dehydration as there was absolutely no drop of water to be found once the shutters had come down at the bar over night. A minor detail that I had overlooked……
Well, I survived and while enjoying the view of the mountain peaks around me the next morning, while the countryside below was covered by a blanket of clouds, I started on the final descend trying to reach Ljubljana and one of Europe’s finest veterinary dentists in time.
Sure enough, about 4-5 days later I developed a slight fever and a nasty cough, but four lateral flow tests (the first I performed on my trip to see Ana) and a PCR test failed to confirm my fear that the virus had finally caught up with me as well, but I think that it highlighted the sad reality that some simple human pleasures like a night in a mountain hut will probably have to wait until next summer.