Hiking the Julian Alps

Building across the street from Nina’s apartment.
Early morning trash collectors in Ljubljana.

Manja had hiked the Julian Alps before, and her father has years of experience hiking there, so they knew we had to get up very early to get our start. We were ready and waiting on the street in front of Nina’s apartment when Manja showed up. Early enough to watch the trash collection before the city got started. We hopped into the car and off we went for an hours’ drive to the trailhead.

We had snacks and water from the market the night before, but we asked for a coffee stop and Manja was happy to oblige. We stopped at Lake Bled before the village awoke. It was a way to visit a very touristy place in a non-touristy way. After coffee we walked over to the lake shore and took lots of photos, since we would not be coming back.

Morning sun lights a church on our way to the mountains.
The famous Lake Bled.
And its famous Bled Castle.
I liked the juxtaposition of massive tourist attractions (Bled Island with its gorgeous church, and the unoccupied pletnas), and the serene scene, with not even a ripple in the water other than from the wind.
As I looked across the serene lake, unmarred by tourists, I spotted something.
What a pretty sight.
The balloon makes its way toward Bled Castle, over the lake.

The road to the trailhead became more and more lovely as we climbed in elevation and passed through darling little mountain towns. We even got stopped by cows for awhile. Not stopped, exactly, but cows do move rather slowly. After my last fun post, I invited Pedro to write again. This is how Pedro describes it, “We had an unexpected but rather enjoyable traffic delay in the Bohinj valley. A man was leading a group of happy cows on the main road. We slowly followed the caravan of cars and cows while we enjoyed the amusing scene and sound of bells.”

The road’s traffic was all traveling the same direction we were: likely everyone heading for the trails.
For the cows and their herders, it was merely another work day and tourists wishing to climb were not their concern.

Manja dropped us at the trailhead in a busy parking area and we worried about how she would be able to turn around in the narrow, congested area. But we couldn’t stick around to help and had to call hurried goodbyes and get off the road right away. Spoiler alert: she did get out and was not forced to spend the day trapped at the parking area.

We took off at a good pace up the hill with the other hikers. It was never crowded that day – a Monday – but there were always hikers around.  The weather was nice and we were thankful for our decision to wear only light, layered clothing. Our first goal of the day was Planina pri Jezeru, where there was a restaurant and we planned to get breakfast. We hiked past picturesque forests and granite outcroppings and lots of wildflowers. From Pedro: “Along the way we encountered mountains, green pastures with a wide variety of wildflowers, and cows of course; we were in Heidi-country!”

The cows always seemed so funny and out of place, as well as the little huts here and there. We were at such an elevation that in the U.S. these kinds of places would have been deemed entirely too remote to build a building or somehow get cattle up there. And yet, we would crest a hill and come upon a whole field of cows, bells rattling. Pedro and I were reminded over and over of the scenes from the movie Heidi.

A trail sign near the beginning. The red and white circle is a trail marker. As long as you see one of those, you know you’re on the right trail.
Cattle were very unimpressed by us.

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“About 2 hours later we arrived at the Koča na Planini hut, where were hoping to get breakfast and definitely more coffee. This hut is one of several lodges along the trail that offer Bavarian-style food and drinks. Unfortunately it was closed so we had to continue our ascent on a mostly empty stomach, but not before Crystal took a nice ‘Monday Washing’ picture.” (that’s for Andrew’s blog)

Finally we arrived at the Koča na Planini pri Jezeru and the lovely lake there. We took photos of the area. We happily walked right up to the front door, which was locked. The place was closed! Then we noticed the other hikers standing around, who must also have had the idea to get some food there. That put a kink in our plans, and I thought about our one bag of vegetable crackers and water and realized that wouldn’t be much to live on if all the places were closed for the season. The bathrooms were open, however, so we took advantage of those, and moved on again.

Our first view of our hoped-for breakfast planina.
Colourful laundry showed that someone was staying there. Many of the huts we passed in the mountains are available for rent, by hikers.
{Photo by Pedro Rivera}
Lake Jezeru

We took the opportunity to solidify plans for the day. There had been multiple alternatives suggested in addition the the route recommended. The recommendation was based on a conglomeration of multiple people with Triglav hiking experience, including one hiking guide. I pulled up my AllTrails app to check our route. I had no cell service, but had downloaded the map while we still had WiFi. We easily found the route recommended, and for the very first time, began adding up the miles. I’m so glad we did that. The original route would have been 12.8 miles (20.6 km). I’m pretty sure I’ve never hiked that far in a single day, and I didn’t want to try that for the first time on a new trail in a foreign country. It was possible. Pedro and I are fit and we could have picked up the pace and rushed the day, and blown through all those miles, and possibly even finished before it got dark. But why? As Marco would say.

We were on vacation. Instead, we plotted the most direct route to the next restaurant, because we were hungry. (I know, isn’t it hilarious to look for a restaurant in the mountains? It was the craziest thing.) We ended up hiking a respectable 8.5 miles (13.5 km) that day.

Planina Dedno polje was so beautiful.
Planina Dedno polje was very close to Planina Jezeru. The sign says 1560 meters (5,118 ft).
I loved this stone wall.
Yellow is what we did hike. Pink was the original planned route.

We relied heavily on my AllTrails app. How wonderful that it keeps track of hiking trails worldwide. We came across many intersections and had to pull out the app frequently to decide which way to go next. Even though the intersections were very well labeled and all the trails were in excellent shape, we didn’t know the names of anything, so we couldn’t use the signs. The map was our constant companion. The red and white circles were constantly there. People were always on the trail. Back home I’m used to much rougher trail conditions, with only cairns for markers (and you can’t trust those because they are erected by other hikers who will accidentally lead you off track and then not disassemble their cairn) not like the clear red and white markers here. In the PNW, there are zero huts, zero restaurants (even closed ones), zero livestock. Even though we were up high in Slovenia, I always felt close to civilization, which I do not feel when hiking my own mountains back home. This made me very relaxed in the Julian Alps.

“Just like on all other trails it is a tradition to greet fellow hikers, we were prepared and knew the standard Slovenian greeting phrase used in the area, dobro dan (good day). We heard and used this greeting all day but also were greeted with ‘Hi,’ ‘Hey,’ and even an occasional ‘Hola.’ ” said Pedro.

I loved how the roots wrapped around the rocks.
Doesn’t this scene of trails make you want to hike here?
Hikers ahead of us are gradually increasing their elevation, and it looks like the trail will descend after that part.

Ok, so we’re hiking along and everything is great. We’re gradually increasing in elevation, chatting with other hikers, not starving to death yet. We spot this high point in the distance and we think, “Oh nice, maybe we will get some downhill after we cross that ridge.”

Oh damn. So the trail “descends,” as in “catapults directly to the bottom.”

Pedro said, “It was noon when we reached the highest point of our hike, Velika Zelnarica (lat/lon 46.3385715, 13.7889344). We noticed a group of hikers looking down the valley in awe. Holy Heidi! The view was spectacular. This was personally one of the best moments of the trip for me, until I realized that we would have to go down a cliff that was a couple hundred feet tall. I felt much better once I saw a series of cables, metal rods and stemples fixed to the rock in the most treacherous sections. It was a slow but extremely fun descent to the valley and the trail ran into one of the seven lakes in the area.”

There was a group of young women ahead of us. I think they were German, or speaking German in any case. We had been hiking at about their speed for a couple hours, passing each other every so often, joking together. I decided: If they can descend this drop off, I can do it.

I climbed out far enough onto the ledge that I could see below us: a lake and the Triglav Hut!! Theoretically, when we arrived to that building on the far right of the photo, we could get more substantial food. First we had to get there.
It was steep. But the views were incredible.
Flowers with atmosphere.
I don’t look too upset here. {photo by Pedro Rivera}
Pedro captured this panorama, which also shows the two lakes directly below us.
We were grateful for the cables attached to the granite walls, for us to hold on to.

After the steepest part, with the cables, we then slipped and slid over gravel down a very steep grade until finally we came to a portion of the foothills where there is vegetation, and we could use it to gain a foothold. A couple of the young women in the group ahead of us simply sat on their butts and slid down the hill. It was that steep. I didn’t get any photos while there because it would have been too dangerous to try that.

This is above the gravel section, while we could still trust our feet.
At the bottom, we couldn’t help but keep looking back up. Look at what we just did!
This is a good one that shows how steep the gravel was (the slope on the left), and why some people chose to slide down rather than to try and walk down.
Finally we were on level ground again. See the Triglav Hut ahead of us?
We slowed down to take more photos.
This trail marker really looks like a face. A female, of course, with that red mouth.
We still kept looking up at the ridge. We just climbed directly down the face of that thing!
We passed a couple of gorgeous lakes.
It was so close, and yet we still could not tell if the people were simply using the tables outside, or if the place was actually open.

Since the moment I spotted this hut… oh, let me explain to you about the word “hut.” It’s used for everything up here – it doesn’t mean what it means in the U.S. apparently. Hut is not disparaging in any way, nor does it indicate disrepair or unsafe or unsanitary conditions. Everything in these mountains is referred to as a “hut,” when the language is English. So anyway…From the moment I spotted the Triglav Hut from the top of that drop off on the trail, I was zooming in my lens, hungrily trying to discern whether the restaurant was open. To no avail. Even this close, as in the photo above, I still could only be sure there were people there. But people were at the last restaurant too! Using the tables while they ate their homemade sandwiches.

It wasn’t until we climbed the steps and looked at the tables and saw beer cans that we knew the place was open. Yes! We went in and ordered what we wanted. We had already chosen meals using the menus from the last place that was closed, and we had been carrying those fantasies of food in our heads ever since. We ordered stews and sausages and bread and Union beer. The German women had gone to the bathrooms and the spring first, to refill their water bottles. By the time they came back, we were sitting at a table. One said, “You managed to get to the beers before us!”

I had a barley stew with carrots and sausage and Pedro had a sauerkraut stew with five token beans and ham.

We happily ate and drank and took our time and rested and got full. We refilled our water bottles from the spring that was nearby. We found an overlook point to the north that took us past two more lakes, so we decided to do that before heading south out of the mountains.

This tiny lake was north of the Triglav Hut.
The water was so perfectly clear in every single water body.

There was only one lake instead of two, but it was beautiful nonetheless, and we took a look and took some pics and then headed back down. We stopped at the Triglav Hut to use the bathroom, then began our long journey down the mountain.

Most toilets in Italy and Slovenia were toilets you could sit on, but every now and then we came across one of these.

While I was standing outside the restroom waiting for Pedro, I noticed enormous propane tanks and wondered how they were delivered to the hut. I also saw a huge rope bag around many many parcels. A HUGE rope bag. I guessed 20 men would be required to lift it. But all the edges were gathered to a single large loop right in the center, and I knew it had to be for a helicopter. This looked a lot like the way we carried supplies with a helicopter when I was working in France. Anyway. That’s my theory for how there can be a restaurant in the Julian Alps: helicopter. We wondered if they helicopter up the cows, too. 🙂

A couple more tiny lakes as we left the Triglav Hut. We were trying to get the total up to 7, since the place is referred to as the Seven Lakes.
There were many steep rock walls that caught our attention on the way down.
We spotted another lake, Black Lake. We detoured off the trail to get there.
Pedro at the shores of Black Lake.
I again enjoyed the tree roots gripping granite. This one reminded me of an octopus.
It’s very photogenic, don’t you agree? This rock holds the only Komarca sign.

At Black Lake, on a big rock, we spotted the only reference to “Komarča” the entire day. It was painted right onto the rock. Manja had insisted we take the Komarča route down, and we were determined to follow instructions, but there were no Komarča signs. My AllTrails app had shown me this was the best route to get to the portion Manja called Komarča, so we were going this way anyway, and it was nice to see our plan reinforced.

Pedro’s words: “And then we arrived at the famous and often dreaded cliff known as the Komarca wall, which at first looks impassable but there was in fact a path forward. It was a long, fun and at times scary descent, with many, many short switchbacks. Most of all it had amazing views of the valley a few hundred feet below. At some point I regretted my decision to wear minimalist running shoes instead of hiking boots in order to travel as light as possible, but overall, I felt safe due to the series of cables and stemples strategically placed in the most challenging sections of the ‘trail’.”

Komarca was a drastic drop off the side of the mountain. But the photo ops were excellent.

The trail down Komarča was even more heart-stopping than the one earlier in the day. At the craziest spot of all, sidestepping around a boulder standing only on steel pegs, suspended in the air, I caught the eye of a climber coming uphill, the direction we were about to descend. She laughed at me, “Is this your first time?” I said it was. She then told me that there are at least two more spots even MORE sketchy than this, and to be ready. I thanked her for the heads up. I was going to take a photo, but since she said it was even more crazy farther down the trail, I would wait and get a better photo there.

Well. That turned out to be the most crazy spot of all. I have no idea what she was thinking of that she thought was worse than clinging to the side of a boulder in mid air. So I have no photo. But we found one that someone else had taken.

Can you see what’s going on here? You put your feet onto the steel pegs in the wall, and hold onto the cable, then sidestep along until you get around the rock. It looks like there are rocks right below the pegs, but they are far below. It’s really way up in the air. It’s insane. Pedro found this photo on https://escapetobohinj.com/winter-hiking-in-bohinj-prsivec/
At this place the trail was stable and safe, but close to a drop off so there was a cable.
I almost fell, and Pedro got a photo of it.

I tried to do another photo of us together, balanced on the edge of a precipice, but I couldn’t get Pedro to lean back far enough to get him into the selfie shot. I pestered him, traded places, and whined, but it turned out he valued his life and he also wished for me to get away from the edge. So I finally gave up on another fun ‘danger’ photo. He’s such a party pooper.

We were finally able to spot Lake Bohinj, near where we would be rendezvousing with Manja.

I have a bad right knee and it usually never bothers me until I make it go downhill for a very long time, which I had done. About two miles from the end, my knee decided it had had enough. I hiked with clenched teeth. If the path weren’t so obnoxious, I could use some tricks I know, like walking side-to-side, or backward. But this path was treacherous, even when it wasn’t steep, and I couldn’t do anything tricksy. I had to focus on keeping my footing.

Look at this trail! No more smooth pastures with cows, this was constant boulder-hopping.

Pedro: “Half an hour before we reached the parking lot where Manja was going to pick us up, I noticed that I had phone signal and we called Manja who had to come from an hour away. We reached the rendezvous point by 5:30 pm. Our luck continued as we came across a restaurant that served ice cold beer. We ordered two large Union beers each and ate pistachio ice cream while we waited.”

Planning for this hike the day before, I knew we would have a long wait for Manja to come, and decided we would do the short hike to Slap Savica (Savica Waterfall) to kill time. In reality, once we arrived at a bar and had beers in hand, there was no way we were going to stand up again until Manja arrived. We ordered second beers and drained those too.

“After Marco, Manja (and bestia) picked us up we stopped at a pizzeria, then they dropped us off at Nina’s apartment back in Ljubljana by 10:30 pm. We were exhausted and went straight to bed.”

9 thoughts on “Hiking the Julian Alps

  1. Haha, I love it that my father read this post before I have. 😉 I know how curious he was about your experience. In a way, I went there through you, since I really doubt that I will ever be able to do it again. Just a sight of one of these lakes in your amazing photos helps. Would the poles be helpful for your descent? I didn’t know about your bad knee. Probably yes, but they would be in a way where you needed to climb pegs. I also adore the photo from Bled with the balloon and its reflection. And I side with Pedro: death by selfie is a thing! I’m also really glad that you were hungry and decided to cut the trail short or it would really be too much. And I appreciate you noticing how orderly and well-maintained the trails are. Slovenia is proud of its Alpine tradition. And no you’re part of it too. 😉 Extremely well done, both of you, the hiking and writing part!

    1. I hope Branko enjoyed reading it, and I hope he could recognize places by the photos. It truly was a wonderful hike and a perfect day. OH gosh I’m so glad I didn’t tell you about my bad knee, you never would have let me go. Do you remember how worried you were when we were talking about the hike after dinner at your parents’ house? ha ha. You are exactly right about the poles: they would probably help me on the descent (although with all those boulders, it would be hard to use them right), but they would be in the way for the beginning, and the places where I needed both hands to climb. I have tried hiking with poles a couple of times, and they completely put me off balance as I try to figure out what to do with them. It is an awkward tool for me. I have great balance and I’m extremely steady on my legs, so my mind just gets confused about poles. You are about 79th in a line of people who have suggested trekking poles for me, and so possibly I’m being stubborn?

      Thanks for the compliments for Pedro’s writing, and I’ll make sure he hears it. His writing is one of the things that attracted me to him, since it was a pandemic when we first met online and I wasn’t willing to meet him in person for a while. At the end of the trip, someone asked him what he liked best and so he and I were having a discussion about that. We agreed that it was impossible to choose “best” thing, because they were all so different, but he did say that the hike was one of the highlights. He was craving alps food, did I tell you? And when we went out to dinner with my friend Vladimir last week, we went to a German restaurant, so we could order sauerkraut and sausages. ❤

      1. Hihih, imagine this: You return from Italy and the first thing you wish to do is eat Bavarian food. 😉 Says a lot about Slovenia: we nick dishes left and right! No country is safe! I know poles from skiing, they are second nature to me. If you feel they would distract you, no need for them, I say.

    1. Oh dear. It’s good you have finished reading then! You probably appreciate Pedro for getting me away from the edge. There was a tree I was holding on to! But even so, he said no way. Well, from the comfort of your own home, you were able to see some pretty outstanding mountain scenes. I hope you have a lovely calm evening now and don’t have to think about granite boulders.

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