August 30, 2012
We have just completed our second European trek. This four-day hike took us through a small section of the Julian Alps, in the country of Slovenia. We wanted to hike here to take advantage of the hut-to-hut system, which is a type of trekking found in Europe. In the Alps alone, there are over 1,300 mountain huts. These huts provide shelter, beds and food, which greatly reduces what a hiker needs to carry. This makes the area more accessible to all.
Our trekking route was chosen to begin at one village and end in another, using public buses to travel from point to point. We would stay in huts each night, as Slovenia itself has a network of 170 mountain huts, with no more than a few hiking hours between them. We spent a couple of days before and after the trek in Lake Bled, relaxing and enjoying this magnificent resort area. We especially liked exploring the lake, with a castle overlooking it on one side and an island, complete with a church, located at the other end. Basing ourselves in Bled allowed us to leave most of our gear there while trekking, so we could take as little with us as possible.
Our first day’s hiking plan was to use a chair lift above the nearby village of Ukanc to take us up to the mountains and trek from there. When we got up that morning the weather was threatening to rain. We had been cautioned about hiking in stormy weather, as these mountains are prone to lightning strikes.
We decided to forego the chair lift and climb up through a forest to try to get to the first mountain hut before the rain began. However, less than one hour after we started hiking, the heavy rains came, along with thunder and lightning that occurred almost right above us. We quickly got off the trail and into a thick wooded forest to wait out the worst of the storm. Looking at our topographical map, it seemed like there was a hut a short distance away so we thought better of continuing and decided to stay there for the night. We spent the remainder of the day relaxing and reading inside the warm hut while it continued to rain the entire time.
The Julian Alps that we were hiking through were named after Julius Caesar, who founded a Roman municipium in this area in 50 B.C. While not containing the iconic mountains of, say, Mount Blanc and the Matterhorn, the Julian Alps still has its share of impressive peaks. This is exemplified by the tallest mountain in Slovenia, Mount Triglav, which, at 9,396 feet / 2,864 meters high, is featured on the country’s coat of arms. Most of the Julian Alps are located in Slovenia’s only national park, aptly named Triglav National Park.
The rain stopped during the night and the next day dawned perfectly clear. At this point we were committed to climb up the mountain trail in the national park. We hiked up 2,950 feet / 900 meters in about 2.5 miles / 4 kilometers through what seemed like endless switchbacks in a beautiful forest. It was foggy and a little cool, which helped make the climb easier. The sun strained to make its way through the fog and forest trees, making for a beautiful sight as we trekked.
Reaching the top of the switchbacks after almost three hours, at an elevation of about 4,920 feet / 1,500 meters, we bypassed the hut that we had planned to stay in the night before and hiked another 4 miles / 7 kilometers further. During this part of the trek we joined the Via Alpina Red Trail. This trans-Alps route runs from the Slovenian / Italian border all the way to Monaco. In all, the trail travels through eight countries (Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Monaco) and covers a distance of about 1,500 miles /2,414 kilometers.
This trail climbed up and down through the forest with sheer granite mountains rising around us. We reached the next mountain hut after about three hours, in essence doubling up huts for the day and putting us back on schedule. The hut we stayed in that night was located on one end of the Triglav Lakes or Seven Lakes Valley. This is considered one of the most picturesque portions of Triglav National Park.
We hiked about 4.4 miles / 7 kilometers through this valley the next day, taking our time to enjoy the views of the mountains and lakes. The valley was rocky so we spent time climbing up and down small ridges as we hiked along the lakes. We took a long lunch break at one of the larger lakes before finally hiking up and out of the valley to our final hut, perched on top of a ridge at 6,795 feet / 2,071 meters. The view from this hut was an incredible vista of several mountains towering above the deep Trenta Valley.
The hut was especially crowded because of its location relative to Mount Triglav. Many people come to this area just to climb the mountain. In fact, in Slovenia, it is tradition that anyone who climbs to the top of Mount Triglav receives a spanking from the others on the summit! We did not plan to climb the mountain but spoke to several people who were planning to do so.
We found this hut typical of the others that we stayed in during our trek. Food for sale consisted of soups, stews and sausage and sauerkraut plates for dinner and coffee and eggs for breakfast. The food was satisfying after trekking all day. Water either needed to be filtered or bottles purchased. At night we slept in dorm rooms consisting of multiple beds. Room sizes ranged from 3 to 30 to a room. The more you paid, the less people shared the room. We each paid 22 Euros (about $27.30) to 29 Euros (about $36.00) per night, depending on the configuration.
The huts are a great place to meet people and long tables located inside and outside encourage conversation as you eat and drink. Hikers consisted of mainly other Slovenes, but included nationals from other European countries. We ran into one other American as well. True to the accessibility of the huts, we found all ages represented, with families, groups of teenagers and older people hiking. We enjoyed meeting and talking with people after each day’s hike.
The last morning we started early to make our way down 4,600 feet / 1,400 meters over about 5.6 miles / 9 kilometers to the village of Trenta. This was perhaps the most scenic day as we first hiked down steep switchbacks, along a mountain ridge, with dramatic drop offs below us. Then the trail descended into the deep valley, with the route winding through a beautiful forest.
We reached Trenta with about 40 minutes to spare before the next bus back to Lake Bled. During the bus ride we reflected on the beauty of the Julian Alps, with its scenic lakes, sheer mountain peaks and dense forests. Hiking through this area and staying in huts was a great way to trek with minimal gear and meet a variety of people in the process. We were happy to experience this type of hiking before moving on to our next trek, which will be at another extreme: a walking safari in Kenya.