Crossing the Julian Alps (Trenta to Lake Bohinj)


Day 4 - Trenta to to Zazasvska Koca (12 km - 1520m ascent - 70m descent)

The day of the big climb dawned, not bright and sunny as the previous days, but with a ceiling of grey cloud. Still, it was a high ceiling and we could see the tops of the peaks. At least there wouldn't be visibility problems up high.

We set off earlier then usual, as we had a big job ahead of us - Zazavska Koča lay perched on a rocky saddle over 1400m above us. The night before, the National Parks staff member who showed us to our accommodation recommended we take the lesser used route up to the hut, via the old WWI military road, as the gradients were apparently easier. We couldn't argue with that logic.

Left for Zasavska Koča

Lower section of the old military road

Up through the boulder field

The first half kilometre was all downhill, as we followed the main road through the village to the track junction. We turned left and the climb started - it would not end for another 5 hours and ten kilometres. At first we climbed steadily up a gravel road that wound its way up a rounded spur. Crossing a creek, the gravel road ended and the old military road started.

Even though the air was cool, the humidity was saturated beneath the overcast sky. We had only climbed 200m and were already dripping with perspiration. The narrow rocky surface of the old road at first headed steeply up the gully, beneath a dense canopy of trees, zig-zagging its way higher. At one point, the track left the road to continue its gentle zig-zags and charged directly up the slope for a short but rapid gain of elevation, before resuming the steady switching of the military road.

Eventually we reached the ridge of the spur - we were crossing to the main access valley. However, the track again left the road and headed more directly straight up the spur, a jumble of mossy limestone boulders beneath the canopy of spruce.

It was good to have these changes in gradient to break up the climb. Rejoining the road, which had taken a much longer route, we resumed its gentler gradient, crossing the creek on a log bridge to reach Planina Lepoča, a flat at the head of the lower valley framed by the sheer rock walls of Tičarica. We had now passed the 1000m contour. Yes, I did say "flat" and for a few hundred metres we had the joy of walking on a flat path beneath open forest.

Log bridge in Planina Lepoča

Leafy track through the forest

Track around the limestone cliffs

Skirting the upper valley (Trebiški Dol)

We knew it wouldn't last because ahead lay a large rocky bluff and, all too soon, the old road began a series of stony zig-zags to climb it. It was time to settle into a walking rhythm, that balance of breath and movement that enables you to keep climbing steadily onwards - a time when the brain drifts off to other things. I thought about the people who put this road in almost a century ago and the soldiers and mules who marched up it, hauling the big guns and equipment for the alpine battle fields. What did they think as the climbed - we were heading to a comfortable hut, they were heading to war.

A short rocky section broke the rhythm and the reverie, before continuing on, past the second tier of the valley. The landscape was now opening out on our right, as we started to skirt the edge of a limestone cliff, high above the Trebiški Dol, the upper valley of this tiered system.

Across the valley, the striated rock walls of the mountains curved around to the heights of Malo Špičje and Veliko Špičje. These massive walls guarded the entry to the the Prehodavci Pass and the heights of the Julians. Our path curved around to start crossing a high grassy meadow, speckled with wildflowers and, as we continued the climb, the valley floor climbed even faster.

A walled section of the old military wall near Čez Dol

Crossing the high meadows on the way to the pass at Čez Dol

View back down the valley to the Tičarica mountains

The way up to Prehodavci


The steep slopes of Veliko Špičje

The military road and the valley floor intersected at Čez Dol, a narrow pass between the incredible steep walls that hemmed in this valley. We had reached 1600m and it was a good place to stop for some biscuits and a banana - as well as a chance to admire the views back down the valley, we needed to get our energy levels up for the next stage. Ahead lay the final climb alongside the walls below Malo Špičje to our hut at Prehodavci.

Ascending the old military road to Prehodavci

Luckily, the old military road made the task relatively easy, although in parts the void seemed very close. For the most, the road made the best use of a steep gully system to wind its way up the mountainside. It was a brilliant feat of engineering for its time - strange how the need for a high place from which to rain shells on the enemy has made life easier for walkers a century later.

Julian Alps rockscape

Walking rhythms engaged, we pushed on with only one stop, when the eagle-eyed Nello spotted a chamois on the rocky slopes high above. As we climbed, mountain tops appeared around corners and over ridges - a vast alpine panorama was revealing itself.

Some good road works (almost 100 years on)

Chamois encore

The route beneath Malo Špičje

View up towards Luknja Pass

Nello takes in the scenery

The final push towards the tops

The cloud too was breaking up and sunlight bathed the landscape from time to time. An hour later and 450m higher, we reached Zasavska Koča pri Prehodavci, a mountain hut much smaller than its name, perched 1450m above Trenta on the edge of the void beneath the mighty bulk of Kanjavec and above a small glacial lake. Panoramic views extended all around - what an incredible setting.

The view from Zasavska Koča (our hut for the night)

Close-up of the 2601m summit of Razor

After a big bowl of bean soup for lunch, we felt a bit more hydrated and a bit less tired. The sun was out in full and we basked in it for a while just enjoying the starkly beautiful surrounds her on the roof of the Julian Alps. The views extended as far as Italy to the west. We also had a big fauna spotting discovery - a family of salamanders living on the edge of a snow drift - yes, it is big if you have never seen a salamander before.

Panorama from Kanjavec (2569m) to Malo Špičje (2312m)

Northerly view from Zasavska Koča

However, the grey skies had not given up and, just as we planned to head out and explore, the sun disappeared, a cold wind sprang up and raindrops began to fall. Not much later, peals of thunder announced the arrival of the heavy rain and we all retreated inside. Shortly after, a group of 27 wet and bedraggled Belgian scouts walked in from the storm - it was going to be a cosy evening in the hut tonight.

Tracks across the snow

Still, the fickleness of mountain weather goes both ways and, by the time we ate our dinner, the rain had finished and the sun was again breaking through in patches. The fair Nello and I headed off for a digestive stroll over towards the flat, highly eroded and channelled limestone slabs beneath Malo Špičje - a fascinating landscape.

Evening light on Pihavec (2419m)

A world of limestone and snowdrifts above the Triglav Lakes Valley

The light fades over the mountains

Returning from our evening stroll

Zasavska Koča perched beneath the sunlit cliffs

Closing in on the distant mountains of Italy

Sunset over Jalovec

Then it was back to watch the sun set above the mighty Julian Alps, chatting to fellow walkers from Finland and Germany, as well as some of the now-dry Belgian scouts. It was a chatty and cosmopolitan world on the roof of the Julians that night - a far cry from our first two huts when were only four and six people, respectively, in huts that held over 60.


Day 5 - Zasavska Koca to Dom na Komni (14 km - 270m ascent - 820m descent)

The people in our bunkroom began to stir early, but we slept in a bit longer this morning - the legs were still a bit tired and most of our route for the day was down. There was no need to rush off. Before setting off, we took in the magnificent panorama of the Julian Alps from Zasavska one last time - it was almost a different scene in the morning sunlight.

Then it was down into the wide bowl below the hut on a rocky and uneven path to skirt by Rjavo Jezero, the highest of the Triglav lakes and still with ice floes on its green surface - impressive beneath the massive face of Kanjavec.

Early morning view over Zadnijski Obeznik from Zasavska mountain hut

Passing Rjavo Jezero

The descent of the Triglav Lakes Valley commences

A lesser climb out to the south across the rough white rocks and snowdrifts that still lay scattered in this limestone depression brought us to the edge of the Triglav Lakes Valley. Steeply beneath, and framed by the mesa like crags and scree slope of Zelnarica, lay Zeleno Jezero (Green Lake) - surrounded by a landscape of jagged limestone boulders and backed by the distant peaks of the Bohinj Ridge, it was a spectacular setting.

Crossing drfit way below Zasavska mountain hut

Zeleno Jezero (Green Lake) and the peak of Zelnarica

Our route down continued through this world of limestone blocks and rocks, lined with a colourful array of wildflowers and alpine herbs, wedged between the walls of the Zelnarica crags and the ramparts of Veliko Špičje. Reaching the edge of the next level, we found ourselves looking down onto Jezero y Ledvica (Kidney Lake), its bright green surface deep in a hollow.

The ramparts of Zelnarica

Descending the rocky upper part of Triglav Lakes Valley

Jezero y Ledvica (Kidney Lake)

Jezero y Ledvica beneath the rocky tops of Veliko Špičje (2398m)

The track dropped sharply to skirt by the lake and then continue its steady decent down the valley. The first larches and dwarf pines had already begun to appear and we now began to descend through a soft-needled larch forest.

Track through the larches

Looking back up the Triglav Lakes Valley

Looking past the rock wall of Tičarica to the Bohinj Ridge

Panorama of the Bohinj Ridge

Then below through the trees, we could see the wooden frame of Koča pri Triglavskih Jezerih, a mountain hut framed between the green waters of Dvojno Jezero and the white cliffs of Tičarica. It was a great place to stop for an extended break and early lunch, as sun and cloud traded places in the sky.

Reflections in Dvojno Jezero

Dvojno Jezero and the Tičarica cliffs

The mule train arives at Koča pri Triglavskih Jezerih

The cliffs of Tičarica through the larches

Over lunch we decided to take the high route from the hut to our destination, Dom na Komni. This route led us on a short climb to pass the small cliff on the western side of the lake, then traversed through the spruce and larch forest on a well-formed but rough track of limestone rocks.

The grassy meadows of Planina Lopučnica

Reaching another cliff, we descended steeply to get around it, before continuing on our forest stroll. The landscape here was quite different to those we had passed through and we soon dropped down yet again to cross the green meadow of a shallow valley heading back up into the main range.


Crossing the slopes of the Lopučnica Valley

The climb out of the valley took us around its far wall on an undulating traverse to reach Lepa Komna, a curious area of sinkholes - deep depressions in the limestone filled with dense vegetation and wildflowers, some a few metres in diameter, some a few hundred metres in diameter. Butterflies flitted across the path as we meandered our way past these unusual formations, before finally straightening up to leave the region via a narrow gully, dense with thickets of dwarf pine. Ahead lay views of the Bohinj Ridge, the southern ramparts of the Julian Alps.

A grassy meadow in Lepa Komna

Crossing the region of karst sink-holes

The route passes by a sink-hole and into the dwarf pines

Reaching an intersection, we were again faced with a choice and elected not to go directly to Dom na Komni but to turn right, meandering our way up and over a rough track through pine and spruce to reach the smaller hut of Koča pod Bogatinom. This area is of great historic significance as it was a large military base just behind the front lines during WWI. The ruins of buildings lay scattered about and the hut itself was once part of the military hospital.

WWI ruins below Bogatin (1977m)

The old WWI hospital (now mountain hut) at Koča pod Bogatinom

Seeing the ruins gave me a resolve to find out more about the alpine fronts in WWI, as the history we learnt was all about Gallipoli and the western front - so much we don't know. An old military road led westwards up the pass to the Krn battlefields, but we just had a quick drink at the hut and headed eastwards along it to Dom na Komni.

Lake Bohinj from Dom na Komni

A curious light over the Julian Alps

Evening falls on Lake Bohinj

It was good to finally arrive at this large and modern hut, with its glorious views over Lake Bohinj way below in the valley - good because we could relax at the end of a long day and good because the clouds had won the day and the rain was only ten minutes behind us. A Tasmanian couple arrived at the same time and it was good to compare notes on our walking - in fact, based on their description, we again modified our plans for tomorrow's walk. As the fair Nello said, there is nothing like flexibility, especially when it gets you to the end of a 7-day walk, a hot shower and clean clothes in just six days.


Day 6 - Dom na Komni to Lake Bohinj (12 km - 590m ascent - 590m descent)

After breakfast, we farewelled our Tasmanian friends who were heading up our path of yesterday to the Triglav Lakes Valley, while we headed off on their route of yesterday towards the Vogel ski station. On leaving the hut, we quickly disappeared into the forest, descending sharply to cross the valley to the south. After a few minutes, we reached a junction and, on Tasmanian advice, turned left to take a somewhat overgrown track that meandered and undulated its way across the limestone ribs and gullies, before dropping down onto the main track at the rim of an enormous sink-hole. It had saved us 20 minutes - thanks guys.

In the forest below Dom na Komni

Dom na Komni rises from the forest

A somewhat overgrown section of track

Across the rim, for the first time we could see the length of the Bohinj Ridge, a series of sharp-ridged peaks that formed the southern limits of the Julian Alps and very different to the rock massifs of the central alps. We skirted around the rim of the depression through dense encroaching thickets of dwarf pine, before following a gully out to the edge of the valley. Once again views opened out as the high valley dropped off steeply toward Lake Bohinj.

The Bohinj Ridgeline rising above the pine-covered slopes of Spodn Komna

Spodn Komna - a region of depressions and dwarf pines

Approaching the pass near Mohor

Our route however, was an ascent, as the track curved around to skirt the steep sides of Mohor, an outcropping of the ridge. The track was lined with the sweet-scented flowers of broom and the butterflies attracted to them fluttered across our path as we passed. Here too the dwarf pine encroached at times on to the track - I don't mind them doing that when the surface is flat, but I do resent being forced off the path and closer to the edge of a steep drop.

Lake Bohinj from the slopes of Mohor

Alpine laburnum in front of the rock walls of Vrh nad Skrbina

We quickly reached a steep gully, which took us away from the edge, as the track wound steeply up it to reach Planina za Migovcem, an amazing area of karst sinkholes, small and large, some so deep that snow still lay at their bases. This grassy pot-holed landscape was framed by the textured peaks of Tolminski Kuk and Vrh nad Skrbino - striated limestone, deep veins of scree and grassy patches defining their steep faces.

Bohinj Ridge landscape

From here the climb of the day began, as we followed a zig-zagging path up the rocky slope of the main ridge - to our right a deep snowbowl / sinkhole below the face of Tolminski Kuk. One last zig, and a small zag brought us to Konjsko Sedlo, a pass separating the main ridge from a large side spur capped by the peak of Bohinjski Migovec. As we climbed the views opened out behind us over the central Julian Alps, dominated by the big dome of Triglav, at 2864 m, the apex of these mountains.

On reaching the top of the pass, we found ourselves in the face of a stiff cold wind - the first unpleasant conditions of our crossing. Moreover, cloud had been building up and was now dominating the sky - it was decision time again. do we push upwards to the ridge line and head for the peak of Vogel as planned or do we take the low road that crossed the slope and its relative shelter? After five hard days, our bodies were feeling tired and I had notice a bit more lead in my boots on the climb to the pass. Cold wind and probable rain, tired bodies and steep drop-offs are not a good combination - we took the low road.

View across the karst landscape to Tolminski Kuk (2085m)

Vrh nad Skrbina (2054m) rising above a snow-filled sinkhole

The route down from Konjsko Sedlo

Dropping down from the pass, we traversed the rocky slope above a large snowdrift and then began a steep winding descent into a beautiful cirque beneath the peaks of Bohinjski Migovec, Meja and Rusnati Vrh. At the bottom, we skirted yet another large karst depression and, finding a spot with some shelter, stopped to recharge and enjoy the ambience of the cirque.

The last snowdrift

Triglav with its head in the clouds

The route ahead crossed more of these large depressions below the rocky peaks, some we skirted, others we dropped into and climbed out. Then, crossing one last snowdrift, we made a steep descent into the forest to get around a large bluff.

Back into the beech forest

We were now at the 1400m contour and over a hundred metres below our destination - more climbing lay ahead. I confess that at this time I was saying bad words about my 1:50000 topo map and its inability to show contours in sufficient detail on these sharply indented slopes (I couldn't find a bigger scale map). We were both feeling the walk a bit and it was a good thing to be on the way home.

Fortunately, this was the low point and we began to meander and undulate across this curious karst landscape of pot-holes and sharp rock ribs, but now under the shelter of a beautiful beech forest. A tinkling sound was growing louder and, rounding a corner we found ourselves face to face with a large cow on a definite single file path, bush to the right, steep slope to the left. Another 30-odd cows and calves were lined up behind driven along by a family of Slovene cowherders. After a brief face-off, we backed into the scrub to give them the track - a somewhat surreal experience. We wondered what the story was, but as we climbed up the next small ridge, we arrived at Planina Zadnji Vogel, a high meadow with a house and small buildings. It was an artisanal cheese factory, recently re-opened to revive the art of making Bohinj cheese. All was explained.

Forest sink-hole in Zagarjev Graben

The old cheese factory at Planina Zadnji Vogel

The house was also at the end of a wide gravel road that led back to the ski-field of Vogel and its cable car station - our destination. It was just a stroll along the road and one last 100m climb up a footpath through the forest. It was the sort of climb we would have bounded up a few days ago, but our bodies were running on empty - the red warning light had come on - and it became a slow trudge to finally reach the cable car station. Our walk was over and our way down would be a lot easier.

Looking across to the main Julian Range

Storm approaching

Lake Bohinj from the cable car station

Down in the valley, the sun shone over Lake Bohinj, but up here the sky was becoming more and more threatening. As we sat in the station waiting for the next cable car, reminiscing over the incredible vertical landscapes of the Julian Alps with a stein of cold Lashko, the rain began to fall - it had been the right decision to take the low road.

The bridge at Ribčev Laz

The tranquility of Lake Bohinj

Sveta Duh

It took only five minutes to descend the 1000m from the top of the Vogel cliffs to the lake by cable car and we were soon ensconced in our comfortable lakeside hostel. Tomorrow would be a rest day - we had been walking every day now for the last 10 days and a day relaxing on the shores of Slovenia's most beautiful lake was certainly something to look forward to.