Mount Treglav (Slovenia)
In High Places
By: Burton A. Falk
The newly-independent republic of Slovenia is bounded on the north by Austria, On the west by Italy, and on the south by another new country, Croatia. Across the northwestern corner of Slovenia stretch the wildly beautiful Julian Alps, site of 9,394' Mt. Treqlav, the highest point in the country.
Charlie Winger and I decided to climb Treglav from the Krma Valley, on the peak's east side, rather than the Aljazev Dom route, to the west, because of our guidebook, which contended that, although both starting points were equally accessible by road from the town of Moustrana near the Austrian border, to ascend Treglav from the west involved the climb of a 100 meter cliff by means of a hanging steel cable.
And that, for the most part, was the extent of our knowledge regarding Treglav National Park when we arrived at the rustic lodge, four kilometers from the end of the Krma Valley road, that first afternoon. Fortunately, however, we shortly discovered Katrina, an attractive Slovenian teenager, who was pleased to practice her English on us. Between the information she gleaned from a group of picnickers and from our own scrutiny of a fading mural-map of the area on the lodge's dining room wall, we soon believed we had a good idea of how to make the climb.
Later that evening, after a tasty dinner at the lodge, I decided to take a stroll, above the Krma Valley, a summer haze softened the fading, lemon sky. Dark pines climbed the slopes to either rising to the rugged limestone cliffs high above. Along the lush valley floor, tall broad leafed trees stood hushed awaiting the oncoming night, The meadow was still. The only sign of man was the white gravel roadbed, glowing faintly in the gathering dusk, The Julian Alps were magical.
The next morning at 7:00 a.m., standing at the 3200' trailhead at the road's end, Charlie and I weren't so confident of our previous evenings plans--there were no trail signs to lend us any comfort. Fortunately, as we stood there scratching our heads, two hikers passed by and assured us we were, indeed , on the Treglav route. Treglav National Park may be a popular Slovenian holiday destination, criss-crossed with trails, but it is definitely not well-signed.
The trail to Slovenia's high point begins in a forest of maple-like trees (the area must be gorgeous in the autumn), then climbs steeply to the southwest. In early August, at the time of our visit, the valley was ablaze with wildflowers. Above us, wispy clouds clung to the limestone cliffs, reminiscent of a Chinese painting. In the west toward Italy, a storm was brewing, but for us the morning remained warm and pleasant.
After an hour and a half of strenuous hiking, we reached the head of the valley where three or four trails (all unsigned) led off in as many different directions. Choosing path most we11-traveled, we continued on for another fifteen minutes until we came to a cowherd's hut, where six hikers were finishing up a tea break. One of the hikers, a young fellow who could speak English, offered us further directions, and also asked the cowherd to brew us a glass of his special tea, which was made from the dried leaves of a large nettle-like plant growing next to the hut. Charlie and I lingered on there for a half an hour, sipping the spicy drink and trading gestures with the jolly cowherd. Our host became so animated, in fact, that before we left he pulled out a bottle of schnapps and insisted that we join him in a toast to friendship. What Slovenia lacks in trail signs is more than made up for by warm Slovenian hospitality.
Beyond the hut, we found that, except for a few belied cows, we had the trail to ourselves. In the west toward Treglav, great misty clouds rolled over the summit ridge, making it impossible to distinguish which of the peaks might be the high point. About 10:30, we came upon yet another unsigned junction, where by guess alone we decided to take the fork to the left. Following an additional half -hour of steep climbing , we discovered our first trail sign, which, thankfully, indicated that somewhere above lay the Treglavski Dom (hut) and Treglav.
At that point, 7,200' feet in elevation, all vegetation had given way to a landscape consisting of barren, taupe-white limestone, Continuing on for a few more minutes, we came upon a large cirque enclosing a year-round snow field, where, looking up into the just-started light rain, we got our first glimpse of the Treglavski Hut, situated on ridge 1,000' above.
We got a big surprise when we reached the hut at 11:45. Not only was the building much larger than we had expected (five stories), but it also contained fifty or so wet and soggy hikers, In addition to severa1 1arge dormitory rooms, it also housed a well-equipped weather station and a commodious cafeteria. Because there were so few cars at the Krma Valley trailhead and even fewer hikers on the trail, we concluded that most of the damp climbers had arrived via the Aljazev Dom route. Despite our guidebook, I am convinced that the most popular way to approach the peak is from the west. We wrote and mailed a few post cards at the hut(yes, there's even a mailbox), then we hiked across a small notch to the base of Treglav itself. There we got another surprise. We had understood from Katrina that the final portion of the climb was steep and exposed, with steel rods driven into the rock to provide protection. The last thing we expected to find were several parents with small children in tow attempting to make the ascent.
Yet, there they were, children as young as 6 or 7, clambering up the rock. Granted, the smallest were wearing chest harnesses and short leashes--but still! Watching the kids climb the footholds carved into the steep limestone face and negotiate the narrow summit ridge gave me cause for several anxious moments. I have no idea what their parents were thinking.
Within a few hundred feet of the top, a swirling mist enveloped us, occluding our view and causing the smooth limestone trail to become slippery and treacherous. upon the summit itself, we found a round, pissoir-like steel structure, just large enough to hold two or three standing climbers. Draped from the side of the shelter was the blue, white and red flag of Yugoslavia--we made the climb 1989, prior to Slovenia's independence--flapping damply in the cold breeze, We took the requisite photos, then beat a hasty retreat to the Treglavski Hut, where we had a lunch of greasy goulash and beer.
Our return to the car was speedy and uneventful. We left the hut at 2:00 p.m. and arrived at the parking area at 4:30.
Still later that afternoon, as we began our drive down the gravel road, a soft haze was once again forming over the Krma Valley. With a touch of sadness, I realized that, because there were so many mountains to climb and so little time in which to climb them, I'd probably never again return to enjoy the magic of an evening in the Julian Alps.
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