SMT Chapter 1: First Steps on the SMT – The Pohorje Plateau
Day 1: The Lost Spoon
At 5:00 a.m., my alarm disrupted the already restless night. I slipped into my carefully prepared hiking outfit and made my way to the kitchen to make some coffee. M, who had arrived from the Netherlands the day before, was already awake. Together with my boyfriend T and his friend MJ, we sat at the kitchen table, sleep still lingering in our eyes, eating a quick breakfast amidst the hissing sounds of the espresso maker. It was too early for extensive conversations.
My boyfriend and his friend dropped M and me off at the main station in Salzburg at 6:00 a.m., before being on their way to a climbing trip.
M and I said our goodbyes and started walking towards our designated platform. After a quick transfer in Graz, we finally arrived in Maribor, the starting point of the Slovenian Mountain Trail (SMT).
However, we recognised a minor inconvenience as M realized he had left his trusty spoon behind in our kitchen that morning. Undeterred, we made it our mission to find a replacement. Surprisingly, none of the restaurants we encountered along the way were willing to part with a spoon or even sell us one(?!?!). Spoonless, we continued our trek, determined to overcome this minor inconvenience.
A newly made map showing the trail and some highlights along the way greeted us at the official starting point of the SMT. Here, a small book allowed us to enter our names, start date, and our destination, the “Slovenska Planinska Pot” (Slovenian Mountain Trail).
With sun burning in the sky, we began our ascent towards the beautiful Pohorje Plateau, the first section of the trail. At times, I struggled to keep up with M’s pace, but he kindly waited for me. After climbing approximately 900 meters of elevation, we finally reached the plateau, rewarded by extensive views of Maribor, framed with beautiful vineyards. The climate here, even at this altitude, had a Mediterranean charm but climbing higher offered some relief from the heat.
A small refuge awaited us on the trail, where we refilled our water bottles. Despite the language barrier with the host, we managed to communicate through gestures, understanding that he invited us to rest a bit on the sun chairs overlooking the valley. Of course we accepted the offer, and the hut warden, eager to ensure our comfort, promptly blared some pop music on the speakers, maybe a little too loud. M and I agreed, the silence before hasn’t been too bad.
After the break, the greatest part of the ascent was done and we walked into a dense forest, enjoying the shade. We encountered more and more day hikers and heard the faint melodies of an accordion in the distance. As we came closer to the music, we stumbled upon a lively gathering at Ruska Koča (koča means hut in Slovenian). Luckily, we managed to find a quiet spot in some distance. With some effort, I managed to purchase some ice cream from the hut, and then we resumed our search for a suitable place to spend the night. While walking, M meticulously scanned the surroundings, in search of the perfect branch that could be transformed into a replacement spoon using a pocketknife.
Finally, we stumbled upon a flat picnic area located near a rushing stream, deciding it would be our campsite for the night. The dying rays of the sun filtered through the leafy canopy above, casting a gentle glow upon us. Before the temperature dropped, we took a dip in the cold water. Then, we cooked dinner, accompanied by some nice conversation. The food – albeit cooked to a slightly less-than-“al dente” (as saving gas necessitated some compromise) was quite good. M patiently carved his “spoon,” waiting for his pasta to soak.
After the sun has set, we pitched our tents went to sleep. To the sounds of the rushing river, I fell into a restless sleep.
Distance: 20.84 km, 13 miles; Ascent: 1,230 m, 4,350 ft; Descent: 478 m, 1,568 ft.
Day 2: Racing with the Storm
Last night, we agreed to wake up at 6:00 a.m., but after sleeping less than great, I was already awake earlier. After lying in my tent for a while, I quietly deflated my sleeping mat. To my relief, I noticed that M was also up, so we sat down at the luxurious wooden table to have breakfast.
After a quick meal, we set off towards Koča na Pesku. Our path led us through a dense pine forest. Walking on the soft forest ground covered in pine needles felt amazing on my feet! The air carried the scent of the pine trees which always reminds me of warm summer days in the mountains.
Shortly before noon, we reached the first hut and took a short break. From there, we climbed up to the Planika ridge, passing the Lovrenško barje Moor and its Lovrenška Jezera peat lakes. The Pohorje Plateau was shaped by glaciers, and the lakes up here are water-filled glacial basins formed on an impermeable base of granodiorite and metamorphic rocks. They are covered with up to ten meters of decomposed granodiorite and weathered soil. In the upper parts of Pohorje, this water-saturated layer of soil holds large amounts of water and forms swamps.
The waters are surrounded by marshy soil with peat moss, while the elevated parts of the moor are covered with dwarf pines. In some areas, the moor is dotted with small spruce trees, transitioning into spruce forests. These habitats of peat moss, dwarf pines, and moor spruces provide natural environments for rare and endangered plant and animal species.
After a tour through the beautiful nature reserve, we continued hiking. We settled down for a short nap in the sun on an expansive meadow that was buzzing with the sound of the bees at work.
Refreshed, the trail led us uphill again, towards Jezerski vrh and Ribniška Koča. By now, the sky had become overcast, and it was getting darker every minute. A glance behind me signaled that it was time to pick up the pace. Since the hut was closed, we unfortunately had to filter our water from a brownish-colored lake. In front of the hut, we met a young man and a young woman from France. Limited communication possibilities prevented further conversation, but we learned that they were also hiking the SMT. We sat in front of the hut, now completely enveloped in clouds, forming a dense veil of mist over the hills. Due to the weather conditions, we initially decided not to continue and bivouac in front of the closed hut. However, miraculously, the sun reappeared after 30 minutes. Although there were still some thunderclouds in the sky, they were at a sufficient distance to allow us to hike to a small bivouac spot nearby, which M had found.
When we arrived there, we quickly set up our sleeping pads and sat in front of the small shelter to enjoy the last rays of sunshine and cook dinner. As thunder began rumbling, we sought shelter in our little refuge. The pouring rain and the thunder accompanied me into another night of restless sleep.
Distance: 24.5 km, 15,3 miles; Ascent: 1,122 m, 3,681 ft; Descent: 631 m, 2,070 ft
Day 3: A Stormy Year
I woke up at 5:00 and stepped out of the refuge. The valley below was shrouded in a dense veil of fog, with only the mountain tops peeking through. It appeared as though there had even been snowfall in the higher mountains! I took a moment to admire the landscape before going back into the small bivouac.
Shortly after, M woke up, and we enjoyed breakfast and packed our packs. Descending from the hill where our little shelter stood, we traversed a gentle downhill path until we reached a ski resort. On the terrace of a newly built lodge, a group of men sat drinking some coffee. We also stopped for a brief coffee break, and I took the opportunity to wash my underwear in the lodge’s bathroom.
Continuing along a ridge surrounded by a colorful array of alpine flowers, we eventually found ourselves back in a dense forest. The air was still teeming with the beauty of blooming flowers and fluttering butterflies.
We climbed over many uprooted trees from recent powerful thunderstorms. After a while, I noticed small blueberries growing on the bushes that lined the trail. As we looked around, we discovered more and more of them. Beyond the next hill, we encountered dozens of Slovenian berry pickers, equipped with special harvesting tools to gather the blueberries. Jokingly, M remarked that blueberry picking seemed to be the national sport of Slovenians, much like mushroom hunting is for the Czechs.
Shortly before noon, we reached a closed refuge and began our descent towards Slovenj Gradec. After about an hour of hiking through forests and passing by small farms, we arrived in the quaint town and headed straight to the supermarket to resupply. Everything that was too heavy to be carried or not very heat resistant was eaten right on the spot.
After the lunch break, we returned to the SMT. Unfortunately, the weather forecast once again promised unfavorable conditions, so we headed to the poštarski dom (Dom means something like „lodge“). Although it was closed, we were hoping to sleep inside the entrance area on our sleeping mats, to remain sheltered from the thunderstorm.
We hiked through vibrant green cornfields and expansive summer meadows, ascending at the foot of Uršlja Gora. We crossed several small villages, ornately decorated churches, and cozy farms along the way. As we finally reached the Poštarski Dom refuge just before 6:00 p.m., the sky had noticeably darkened.
To our surprise, the door of the hut was open. After M knocked a few times, a Slovenian woman appeared, smiling at us. We asked whether the refuge was closed, and she replied, “Yes… but no!” with a laugh. She graciously made an exception for us and allowed us to stay overnight. She even introduced us to her shy granddaughter, who stood beside her. The hostess gestured for us to follow her and showed us our room and the showers. We said thank you, quickly took a cold shower, and went down to the dining area to eat dinner. In the Slovenian mountain huts, it is allowed to eat your own food!
Within seconds, a fierce storm swept in, pouring rain from the sky. Thunder and lightning filled the air, affirming us in our decision to seek shelter. The hostess told us that such frequent storms were actually unusual for the region and warned us about the days ahead. As we went to bed, most of the storm had subsided and the chirping of crickets announced the night.
Distance: 24.7 km, 13.72 miles; Ascent: 754 m, 2,473 ft; Descent: 1,483 m, 4,865 ft.
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