SMT Chapter 10: Hiking Amidst the Relics of the First World War

Day 28: Forwards and Upwards

Since I wasn’t in a hurry, I woke up just before 6:00 a.m. without an alarm. From the balcony, I observed the rising sun in the valley before packing my backpack and going downstairs for breakfast in the dining room. The landlady asked me if I wanted a coffee, and when I said yes, she brought me a large cup of coffee and a few cookies. I had breakfast and when I wanted to pay, she told me the coffee was a gift! I thanked her, she wished me good luck, and I set off on the trail.

The valley was still covered in clouds, and the sun above illuminated the cloud cover and the surrounding mountains in bright morning red. I hiked along a ridge through the clouds and into the forest.

After about two hours on the forest path, I reached Pod Brdo, a tiny village with a supermarket, café, and tourist information. I did my shopping, had a second breakfast right there, and left the village heading north again.

My path led through the forest uphill to a pass, where I turned left and finally caught sight of a few mountains. I took a break on a smaller peak, from which I could overlook the valley. I laid my groundsheet on the ground and sat on it to create a protective barrier between me and the ticks.

After the break, I continued to ascend to Črna Prst and the hut just below it. The trail now went above the tree line, and to my right, I could look deep into the Triglav National Park, over which towered Triglav itself. The soft forest paths turned into scree and stone, and soon I had to use my hands again to hold onto the rocks.

Around 2:30 p.m., I reached the hut and ordered a non-alcoholic shandy. I asked the landlady how far it was to the next hut, Koča na planini Razor, and she said six to seven hours. “That’s going to be tight,” I replied and said my goodbyes. I was far from exhausted, and if I hiked to Koča na planini Razor today, I wouldn’t have a short day tomorrow. Normally, I would hike there tomorrow but not farther, as the next hut was a whole day’s trek away.

I packed my things and set off. For the rest of the day, I hiked along an exposed ridge, Triglav to the right and Tolmin and the Soča Valley to the left. At this time of day, there were no other hikers on the trail, so I essentially had the whole trail to myself. Or: no one else was foolish enough to start a six-hour stage at 3:00 p.m.

Around 6:00 p.m., my legs were slowly getting tired, and most importantly, I was starting to run low on water. I knew I could make it to the hut without getting too dehydrated, but I was far from drinking as much as I wanted, and today was a hot day. The entire stage was accompanied by the fear of not reaching the hut in time. Although I had a headlamp, I didn’t want to get into precarious situations without water. When I reached the summit of Vogel, I took my last sip of water and began the descent to the hut.

At 7:45 p.m., I finally arrived and immediately looked for water. There was no “voda ni pitna” sign in the bathroom, so I assumed the water was drinkable. It wasn’t until I had drunk half a bottle that I checked in and ordered some food. Afterward, I quickly asked if the water was indeed safe to drink. The host didn’t say a clear yes or no. He just mentioned that they wouldn’t drink it themselves.

Distance: 35.6 km, +2455 m, -2737 m.

Day 29: Amidst the Relics of the First World War

I woke up not quite as early as usual, had breakfast in the dining room, and set off on my way. Somehow, I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as usual about starting my hike, but I attributed it to the long stage from yesterday.

For about six hours, the trail led gently uphill on an old military road. I was pleased with the “gentle” incline, as walking here was relatively comfortable. As I ascended higher, meadows and dwarf pines disappeared and were replaced by massive boulders. The trail was carved into the flank of a mountain, so it was essentially “covered” by the mountain itself.

I continued to climb higher and higher, my path turned into scree, and soon the surroundings resembled a lunar landscape. Apart from a mountain goat family, there was little sign of life up here.

On top of a pass, a monument stood in honor of fallen soldiers of the First World War. The paths I hiked today were once the scenes of ruthless battles between the Austro-Hungarians, including the Slovenes at the time, and the Italians. In the Triglav National Park, numerous remnants from that era have been preserved, including trenches, bunkers, and other military structures. These relics serve as a reminder of the challenging conditions during the mountain warfare. The park is also an important part of history, highlighting how profoundly the landscape was shaped by the events of the First World War.

Especially the summits of Krn and Batognica, which I also ascended during the day, still house old gun carriages and mines. The top of Batognica was accidentally blown away during an explosion, which is why the mountain is not as tall today as it used to be.

Directly below the summit of Krn, there was a small hut. I ordered a cola, as the last few hundred meters of elevation had been tough on me. I felt exhausted and weak in the legs – probably a reward for my long hike yesterday. The cola didn’t completely lift me out of the low, but it at least got me to the top of Krn and to the next hut at Krnsko Jezero. From the summit, you could gaze into a beautiful valley.

Exhausted, I began the descent to the hut, which felt like it would never end. When I reached Krnsko Jezero, I sat down by the shore and looked back at the mountains.

Subsequently, I hiked to the hut Planinski Dom pri Krnskih Jezerih. Feeling quite worn out from my long day, I checked in and paid for my bed. Additionally, I bought a bottle of water because the host informed me there was no water available here, and I had to purchase it from him. I realized I had forgotten to show my Alpine Club card only later when I wondered about the high price. Immediately, I went back inside and asked the hut warden to refund me the difference since I had paid double. He challengingly asked if he should now give me money from his own pocket to compensate for my mistake. I tried to explain my situation, that I was tired, had simply forgotten the card, and was stressed because other hikers were waiting behind me. He told me it was too late, and when I asked again, he raised his voice and threatened to kick me out. I gave up and left the hut angrily.

Just a short while later, I found a water tap on the other side of the hut where hikers were refilling their bottles. He had lied to me when I asked him if there was water around.

Even though I wasn’t particularly hungry, I cooked couscous with bell pepper-chickpea paste and cheese. It didn’t taste too bad, but I struggled to finish eating.

I spotted two younger hikers conversing in English. I asked them where they were from, and it turned out one was from Quebec, Canada, and the other from France. They lived in Berlin and London and hiked somewhere together every year; this year it was Slovenia. I spent the rest of the evening with them, almost forgetting about my unpleasant interaction with the hut warden.

Distance: 25.4 km, +1897 m, -1837 m.

Day 30: One Month on Trail

I slept poorly and sweated during the night, even though it wasn’t too hot here. My stomach felt strange, and as I got up, I realized why: apparently, I had eaten or drunk something wrong. I experienced occasional stomach cramps. Had I been in a different hut, I might have considered staying another night, but in the presence of this hut warden, I didn’t want to spend any more time than necessary. As expected, I had absolutely no appetite for breakfast, but I forced myself to eat at least a tortilla wrap with almond butter. My stomach tolerated it somewhat well, even though the first few hours of the day were accompanied by cramps.

I filled my bottle at the secret water tap and set off hiking. In the early morning, no one was on the trail, and the air was pleasantly cool. While hiking, I felt relatively good, only the ascents were challenging for me. I was sweating profusely, and every meter of elevation felt twice as difficult as usual.

I crossed the Bogatinsko Sedlo, a pass that had been the border between the Kingdom of Italy and the Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia (later known as Yugoslavia from 1929) for 27 years. Today, Bogatinsko Sedlo is clearly within Slovenia. Behind the pass lay old partisan hospitals where wounded soldiers were treated. These hospitals have now been transformed into mountain huts where you can stay overnight.

I reached the Dom na Komni hut around 11:00 a.m. and ordered a coke and a pack of pretzel sticks – they’re said to help with stomach pains. I was glad to be able to eat anything at all and actually felt somewhat better after the small meal. I sat on the terrace in the sun for about an hour and a half, pondering whether I should continue hiking. I felt better than I did this morning, and the next hut was about two hours away. Quite optimistically, I set out for the next leg, a decision I regretted soon enough. While lying in the sun in front of the hut, I felt fine, but hiking, especially uphill, was a different story. The hike was beautiful through the dense, almost untouched forest, on narrow paths lined with flowers. However, for me, it was quite challenging, and I longed for it to be over.

After about two hours, I made it and reached the hut between the Triglav Lakes. It was bustling with people, and I had to find a quiet spot for myself. By now, I was also hungry, which I considered a good sign for my stomach. Unfortunately, all I had left was couscous and bell pepper paste, which theoretically shouldn’t have been a problem. However, just thinking about it made my stomach turn. Somehow, I have this habit where I can’t stand the sight of the meal that made me sick. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much choice… So, couscous with bell pepper was out of the question, which led me to order pasta and a piece of tiramisu in the hut.

Afterwards, I lay down on a bench in the dining room because I suddenly felt incredibly exhausted. The hut was bustling with people engaged in lively conversations, yet I managed to sleep for a full three hours on the hard wooden bench, even sleeping through a thunderstorm that raged outside.

After my nap, I surprisingly felt quite refreshed, and since this hut was full, I decided to hike another two hours to the next one. The trail led past the Triglav Lakes, of which there were a total of seven – I only saw five of them, but each one was beautiful, reflecting the blue sky like glass. I might have admired my surroundings a bit more if it weren’t for the hole in my stomach. I can’t recall the last time I felt such hunger, but unfortunately, I had no snacks left in my backpack! It seemed there had been a misstep in my planning this time…

Around 7:00 p.m. I finally reached the last hut for the day, Zasavska Koča na prehodavcih (good luck pronouncing that). Exhausted and relieved, I took in the breathtaking alpine panorama as the hut was beautifully situated above the valley. Before settling down, I asked the hut warden if they had a bed free. Unfortunately, there wasn’t, but he put me on the waiting list. Now, the usual food dilemma: couscous with bell pepper paste was out of the question, so I ordered pancakes and a cola. It only occurred to me later that an evening caffeine drink might not have been the best idea (when I couldn’t fall asleep). I watched the sunset from my sun chair when the hut warden approached me to let me know that a bed in the bivouac was available – hooray!

Distance: 21 km, +1238 m, -559 m

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