Grand Bohinj Horseshoe

Julian Alps, Slovenia

William Mackesy’s account of this walk

Day 1 – Bohinj to Razor hut

We’re off from our hotel near the base of the Bohinj lake at 8:40am – only 10 minutes late. It is a crystalline early autumn day, but for a layer of fog over the lake which is vanishing around the edges as we watch. Our destination, the mountains at the end of the lake, soar temptingly far above the cloud.

We walk through the woods on the north bank, the sun slanting through the beech woods, gaining regular glimpses across the still lake. Trout lie lazily in the clear shallows. A charming, 5km leg–loosener.

By the incoming stream at the lake head, we ask an American camper the way to the cable car to the high ground. He has been here a week but hasn’t heard of it. We take a short cut between roads, and come across a quiet WW1 cemetery in the woodland: a poignant early reminder of the bitter fighting that took place between the Italians and the Austro-Hungarians on the Soca front to the south. We will be passing the high-mountain detritus of that era.

A cable car (Walkopedia likes starting with a cable car!) with fine views back over Lake Bohinj in its great glacial gouge has us on the high ground, almost above the tree line. A chairlift gets us further up, to a coffee-and-strudel stop in the sun. All feels well in the world.

We start on our walk proper just after mid-day, with a 45 minute ascent, through the charmless spoil of a ski area to the base of Šija on the high ridge. A short slog gets us to the top and a suitably beautiful panorama, from the hills of Croatia and the distant Adriatic to the east and south, to the base of Triglav to the north, its upper flanks disappearing into a day-long bank of cloud. To east and west, our ridge reaches away in a series of peaks, swinging to the west around the end of Lake Bohinj to link up with the Triglav massif. This will be the landscape we will get to know in the next days. It looks very exciting.

An off-piste slither-and-scramble gets us down the grassy western side and onto the track to Vogel, the highest mountain in its area and our main target for the day. This is fine walking on a good path, climbing and descending as the cliffs and contours dictate, enjoying the steep hill sides below wildly broken crags and gorgeous deeper views.

At the base of Vogel we tackle a sharp, exposed approach ridge, glad at times of the cables firmly attached to the rock. These are well made trails. A further traverse of Vogel’s north-eastern flank gets us to another steep climb. Reg, Sophie, Ali and I, the usual rear guard, stop for a snack. We’ve got caught out without much food, as we understood that there are places en route to buy lunch, so we hit the nuts and chocolate. Get the slimming in early is a Walkopedia motto.

A short-ish climb gets us to the high col, where we met out speedsters, and sit to eat our emergency rations and admire the southward views. Everyone is already in the Happy Zone. A few minutes of climb on a sloping ledge above cracked boulders gets us to the summit (at 1,922m), with fine all-round views. Mustn’t grumble.

Next up is the day’s finest stretch, a descent of an airy, narrow, southward spur with cliffs each side. Leading away is another high serrated ridge, beyond it the green, lush-looking foothills, then the dim pewter sheen of the Adriatic.

A steep drop to the right gets us to a long, pretty downwards traverse, dropping through rock and grass, then shrubs and scrub and patches of dark ground-hugging pine, then pretty beech forest showing the fresh wounds of wild boar grubbings. We see out destination a very long way below us.

Our feet and legs are beginning to hurt when we reach the Razor hut – actually a well-built refuge. Drinks on the terrace in the sun, then we take our places in the common room for supper and contented talk. Our hostess is a kind older woman (everyone is delightful in these huts), who serves us a vegetable soup, salad, stew with large dumplings and an apple strudel. Delicious.

Some reading and talk in the warmth provided by a large, tiled stove. Very mellow indeed. Serena sits against it, working on her tapestry, a first for Walkopedia après-walk. We have three rooms between the seven of us, so split into boys and girls’ dorms and a Reg n Soph lovenest.

Day 2 – Razor Hut to Komna Hut

We celebrate a bright, empty-skied morning with a plate of fried eggs on ham.

We get stuck immediately into a long 600m-ish climb to a notch by Vrh Planje, in the high South Bohinj Ridge, which is home to WW1 Italian stone ruins, called barracks but actually pretty basic huts. Right by the path is what we assume to be a Tito era blockhouse, perhaps improving on a WW1 effort.

As we emerge steeply from the tree line, we climb through a long series of zig-zags up a steep grassy slope between crags, then traverse a beautiful hillside above the cliffs we have been avoiding. Far below are the meadows and villages of the Soca valley, after which this theatre of the First World War got its name. Beyond are the lower hills of Croatia and the pale haze of the Adriatic.

The Vrh Planje ruins are hugely atmospheric, and we take the first of many long breaks, patrolling the rounded top of the concrete bunker, then sitting and snacking and talking in the warm morning sun. It is a really perfect day, still fresh and with the gentlest of breezes. It is good to be alive.

A few minutes above us is the high col, and superb views across the great cleft that holds Lake Bohinj to the mad, broken, pale limestone massif beyond, the square bulk of Triglav soaring high above all else. A tiny corner of the lake appears round the side of a barren cliff far below.

A steep decent gets us to a fine traverse below the spikes and cliff of the high ridge. We turn west and tramp for a couple of delightful relatively level kilometres, eventually stopping for water and a snack on the grass of the next col. It turns into a half-hour of lazy chat, long enough for Serena’s tapestry to emerge.

A mere ¼ hour onward, we meet a knoll with a gorgeous view down the length of Lake Bohinj between its great cliffs, and north toward the Triglav massif. Lunch time, and at least an hour mellowing out in the sun. We have made good time and know that the weather is set to deteriorate tomorrow, so we can luxuriate.

The trail then drops past two vast rock-choked sinkhole depressions and into a very different landscape of broken hillocks and sinkholes leading to the cliff-face above the Lake Bohinj chasm. Around a ridge-base, we climb up a pretty valley to a low saddle, and descend into an extraordinary depression, dry but with no river exit, effectively a huge porous bowl, its bottom littered with little holes and a herd of cattle. It is peculiar but remarkably pretty, with early autumnal larch standing above a mass of dark ground-growing conifers.

Swinging round the hillside above, then climbing to another low col, and we are looking across a big bowl to the broken high ridge. The bowl seems choked with the low conifer, although there are alleyways between the patches when you get close up. On a hilltop is an ochre ruin, possibly a graveyard from this distance. It turns out to be the officers’ quarters of an Austro-Hungarian reserve echelon barracks. Close up, it is haunting and atmospheric, trees growing among its walls. To the west is a terrace with a fine view across the bowl, where you could imagine coffee and brandy and cigars being consumed on a summer evening. The lonely remains of the barracks lie in the dell below.

A lovely walk up through the low thickets to a col, then down through pretty mixed forest, gets us to the modern Komna refuge on its platform with views straight down Lake Bohinj. Marvellous. Hot chocolate on the terrace, then we take up positions at a table indoors, as there are rumours of 50 schoolchildren approaching. A good evening and another hearty mountain supper in the fug. Boys/ girls dorms for the night.

Day 3 – Komna hut to Prehodavcih hut

A horror is predicted, weather-wise, so we are up at 6:15 for a 7am breakfast, and off at 7:40. The forecast is right on it: as we walk out into rain – not yet driving (that is to come), but persistent.

We spend two hours traversing the hillside high above the valley that hold the Black Lake, just above the great cliff which line the Bohinj basin. (The Bohinj river runs from the Black Lake to the Black Sea, via the Danube). We had intended to drop to the Black Lake, then climb back to Triglav Lake in the Triglav Lakes Valley. Instead we have taken a shorter, direct route, on a track which looks like it has been banked up for mules in WW1, through dripping mixed forest. It is no doubt ravishing in decent weather, but today it is simply to be got through. The weather is getting worse. Pauses are brief and functional.

We reach the Triglav Lakes Hut in 2:45 hours, soaked through despite good kit but still quite cheerful. Hot chocolates, apple strudels and chocolate all round. Getting back into our soaking stuff isn’t great fun. We leave after an hour, stepping out into the driving rain. I am shivering almost immediately, but warm up with movement. It is a pretty miserable slog to the Prehodavcih hut, exacerbated by the evidence of the beauty and drama of this deep, cliff-girt valley which we are missing today. We pass a couple of little lakes and some grand boulder-slopes. A face of fantastically wrinkled limestone slopes above one of the lakes. We pass a huge ammonite in a trail-side rock.

After another couple of hours, we reach the Prehodavcih hut – with relief: the weather on the high ground by the col to the Soca valley is horrendous, blowing on gale with driving horizontal rain in thick cloud. This could easily be deadly if you got lost, and way finding isn’t wholly simple despite the excellent paths.

The hut is small and basic: no bootroom for squelchingly wet boots and clothes, which hang up around and fug up the communal room. We negotiate our way into a bleak 9-mattress room between us. Relative result.

A delicious ham and barley soup and sandwiches warm us, a feeling taken on round our bodies by tots of whisky. A long and increasingly cheerful afternoon playing bridge, reading and just being warm.

There is very British angst about other nationalities playing unfair, moving clothes and boot (ours, naturally) away from the single portable stove.

I can’t even remember supper now, except that there was lots of it and it slipped down a treat.

A surprisingly good night’s sleep despite cold, draughts, snoring and the gale.

Day 4 – exit via Za Kopico

It is still raining hard first thing, and still cloudy, although with patches of visibility teasing us with what we are missing: sharp peaks to our north separated from us by a huge chasm; a dramatic, jagged tower to our eastish, steep slopes and crags across the Triglav Lakes valley. We muse over the options: while the afternoon is supposed to clear, the forecast remains poor, although it isn’t clear quite how bad. We can exit quickly to Trenta to the north, dropping 1,500m in some 3 hrs on an easyish path; we can retrace our steps down the Seven Lakes valley, or we can head on along our intended route across the Hribarice Plateau to the Planikia hut. We are due to call Miha, and when we get through he advises us to get down – wisely, as it turns out, as the weather closes in further high up and people get stuck in the huts. Instead we settle on yet another option, escape via the dramatic Za Kopica valley to the south.

That is for later: we are going to wait out the worst of the weather in our warm, comfortable hut. Chat, books and some cards. Sophie isn’t in great shape and retires upstairs.

Things outside do improve a bit, and at 11am we have donned our wet boots and stepped out into the elements. I realise that I carefully stuffed newspaper yesterday into someone else’s boots. Mine contains puddles.

It is still raining and blowing a bit, so we trudge out with our heads down. An unfazed ibex, crowned with a magnificent pair of horns, lollops slowly off our path and stands to stare.

We get to the dark and dreary little lake at the bottom – no doubt ravishing on a sunny day – and start a long climb up the far slope, toward Hribrice. It is a dreary and monotonous hour or so, but we get to the junction where we are to turn off, and where the visual fireworks would really start if we could see anything. We traverse what is clearly an exceptionally dramatic high slope, at times on an airy path in a cliff-face, then wander along the rough rocky top of a cliff for some time, the mists masking the drop below us.

A decent, then a climb to a windy col. Behind us, the cloud thins for the first time, revealing tantalizing fragments of spires and peaks and chasms: we are clearly missing out on the most dramatic scenery. Ahead of us is a very different world, a ceiling of low cloud just above us and a clear view down one of the most lunar valleys I have met, all rock and sink-hole below great screes and cliff disappearing into the cloud. Ahead and far below are faint forested ridges.

A long and fascinating descent takes us through a series of zones: the bare rock of the upper valley, where we pass a sinister round hole with a foamy pool at the bottom, the most singular sink-hole I have seen; over a lip where we eat our sandwiches, a dimpled grassy bowl which must be another huge, boulder-choked sink-hole; and further down, beyond a small ridge decorated with patches of dark dwarf pines, a deep valley surrounded by the attractive, thin forest of the tree-line. Gorgeous.

Further down a forest track, we find a grassy bowl with a scattering of small huts, simple holiday homes, surrounded by steep wooded hillsides. We sit and enjoy this quiet, empty, charming little world, and the first hint of sun for 40 hours. Then it is another descent through lovely mixed forest to the hamlet at Planini pri Jezeru in another bowl, another group of huts and a smart modern gasthof above a small, dark little lake. Hot chocolate time.

A 50 minute walk down a steep track through more fine woodland gets us to the roadhead at Blato. Our walk is over: we have the disappointment of having missed the highlights of the Triglav massif, crossing to Dom Planika and the thrilling climb of Mount Triglav itself, but today has been salvaged. We are very happy; it has been a fantastic four days, bad weather notwithstanding.

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