Hiking in Croatia - Highlander Velebit 2017
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On September 9th through the 14th we decided to take a long-distance hike on the Croatian mountain Velebit. It consisted of passing a 104km long hiking route in 5 legs – from Zavižan to National Park Northern Velebit in the North of Velebit to National Park Paklenica in the South of Velebit. The hike requires the carrying of full gear and your ‘bed’ with you and backpacking in Nature under the stars. Hikers on the this trail need to be prepared for the wilderness as well as unpredictable weather, however, the organizer ensured that there were hot meals and water at every checkpoint.
Considering I was already in love with Velebit I was looking forward to finally getting to experience hiking it. I realized I had the opportunity when I first saw the Highlander Velebit event and thought to myself it had come at the perfect time.
To be completely honest, I didn’t train very much, a few recreational trails and a weekend of hiking which is my normal routine whenever I get the chance, but I don't consider it serious conditioning. Job obligations didn’t allow more than that and until the last moment, I didn’t even know if I will be able to dedicate enough days to hiking a mountain and staying away from cell phone service. Even the packing of my backpack started the day before.
We received clear directions from the organizer on how to pack, where we’ll have hot water, hot meals and all the necessary information. The only thing we needed to do was pack the backpack, plan meals and organize everything so it was handy. The rough daily plan was to pass the default leg, enjoy nature, take pictures and set up a tent before the nightfall.
We could plan for everything except for the weather – the forecast was variable, we expected a cyclone to pass over us, but we had hoped that the wind will push it a little bit more to the North and that it will bypass us.
Saturday, 9th of September. 1st day, 1st leg:
The three of us arrived from Split to Senj and from there we had organized transportation to Zavižan where we had gathered at the Start line with the rest of the hikers. The first scheduled leg was a 33km long route from Zavižan (1645m/nm) to mountain lodge Skropovac (958m/nm). That route was a very good warm-up for what was to come in the following days – we passed the majority of Permužić’s path, one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Europe and through National park Northern Velebit. At the half-way mark, the mountaineering club Alan, we got our hot meal, water and directions on how to proceed – water at the spring in Kornati and bivouacking at the meadow an hour away from Škorpovac where we had set up our tents before nightfall, cooked dinner and fallen asleep the second our heads touched the sleeping pad. The track was beautiful - it was without any large ascents and descents and we had already met some beautiful wild horses and had seen traces of other wild animals.
Sunday, 10th of September, 2nd day, 2nd leg:
After morning coffee on the meadow, we headed towards mountain lodge Skropovac. We didn’t count on the storm that had begun the moment we were entering the Finish line of the second leg – Baške Oštarije. The second leg included 14km long route from mountain lodge Škropovac (958m/nm) to Hostel Baške Oštarije (919m/nm), 111m of height difference. The second hot meal and bivouacking not far from the Hostel was waiting for us at Baške Oštarije, but as we came to the Checkpoint fairly early we decided to betake to shelter Šugarska Duliba which is 7 hours away from Baške Oštarije in the rain and look for a shelter in Nature. That way we have to shorten our hiking time for tomorrow. The journey we’ve been through in the rain was a special adventure – I was sorry that I didn’t take any pictures since our only focus was to shelter ourselves from the rain and the thunder. We set up tents in the forest which is 2 and a half hours away from Baške Oštarije via Sladovača - a crossroad that was very important for the following day. We had planned tomorrow’s route, studied the map, ate dinner and went to bed.
Monday, 9th of September, 3rd leg, 1st time:
A strong thunderstorm happened just last night – we heard thunder and the branches falling around our tents and in the morning a chaotic scene was waiting for us. – the river bed was overflowing with branches broken by the wind. We were lucky that nothing fell on us. Our maps of Velebit were soaked, but the option of heading back to Baške Oštarije for us was unacceptable so we decided, in the rain and thunder, to head forward and reach a location in which our phones would have a signal so that we could reach the organizer to check what was happening.
We then had to search for the marking of the Velebit’s hiking trail over the fallen trees and through the overflown river bed just so we could go back on route. We circled for 45 minutes and on 100km of the river bed and the only visible marking, the only walkable way was the marker for Konjsko, so we headed that way leaving the forest and hoping that we’ll somehow get to the needed information, but unfortunately it was too late. That day we walked a 20km long leg and have passed the Theresian road without a map descending to the Konjsko village and after 8 hours in bad weather conditions and unplanned roads we were soaked, hungry, without cell phone service, a map, and any information. All of our enthusiasm was gone when we saw the marking for Baške Oštarije realizing we walked in a circle, so we called the organizer who helped us return to Baške Oštarije.
Upon arriving there we realized what was happening around us – closed roads, landslides on Paklenica, flood in Zadar – it was the thunderstorm with the most rainfall in the last 50 years and that day the race was stopped for the participants’ safety. We had quickly set up tents in the area specified for bivouacking, dried our clothes on a gas stove and started to compose a game plan for tomorrow.
Tuesday, 12th of September, 4th day, 3rd leg, 2nd time:
It brightened up in the morning – partly, but we knew that the thunderstorm was behind us, we expected a little bit more rain if any of the clouds had stayed between the mountain peaks, but we knew that the weather will be better once we headed South.
Therefore, after our morning coffee and breakfast, we headed on the already well-known path to the crossroads in the woods at which we were lost the prior day. I was even happy to go the same path ‘cause I could compensate for all the pictures I couldn’t take because of the storm. At the crossroads, we knew where not to turn and got out of the river bend at the first marking in the opposite direction which has to lead us to Šugarska Duliba, our set goal for the day. The planned leg according to the organizer was 19km long route from Baške Oštarije (919m/nm) to Jelova Ruja (967m/nm) with the height difference of 400m.
The path was very demanding with a lot of ascends and descends, with a suggested leg from Baške Oštarije via Sladovača, Ramin’s Koritom to Pasji Kuk and from Pasji Kuk to Šugarska Duliba, with the remark that we should watch out for the wild animals. Ramino Korito is a special reservation of the forest’s vegetation and one of its parts encompasses a beech jungle in South Velebit. The quantity of wilderness and life in the forest is very enviable and really causes awe towards Nature – the bears, wild boars, lynxes, wolf, deer, foxes, and birds.
We were lucky and didn’t have any close encounters with wild animals, but we were very careful the entire way through and were alerting our presence. As the weather calmed we arrived at Šugarska Duliba (1212m/nm), the shelter that thrills with its architecture and view, so we had set up tents not far from the shelter just before the last rain, around 300m following the trail – on a meadow where we had a well with drinking water. We got settled, dried our gear on the gas stove and planned the next day’s route.
Wednesday, 13th of September, 4th leg:
After the calming of the weather, lightening up, passing the Ramino Korito and arriving to the south regions we noticed that Velebit is gentler – the Mediterranean climate could be felt more, we went out in the bora and continued our journey to Veliko Rujno. The foreseen route for that day was 19km long leg form Jelova Ruja (967m/nm) to Veliko Rujna (900m/nm), with 490m of height difference. We started from Šugarska Duliba via Panos to Tatek’s koliba because Jelova Ruja still couldn’t be accessed due to the floods and the landslides – meanwhile, the route was changed due to unabled access to Jelova Ruja, but the mileage stayed the same. To me personally, this route was the most attractive hiking tour in the event, all the way to descend and the walk to the Finish line. We had drinking water the entire way and in Veliko Rujno our 3rd hot meal and bivouacking were waiting for us. All the way to Veliko Rujno we had encountered domestic animals on the trail, due to which we had to bypass bulls with our planned route that had a lot of ascends and descends such as previous days. That day we ran out of food because we didn’t plan to spend one whole day more on the mountain, that’s the reason this was our slowest leg – anticipating the arrival at Veliko Rujno we stopped halfway at Tatek’s hut at Stap peak in which we found a bag of Asian noodles (hikers, thank you) that gave us enough strength to last until our scheduled hot meal. On the road to Veliko Rujno, we were only thinking about what’s waiting for us there. We arrived, set up tents in the backyard of a church, warmed up, ate dinner next to a bonfire and planned our route for the last day of the race.
Thursday, 14th of September, 5th leg:
The 5th leg was really relaxing after what we’ve been through in the previous days – 16km long route from Veliko Rujno (900m/nm) via Stradžbenica and PD Paklenica, Velika Paklenica all the way to the Finish line. This part was not only a sightseeing tour but also a vacation from the entire trip – going back to civilization where the organizers were waiting for us not far from the entrance to the Park and where we were sharing our impressions from the last few days over a cup of coffee and some fruit. We’ve been through a lot, from different climate zones, weather changes, morphology, and typology of the terrain, woods, karst, ridges and river bends, friendships and events, blisters, close encounters with the animals or at least their traces. We weren’t in a rush, but we arrived within the set time (if there wasn’t a time limit we would still be up there). We’re still overwhelmed – how to reduce 127 hours, 125km, 3000m of height difference, 20000 lost calories and 600 photographs in just a few – there’s no way, only plan to go for more next year.