Monte Maggiore – Ucka March 12, 2014
Ucka (M t.e Maggiore in Italian) is typically carsic with caves, grottoes, springs and woods. The area is the Parco Naturale Ucka. The mountain range has several summits and we climbed to the summit of Vojak which is 1396m above sea level. It is the highest peak of the Ucka range and the highest peak of the Istrian peninsula. Though this is a bit debatable as are all things Italian since some would say that Ucka is part of the mountain-coastal area of Croatia and not strictly speaking part of Istria.
On the summit is a round stone tower built in 1911 by an alpine club and was subsequently used as a look-out point by the Austrian forces in the first world war. From the tower you have a 360 degree view of Rijecka, the northern Adriatic, the islands of Krk, , to the Vellebit and Cicarija mountain ranges, il Gorske kotar in Dalmatia, to the Istrian hilltop towns and if you are there on a day where the bora is blowing and clears away the humidity , you can see the Dolomites and the Bay of Trieste. At the summit today is also a military controlled, fenced in, radar station and a television tower.
After driving past Buzet, taking the same road as we took with Luciana to go to the Konoba for my birthday lunch, past Hum on the hilltop, we get on a Croation toll highway (which they cannot charge you for because it is not a two lane divided highway) we get off at the exit Matulji-Poklon and the entrance to the Ucka Tunnel. The road winds up a lovely wooded hill, past a few old farms and also some newly constructed homes which must have stunning views , past the Josip II fountain, the town of Vela Ucka, and we are at the Poklon Pass. Poklon Pass separates Monte Ucka and Monte Cicarjle and Istria from Rijeka (Fiume in Italian). The name Poklon refers to the point where the Istrian Pilgrims kneeled to pray to the Madonna for the first time as they caught a glimpse of the church on Trsat. Poklon means to kneel in Croatian.
There is a small parking lot with a WC where if it is open and it was not you have to insert 2 kunas to make use of the facility. There are no other such facilities on the entire walk! There is also a Pensione Ucka with a restaurant, a refugio del club alpino di Opatija (also open only o n week-ends), and a large concrete cross. At the back of the pensione is a small lawn and it was carpeted with wild crocuses in every hue of purple.
The sign board read 1.5 hours to Vojak and we start out. The capogita’s pace is slow and steady, thank goodness. Poklon is at 922 metres and it is steep walk up straight up to Vojak at 1396m. Right after the Pensione Ucka are the stone walls of what is left of a pensione that used to be there in the 1930’s and a nice reclusive spot for me as a replacement for the WC which is closed!
The walk starts uphill through a stand of silver barked beech trees with their distinctive elephant foot roots (I learned this about beech trees from a sign post in the little wooded area where Ma walks). The old growth beech forest (fagetta in Italian) is quite clear under the trees and not like the dense woods we know. So you can really enjoy the distinctive shape, the large circumference of the trunck and the color of the bark. The path is lined with the first delicate crocuses, so many that it is not possible to not step on them. Then we come to the asphalt road used to drive up to the summit and I think to myself – great I can catch my breath on a flat area. But no chance, we cross the road, climb a set of stone stairs and keep walking uphill. This happens two more times. The second time we cross the road I get a break for a drink of water. No one else, it appears, needs water and no one else, it appears, is as short of breath as I am. Along the way there are wooden benches and picnic table and an instructional area where there is info about the plants and animals of the park. So I get a bit of a breather as I read the info. The trail now gets a bit more rocky, still all uphill and curves around some high stone outcroppings. Now I am feeling a bit light headed from being constantly out of breath. On the last stretch we start to see the last of the spring snow. It is nice and clean and smells fresh. I am now no longer wearing my jacket and am walking through the last of the snow only in my shirt sleeves. I can tell you that at 15C or so , a cloudless spring day, I actually enjoy the sight of the snow and it feels like those pictures you see of European ski hills where people are out sunbathing in the snow.
The last part of the climb to the summit is on the asphalt road and it is snow covered with two bare strips down the centre where the cars have passed. We get to the radar station and head left a bit to the stone tower. It is 30 steps up to the top and now I have finally caught my breath again. With the inexperienced hiker as part of the trio, it took us 1 hour and 40 minutes to the top. We are the only ones there to take in the 360 degree view. There is a round granite ledge all around the tower about 18inches wide and engraved in the granite are the names of all the mountains, that you can see, all the towns in Istria on the other side and of course Rijeka on the Quarnero- Kvarner – Adriatic side. I am now starting to remember some of the names of the summits that the capogita has repeated to me many times before. I can now start to understand where the summits are postioned relative to each other; M.te Nevosa – Snegnic, Triglav (the symbol of Slovenis), M t.e Nanos, M t.e Nero , M t.e Slavnik, come to mind right now but there are many, many more.
We have lunch at the top of the tower with that endless view, prosciutto, cheese panin followed by a cherry Perugina chocolate offered by our fellow walker.
Now that we have arrived at the tower I realize that while the up hill climb was much longer than it was to reach the summit of M t.e Slavnik I am not as sweaty and feel a lot less light headed than the last 200 m to reach the summit of Slavnik. Not because I am getting better at this, only because the last part of this climb was a bit less steep, thank goodness.
Then it is time to continue on over the crest to the right and to the actual summit past mugo pines that are about 5 feet tall. Now the tricky part starts. The trail is on a steep and rocky grassy slope. The carsic rocks have small sharp points, but there are also rounded ones making the footing quite tricky. The capogita reminds me to always put the points of my walking sticks in the ground in front of me. The pace is slowed down because I cannot believe that I am actually on this mountain crest and I have to keep looking at the stunning view below. We then come into a wooded area, again steeply for me down hill, but this time the soil is loamy, with rounded rocks and inches thick with dry leaves. Now the capogita is moving maybe 10 feet at a time and then stopping to check my progress. I try to watch where and how he places his feet. He is as sure footed as a mountain goat. I now also realize that the trail is not marked and he is navigating with his sense of where these trails are relative to each other. There are many trails to different summits and down to the coastal towns. The third of the trio, much to the capogita’s dismay is saying that he remembered the trail as much flatter and he is not enjoying this steep climb down!
Finally after about 1 hour we are on relatively flat terrain , round a curve and the trail now leads back to Poklon. Here again we are in the beech forest, crocuses as far as the eye can see. We come to some small buildings, not sure what they are for. Here the trail is the wide enough for three people, up to now it has been a one person trail. We come to a picnic table and there is a view of Rijeka beyond but what catches my eye is the sheer number of crocuses in bloom. We are definitely here at the peak of the bloom and with this sunny weather the blooming will be done in a few days. How lucky are we to see this floral exhibitionism!
The last 15 minutes as we approach Poklon again, I am stating to feel the days walk. We started at 11:00 and it is now 4:30. In the end our companion with the GPS says it was a walk of just over 9 km which does not seem long in distance but in effort it was at the maximum of what I could manage today. What a perfect day, beautiful countryside, bonna compagnia and I am starting to feel the attraction of these carsic rocks.