June 8th, 2014
There has been a bit of a hiatus from the Sunday walks, weather related with a couple of Sundays washed out because of rain and because I caught quite a head cold in May. Lili was here visiting and unfortunately I passed the cold on to her.
So I here I am on hot (30C) and sunny Monday afternoon, sitting on my balcony with the blinds down, a nice breeze blowing, birds chirping away and I am thinking about yesterday’s walk. I was to be ready for 8:20 on Sunday morning because we were headed off to Croatia to an area just above Rijeka and it would be about a two hour drive. We are also to meet up with the Commandante who is now back in Monfalcone to spend the summer on his sailboat. (Sailing pictures to follow!)
From the road above Rijeka (Fiume in Italian), Opatija (Abazzia), the islands sitting in the stunning blue waters of the Gulf of Rijeka are spread out below us. This is the Croation “Riviera”. The autostrada takes us by shopping centres, apartment buildings, industrial areas, huge billboards, all part of a modern urban landscape. Then the autostrada ends by a small airfield and along side the airfield is a motorcycle raceway. We are now on a secondary road headed up towards the ski hills of Platak. The road winds through coniferous forests where from the curves in the road we catch glimpses of the Gulf waters and islands (Cres, Krk, Losinj).
We arrive at the parking lot for the ski hill and we are at about 1000 metres altitude. This is the largest ski area in Croatia but not of course high enough to be an alpine ski area. The ski runs and tow remind me of Camp Fortune.
It is just before 11:00 a.m. and we head out along a gravel road walking through the shade of a beech forest. The sky is a cloudless blue and the temperature is around 24C. No need for long sleeves but for sure I need a hat, a scarf to protect the back of my neck and lots of sun screen. The gravel road is carsic rock – large and sharp stones- not the smaller rounded stones of gravel roads in Gatineau Park for example. One of the group comments on how nice this road is for walking because often these walks start off on this type of road but then for some unknown reason all of a sudden the capogita leads us off onto a torturous goat trail! And I have to say he was summarizing my feelings exactly – I knew this easy walking was not going to last. We head off onto a smaller trail. It is a nice easy start to the walk even if you have to watch your footing because the full sun is creating light and shade areas and throws off your depth perception. We are heading slowly uphill with the sounds of a cuckoo –cuckoo coming from somewhere in the woods.
We come out of the beech forest at a signed cross road – Rimski Put in Croatian. It is a road used by the Romans and has the characteristic short rock wall marking the road shoulder. From here you can start to see some of the surrounding carsic hills.
We do not take the Rimski Put but instead pick our way through some large stones and head onto a trail slowly uphill through the woods. All along the trail are wild garlic in full bloom and the air is pungent with their scent. The heat increases the potency of the garlicky smell and while at first it was quite pleasant, it soon becomes almost overwhelming. We emerge from the woods and the trail now takes us along a stone strewn meadowy crest. We are working our way up to the summit and now along the trail are low and dense mugho pine. What a relief to now be surrounded by that piney scent. We are now high enough, and clear of the forest, we start to see the Adriatic below us. But at this point the trail is steeper and rockier. With the full sun I am feeling very, very warm. I cannot think about the view. I need to know that we are nearing the summit. But once again, just as I think that we have reached the summit, I look up and all I can see is more of the steep trail. I start to feel a bit anxious. So this time I ask to stop. I sit on the ground, drink some water and after a few minutes I feel my body heat stabilizing and we move on. The trail is still winding uphill. Some other hikers meet up with us. They pass us and now I use them as markers to see where we are headed. I am not sure it is a good thing as the next time I look we have rounded a rock face and I see them clambering with their hands up the sides of the next rock face. Here there is no breeze at all and a blast of hot air surrounds me. The capogita climbs up first of course. I pass my walking poles up to him and place my toes and hands in what seem to be the spots for them and lift myself over. The trail winds again and then one last handhold and there we are at the summit. The people that came up ahead of us are lying on some grass and soaking up the sun and taking their lunch break. The capogita congratulates me on making it to the summit of Mt Snejznik– 1506 metres is painted in red on the rock face and there are small colored flags flags flapping in the wind.
I look for a shady spot to sit because I need to cool down but since we are at the summit, there are no trees and it is around 12:30, so there is absolutely no shade anywhere. It must be over 30C. I put my back down beside a large stone outcropping to give myself the illusion of being in the shade. Once I am seated and have some water I can actually start to appreciate the view and it is spectacular. As I munch on my sandwich, in front of me as far as the eye can see, are the green woods and mountains of the Risnjak National Park. Behind me are the Blue waters of the Gulf of Rijeka. I feel calm, contented. It feels right and good to be here. I walk around a little and look at the gensiana popping out of the grass with that regal purple – blue color. There were also narcissus, masses of light blue forget –me- nots, buttercups, burgundy and purple flowers I do not recognize all along the walk up here. The meadows are full of yellow and white flowers blowing in the breeze. There seems to be a different blooming season here as I had already seen a lot of these flowers in bloom in April.
The capogita points out the different mountain peaks and shows us the where we are headed next. We can see the trail that will be the last part of the walk. I still have no sense of the distances when I am looking down at the trail but am told that the hard part of the walk is done. The Commandante, as a seafaring man, is watching a lone cloud casting some shade on the valley below and says that if we wait about 20 minutes then that shade will be coming our way. So we are stopped for a good hour, largely I expect for my recovery from the climb. We head down hill to this abandoned stone house right below where we have been stopped for lunch. It used to be a military look-out when this was Jugoslavia.
On to the next summit- Guslica. The capogita explains that during Tito’s time this area had been off limits to civilians. Where we are headed to used to be a military surveillance post.
The trail now takes us along another meadowy crest and that cloud does cast some shade on us for a few minutes. A feel recovered and am really enjoying the descent.
We reach a small wooded area and then are heading up hill again but nothing steep. We now start to ask how long before we get there. Again, we are told it is not far! Surprisingly we reach a gravel road and look out again at that stunning view. This used to be the military road up to the surveillance post and we head up to the top. It is barren, derelict and of course deserted. There are the remains of a water cistern, a helicopter landing pad, dog cages, bunkers with several entrances to protect against air raid attacks, the building that housed the military. It was supposed to be converted to a “rifugio” for hikers but there does not seem to have been any work done at all. I find a shady spot on a cement stair way and take off my backpack. My t-shirt is soaked but is that great fabric that dries quickly and by the time this little break is done it has dried off considerably. I exchange a few words in English minutes with the Commandante. Two men appear from the hill below and one says immediately in Croation – these people speak English. I explain that I am Canadian and I am here with my friends from Trieste. He asks what I did to get in shape for this walk. The older guy laughs and says that they should have been in training and not me as they both sported quite the beer bellies! The older man does not speak English but asks the younger one who does speak English to explain to us that during Tito’s time we would have been shot if we were anywhere near here. The older man asks him to explain to us that this should have been a rifugio and had it been Germans or Canadians doing this work it would have been ready by now. But Croations go about these things more slowly. He laughs and then says much like Italians. He works for an Austrian company and so speaks English and German. The older man asks him to tell us that when he was 6 years old he used to walk up here with his sheep 6km every day and then go back home 6 km everyday. The older man says that life was much better under the ex-Jugoslavia. They had a lot more freedom than the other Eastern block countries. They could buy things. He went to work in Germany and so of course he would have been able to have a better standard of living earning Deutch marks. The younger man adds, that this might only be nostalgia but that it was stupid of them to be inflamed by a false nationalism to go to war. The older man once again asks him explain the best route back and capogita lets him know that yes this was the route he was planning to take back.
Then they wish us a good walk and head back straight down the same trail where they came up.
We also head back down the road and a bit later see the two Croatian men emerging from the woods onto the road where their car is parked. I have no idea how they drove on that road as it is not maintained and is really full of stones and downed tree branches. As the capogita had already explained the road then turns into a trail back through the woods. We are once again in a beech forest. The trees are straight and tall and have very few side branches. Beautiful but at this point my feet are moving through sheer will power. Five o’clock and we are back at the car – 12.8 warm km later!
Time for a refreshments at the ski chalet. My water was ice cold – felt really good. Then dinner at a gostilna – cevapcici for all. The sunset was a stunning orange-red. A splendid ending to a splendid day spent in great company!