Mt. Sneznik Slovenia from Sviscaki
June 18, 2014
The drive takes us through Ilirska Bistrica where I am happy to say I recognize the countryside and the lumber mill in town. Again we take the road that winds uphill through the dense forests below Sneznik. There is no line in the middle of the road and to me it is hard to understand how you can anticipate the curves ahead let alone understand if the curve is turning left or is turning right because I have learned that you need to take the car into the shoulder or out wider depending on which direction the curve goes. I am enjoying the ride as it feels a little like the rides on the gravel roads in Abitibi when we used to go blueberry picking. I see the parking spot where we left the car for the walk to the Koslek Rifugio. We keep driving, still winding curves and dark green coniferous forest. We arrive at a cluster of small houses – week-end places for hunters and hikers. Some were built in Tito’s time by factories who would send their workers there on holidays. Today they are privately owned and I can see maintained with pride. There was also a small ski hill near by at one time and the area is also a winter destination.
Almost two hours after leaving Trieste we reach a small parking space in a deciduous forest. The carved wood sign indicates that the Rifugio Sveti Karolina on the summit is closed today. There are split wooden logs placed in a rectangle near by and we sit there to put on the hiking boots. As the capogita gets up he quietly says to me – look over to the car. I see a red fox with a long bushy tail slowly walking by. He stops to look at us, walks forward up the trail, looks back at us again as if to say, “ what are you doing here?” and then disappears into the underbrush. A wildlife sighting is not uncommon here as it is considered a wilderness area.
We head out onto the trail. On one side of the trail the ground goes steeply down. The trees are quite high and thick but there is no real undergrowth so you can see right through them for quite a distance to other rolling tree covered hills. Alongside the trail are acquilegia- on tall delicate stems ending in this deep purple bell shaped flower.
There are still bears in this area and so I think to ask the capogita what to do if we do see a bear because the trees do not seem to have the type of lateral branches that I think might do to climb up should a bear appear. I have seen black bears before while blueberry picking in Noranda but always from the back or side and at a distance. The family rule was that if you saw a bear you had to go straight back to the car. I am told that in the unlikely event that we encounter a bear here, to look the animal straight in the eyes and back up slowly. I now notice the bear spray at the side of his backpack!
After about 30 minutes of easy uphill we are now at a crossroad and the sign says 1.5 hours to Sneznick.
Further on we come to a small clearing where there is a post with a number of signs on it written in Slovenian of course. There is also a pile of split wood logs. I ask what the sign says and it is something like this: “If you are young and healthy pick up a couple of logs and bring them with you to share. If you are not just enjoy being here!” Apparently this is a hiking tradition. The capogita pick up two logs and I place them on top of his backpack.
Now the real ascent begins. And what a treat. We are on a gravelly trail about a meter wide. It winds through high mugho pines their gnarled roots intertwining with the carsic rocks and forming what amounts to steps. On both sides the rocks are carpeted with flowers of all colors. How can they possible grow on this carsic rock that contains very little soil. Not only are they flowering bountifully, I cannot imagine that even the most expert garden designer would be able to dupicate this spectacular combination and diversity of colors, and shapes and heights of flowers and all positioned dramatically in each available crevice. All this against a backdrop of mugho pines, carsic boulders and the summit of Mt Sneznik in the distance. I can see the beige colored rifugio up and ahead of us. We can also make out that there are three or four people at the rifugio.
It is still a bit of a way off and it is now past noon. We reach a huge boulder that has a small bench underneath and I ask to sit down. I catch my breath, eat my peach and we move on. I can hear the other hikers talking as they come down but they take another trail and pass to our left.
I ask if we are taking this same trail back because I am thoroughly enjoying walking through this natural rock garden. I also like this trail because you can look down and see where you came from and look up to see where the trail is going. Because the mugho pines are not tall trees I can see the rolling forested hills in the distance and below me while I am walking. I also like the feeling of being surrounded by these low pines.
I am told to expect a strong wind as we round the next curve in the trail and sure enough in this last leg up to the summit the wind is blowing hard. We get to the rifugio and then walk up to the summit sign. The capogita logs our names in the book. We walk around and take in the 360 view. This is another one of those spectacular new experiences – to see the world below you full circle. This view is all about the forests and it really does feel like there is nothing but wilderness out there.
Back to the rifugio, the capogita deposits his two logs. It is surprisingly cold with the wind and I need to put on a long sleeved sweater and my windbreaker while we eat lunch.
We wonder if we will get to see ourselves on the webcam that is set-up on the corner of the roofline of the rifugio.
A long dark cloud has now moved in over head and with the wind my hands are cold. I am thinking that it can’t be more than 13 or 14C with this wind.
The capogita decides that we need to head back down quickly and he sets a good pace down. I feel a few sprinkles of rain but cannot help myself and I have to stop and take some pictures of this amazing and continuous rock garden.
By the time we get to the fork where the logs are we seem to be out from under that cloud and it is feeling warmer. We then take a bit of a short cut back along a small gravel road. But by now it is sunny and quite warm again so we can slow down and enjoy the woods around us.
As we reach the parking space a car with German plates pulls in. A young couple gets out of the car and asks if we speak English. He asks how long it takes to get to Sneznik. The capogita responds in German and provides additional information on the road and the trail.
We drive to the week-end houses to take a look around and then stop at Sviskaci where the women at the rifugio tells the capogita in Slovenian that there is no problem to get to Masun on the gravel road. We head out on this single lane road that has, on one side quite a nice drop, and on the other a rock face. It is 20 km to Masun and along the way we see a sign on a rock that this road was built in 1886 (by the Austrians). We do not meet any other cars along the way. Here again we do see the destruction caused by the ice storm in February. Trees uprooted, tops of trees shorn off, splintered trees everywhere for several kilometers.
Masun is a grouping of a few houses and a Gostisce – guesthouse. It used to be a logging settlement. There is a forest learning path, the trekkers and bikers of course going up to Sneznik, and in winter a cross country skiing area.
The restaurant is open so we stop in for dinner. They are known for their game dishes, venison, bear steaks, deer, wild boar. We have the roast wild boar and the deer filet. The plate is really nicely presented with spinach and three different types of potatoes. Delicious and just what we need as here it is cool enough that I have to put my sweater on.
While we wait for dinner a group of about 15 young children and four adults come in. The children look to be about 5 or 6 years old. They come in two by two holding hands and seem to know exactly where their places are at three tables all ready set-up with glasses of orange juice. We expect a very loud and boisterous dinner. To the contrary all the children sit quietly and patiently as the waitress brings out two plates of pasta at a time, sets them down and then goes back for two more plates. You can imagine this takes a bit of time and the children just sit there and wait. Once everyone has a plate of pasta in front of them one of the adults says “Bon appetito” and they all start to eat. We cannot believe that they are there without their parents and that they seem perfectly comfortable and know how to go about having a meal at a restaurant. The hostess later tells us that they are here from Porto Roz but she does not know any more about them.
It is almost the summer solstice and the days are nice and long. It is a very enjoyable drive back as the scenery changes once again and we pass fields of newly mown hay and flocks of sheep grazing contently.