Thursday, 27 September 2012

Istria lesson


Ljubljana Dragon bridge dragon on the lager
Ljubljana graffiti dragon on the wall
As Patrick is no Alpinist, the nearest I have got to bagging hills in the last two days is going up to two grads (castles) built on top of strategic hilltops - one in Ljubljana and another on the banks of lake Bled.

Day one we sauntered around the streets of Ljubljana until it started to rain. On the second day we circumnavigated lake Bled in the rain, mainly. With a brief visit to the bee-keeping museum - the Cebelarski muzej - in Radovljica.
Bustling streets of Ljubljana
Co-op bank window
Bled grad
Cyclamen purpurascens - Sowbread

Cloud covered Karavankes from Bled Grad
Lake Bled

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Stolen moments

Stol from the south
On Sunday I was a bit slow getting going and thought I would use the day catching up with the blog and reading Mark Thompson's book about the Isonzo front. This lead to mild regret when Monday turned out to be a day of almost constant torrential rain that culminated in a spectacular thunderstorm. certainly not a day to tackle the swaying infamous Pipans staircase on the Italian Ultra, Jôf di Montasio as planned. today either as I had to meet my friend Patrick at Ljubljana Jože Pučnik airport - I didn't really want to try to rush JFM. Never mind, there was still one Slovenian P1000 left to do, namely Stol (2237m P1021) or as the Austrians call it Hochstuhl. Stol is the highest point in the Karavanke Alps which form part of the Austrian/Slovenian border. The current (2012) edition of the DK Slovenia guidebook has a cover picture in psychedelic colours of Lake Bled and in the background are the Karavankes, including Stol.
I started from Valvasorjev Dom (1149m) where I had sat in my van the night before watching the lightning light up the sky around me. The marked track heads eastwards in a traverse through the woods before heading steeply upwards to the cloud base at around 1750m. As usual, the woods gave way to dwarf pine and then to a karst limestone landscape. A strange whirring noise turned out to be a windmill alongside the Presernova Koca (2193m) hut and there was a sign saying 15 minutes to the summit. The wind driving the windmill was quite chilling and I had to wear gloves for only the second time since leaving the Arctic circle.

Border post and summit marker

The summit itself was marked by a border post; nearby there was a logbook and a stamp; and about 50 metres further along the ridge the ubiquitous Austrian summit  wooden cross. In the time it took for my hands to get really cold, I made an entry in the logbook and then headed back to the koca to get warm.

The koca was closed for the winter - and in fact would have been locked and empty if last night's thunderstorm had not delayed the helicopter due to collect the three people sat inside. Despite being closed they offered me a drink - where the choice was either coffee or beer. As I don't drink coffee I had a nice 'warming' beer.
Natural spring
As every hill bagger will know, there is a common natural phenomenon whereby the weather clears after you have been to the summit (it has a closely related one, where on a nice day, the clouds roll in as you approach the summit). Today was no different, as I descended the weather improved and the clouds started to disappear.
Still, it meant a clear landing for Patrick .

Chough it

Patrick getting into his Strudel

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Dogged steps on Kanin

Kanin summit from below

Ninety seven metres short of an Ultra, what a shame, because Kanin/Canin is a great brute of a mountain.

The top was hidden in the clouds. As I sat in the chairlift  (I know that could be seen as cheating) my hope was that there would be a repeat of yesterday's experience. Please let there be light. The cabin started to get warmer and the light a little brighter. Please let that be a good sign. And, it was. From the lift top I could see blue sky and in the time it took me to sort my rucksack out, the cloud cleared to a level just below.
View from top of ski-lift
The top of the ski-lift

And, what a view. Desolation and majesty in equal measure. I hope all these people are not going the same way as me, though. As it turned out, none of them - they went off in other directions, including a family who were going to struggle finding any nature, other than rocks, on the marked nature trail.
Okno from south
Okno from west
At first my route was difficult to find, the usual signposts were not there for my route, although all the other ways were clearly marked. After a bit of hesitation I found the track - up past a big hole in the summit ridge - called Okno - and over a pass where I managed to lose the track again. After a bit of backtracking and wandering I found the marked trail just before it met another track that comes up from the Dom Petra Skalaria na Kaninu.

Riddled - and don't the clouds make it  look like it is by the sea?
 The trail was obvious from this point and involved a long traverse across scree below the summit ridge that forms the Italian/Slovenian border. Nearer to the summit, the track rises up on to that ridge using some fairly easy VF in the more difficult sections. Then it it is a bit like Crib Goch as the track rises and falls along the ridge, past a massive hole like a tooth that has been drilled prior to filling and finally on to the summit.
The tooth needs a filling
Italy - through a gap
Kanin summit
Believe it or not, on a Saturday, I had the summit all to myself for the period that I was there gawping at the view, completing the logbook and throwing bits of my sandwich to the Alpine Choughs. Poking above the clouds I could see Jof di Montasio, Mangrt, Triglav and Krn amongst others.
Summit with Jof di Montasio in background
The clouds seemed to extend right over the Adriatic sea as if it was a high level sea fret. Over the other side of the aforementioned mountains it was possible to see the mountains of Austria, including Grossglockner, quite free of cloud - and that even the valleys to the north of Triglav were in sunshine.
Ridge with Mangrt and Triglav at back
Going back down I met several people on the their way up. Surely they would not be able to get up and down in time for the last chairlift of the day? When I reached the junction for the Dom I had about one hour twenty minutes left to catch that chairlift. It said on the rock, 20 minutes to the dom and I knew that a sign at the lift had said it was 45 minutes from the dom. Plenty of time, I might even be able to grab a cup of tea there. Even walking quite briskly it took me 30 minutes to reach the dom and thinking that maybe the 45 minutes was equally optimistic I carried straight on* - and, of course, arrived with 20 minutes to spare. Damn, I could have had a quick cuppa. *Actually, straight on is a bit of misnomer as the track had to circumvent a fair number of  deep holes in the chaotic limestone pavement.
Pozor - Danger
Whilst sat waiting, I heard something that has been very very rare throughout this trip  on the European mainland - English being spoken with British accents. I introduced myself and this lead to a very genial, generous and pleasant evening over a pizza and a bottle of wine.
Rare British presence in Slovenia

Kanin from Mrzli Vrh

The frontline on Krn

Krn - on right- from Mrzli Vrh

The day was overcast and the tops hidden in the cloud, but it was still mild and no evidence it was going to rain. So, I drove way up past several small villages to a car park at Planina Kuhinja at 990m.
From there it was a matter of following a marked path that traversed back and forth up the hillside mainly through meadows. and over bits of limestone until reaching the cloud level at around 1700m. The path continued to traverse and the going got rougher as the amount of exposed limestone increased. And I resigned myself to a day with no views.

Krn vrh summit 
Suddenly, just a couple of metres below the closed refuge of Gomisckovo zavetisce (2182m) I broke out above the clouds into brilliant sunshine and fabulous views of the summits like Kanin, Jof di Montasio, Mangrt and Triglav poking their heads above the clouds.
The indicator says that is Triglav showing
Tunnel exit
I picked my way up towards the summit of Krn (2244m P605) and as I did so there was increasing evidence that I was on what had been the Isonzo/Soca frontline between the Italians and Austrian-Hungarians in WW1. Lots of evidence - trenches, barbed wire, tunnels, bunkers. The top itself was extensively covered in sheep shit, although there was no sign of the culprits.
I picked my way back down to the refuge by a slightly different route and found an entrance to a human-made cave that went through the hillside and came out on the other side over a very steep face.
Kanin framed by the tunnel exit

WW1 - barbed wire
From the refuge I followed the so-called Walk of Peace path as far as Krnska krbina where there was remains of Italian ordnance including the carriage for a Howitzer gun.

Howitzer for you?
I debated about staying on this path, marked on the map as the Geologischer wanderweg, but decided that it would add a lot more distance, much of which would have been in the clouds. So I took a path down, that shortly met with the ascent route. I must confess though that for quite a distance I ignored the traversing marked path and made a beeline down the steep slope, having checked on the way up that it didn't look like it had any hidden sink-holes.
If you want to know more about the battle front, try Mark Thompson 'The White war' (2009) and, of course, Ernest Hemingway's personal account  'A farewell to arms' (1929). It is chilling and sobering to learn about the carnage that took place.

The fact of the Matajur

Matajur  (1642m) may not be the highest hill  in the area, the most rugged or the most difficult to bag. However it is quite pretty with good views and it is quite prominent at P1392.
It is another border mountain. These borders weave around so much it is sometimes a surprise to meet one. Why couldn't they do what the colonials did in Africa and just draw straight lines, then you would, literally, know where you stand?
It is possible to tackle the hill from the Italian side from the Rifugio Pelizzo (1300m) quite close to the summit. There is a much longer route that involves a lot more ascent from Kobarid in Slovenia. I went for the middle ground and started at a little car park at Avsa (890m), which is near to Livek.
Matajur from the east
The marked path goes through pleasant woods and meadows with occasional lumps of karst limestone until it meets a more substantial track near Mrzli Vrh. This track has reinforced edges that made me wonder if it had been built for border patrols with armoured vehicles prior to the fall of the 'iron curtain', rather than a farmer's track.
I kept on the Slovenian side of the summit ridge and this meant going over a limestone pavement and then up a bit of a steep limestone escarpment.
Clints and grikes
Matajur summit
For people who carry inkpads and booklets to record their ascents

The summit is marked with various military and political plaques, including one to Muzzolini. There isn't a cross, however, on the Italian side there is a chapel that doubles as a shelter with an Italian logbook.

The views across to the main Triglav summits were extensive and in the other direction it was possible to make out Trieste and even, possibly, Venice, but I wasn't really confident about that. There was a hazy view of the Adriatic.

Going back, I kept to the Italian side and then dropped down steeply through some woods to join the border road. Then I went up over the top of the lower summit of Mrzli vrh which, to my surprise, had its own, Slovenian, logbook. From there it was easy to find the track used for the ascent.
Mrzli vrh summit and Matajur in background

Matajur from Krn

What, another snow hill?

Veliki Sneznik
Sneznik signpost

So far on this trip I have been up Snohetta (No), Snezka (Cz/Pl) and Snieznik (Cz/Pl) all of which
translate, more or less, as snow hill - although only the first one had any snow on it. When I realised that Slovenia also had a snow hill, Sneznik 1797m with a fine prominence of P1124 I could not resist. It was not that much of a detour from going back to the Julian Alps from Trieste and it gave me a chance to see more of the Gulf of Trieste and of Slovenia.

I did not have a map. However my Dorling Kindersley guide mentions that it is 'not a difficult climb for seasoned climbers' from the Sviscaki hut near the town of Ilirska Bistrica. My satnav got me to I.B. and thankfully there was a signpost to Sviscaki, 19km away. My satnav wanted to take me a completely different way that was considerably longer than that. As it happens, it was possible to drive further than the hut, ignoring the private road sign, although the picture sign seemed to be only banning buses. And I came to small a car park in the woods at N45 34 31.9, E014 25 06.7
Covering myself in pepper, to become a 'seasoned climber' I set off along a track through the woods and came to a junction with the road I had been driving on earlier. So I suspect it is possible to drive even further than I did.
From there, it was a rough and steeper track out of the woods and into dwarf pines up to a ridge that leads to the summit. And, there was no-one else there. This was my first hill since leaving Sweden where I had the whole hill to myself.
The logbook showed that there had been at least a dozen people up there the previous sunny day, but nobody else had ventured out on this cloudy day (shortly after I got back to my van it started to rain torrentially for several hours).
There was no snow. No view of the Julian alps and no view of the Adriatic . And the refuge was closed.
But whose complaining - it is another Major and another snow hill.
Sneznik summit
Sneznik logbook