Hiking to Planinica

For the next hour to hour and a half we walked through this magnificent landscape where horses were grassing in the distance. Even better it was for the most part somewhat straight with no serious ascends.

I’d had a hard time researching the possible option for two city dwellers hiking in Durmitor and all I’d found apart from the shorter hike around the black lake was a suggestion to hike to Planinica and back. According to the blog it was a rewarding walk which was doable in one day.

At the tourist info centre they were not much help and at one of the many travel agencies in town we were told that we wouldn’t make it in one day. Thus, I was very confused regarding our options when we set out in the early morning for Durmitor National Park.

The girl at the Visitor’s Centre was clear in stating that a trip to Planinica would be six hours. Now that I look back I am not so sure if she meant six hours to and from or one way. She also claimed that the dotted line which on our map clearly stated unmarked trail was marked and possible to follow, meaning that we could take another trail back.

I trusted her because she worked at the Visitor’s Centre, and thus we set out for Planinica on this beautiful summer’s day with lots of water and a map.

Now this shouldn’t sound like a blog on how it all ended in disaster because the trip ended up absolutely amazing and at no point were we in danger of any kind, but I look back on this day wondering how on earth we did it. I’ve even promised my boyfriend never to plan another crazy hike again.

On the trail to Planinica

The hike started out on flat land and for some parts on a road. It was easy peasy and we managed to make a short stop at the lake Zminje Jezero. We’d read on the map that a spring would be available here and thus had filled already emptied a large part of our water. But we never found the spring.

But so far the hike had been easy and we still had two litres left.

After another hike through the pine woods, the road started to go up, but it was manageable and the trees covered us from the sun as we slowly ascended reaching a clearing with a beautiful meadow called Crepulja Poljana. It is a stunning place in the middle of the pine wood forest and encircled by the mountains. I was hooked and despite our ascend I was ready for more.

Those I imagine were my famous last words, because from there it went straight up. At 1716 meters above sea level, we started out on more than a 200 meter ascend in order to reach the entrance to the Ališnica Valley at 1940. I have no idea how I survived, but I imagine that some of the reason was that we were distracted a large part of the way by a butterfly which decided to hitchhike on my boyfriends finger most of the way.

It was strenuous and constantly as we thought we’d made it another climb came into view. as if there was no end to this personal hell. Having to save on water as well and far away from the pleasant pine woods I was close to collapsing.

Ališnica Valley

But after what according to the trail signs was only 45 minutes but to us was close to two hours, we made it to the top of the trail and around a small bend. And this is why we climbed all this way. The Ališnica Valley is a most beautiful piece of this earth and if I’d had any breath left from climbing up there the sight would have taken it away.

For the next hour to hour and a half we walked through this magnificent landscape where horses were grassing in the distance. Even better it was for the most part somewhat straight with no serious ascends.

When we reached a sign midways, it became obvious to us that the unmarked trails which the girl in  the Visitor’s Centre had claimed to be marked were no such thing. Moreover, the trail we had hoped to follow was across a mountain ridge with an ascend of 400 metres. No thank you.

It had become clear that our only option was to take the same trail back, and with near to no water left and the clock closing in on 4 PM we were slightly concerned. But meeting a couple of hikers going the opposite direction, we were told that Planinica was only another 45 minutes away and we decided to keep on walking.

That was just before another heavy ascend began reaching the flat peak of Planinica at 2330 metres. When we’d made it, I was slightly disappointed and close to collapsing. Nothing seemed extraordinary about this place in comparison to the valley we’d left behind. But my boyfriend stuck to the idea that from somewhere we should be able to see the two Skrcko Jezero lakes.

With indication of a trail through some bushes we nearly climbed on our knees searching for a way to the viewpoint indicated on the map. And there behind heavy scrubs we found the actual peak of Planinica – a wide meadow with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and down a small trail we could see directly below us Malo Skrcko Jezero as an emerald nestled between the mountains. What a beautiful place.

Returning

But it was 5 PM and the last thing we needed was to get caught on the mountain by night. Thankfully most of the way was descending, but particularly the climb down from the Ališnica Valley was terrifying with the fear of falling and with the light slowly fading. We were completely robotic at this point only thinking of putting one foot in front of the other dreaming of reaching a place where we might saturate our thirst and find comfort for our feet.

After Crepulja Poljana the descend became easier, but what we had remembered as a short and relatively easy ascend proved a very long trail down through the darkening pine wood. The road seemed to go on for hours and as darkness was falling around us a sign let us know that we had another 1 hour and 30 minutes to Crno Jezero – the black lake. From there it would be 900 meters to the entrance and if we would find no taxis then 3 kilometres into town.

If I’d thought too much about it I would have crumbled up, but all I could do was put one foot in front of the other. At least we’d made it down the mountain and onto the trail that for parts followed a road. My fear of being stuck on the mountain in the night was not realised, thank goodness.

But the best part of the day was when a small red car with a Belgian couple stopped after I threw out my thumb. Before making it to Crno Jezero we got a ride into Žabljak where these amazing and friendly people dropped us off in front of the supermarket.

After a run through the store and a short waiting in line, we sat down at a nearby bench draining each our litre of water before starting on the lemonade and orange juice and another water. Never has a beverage of any kind tasted as great as on that bench in Žabljak.

We ended up eating a pizza at some fancy place in town where the waiters forgot us and the chairs were uncomfortably high. And we agreed that the following day we would spend recuperating.

Was it worth it? Yes, but I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known how hard it would be. I guess ignorance is bliss.

Zofka

Žabljak

Our driver could smoke, text, talk and drink a Red Bull all while he took us up into the Montenegrin inlands past the Bay of Kotor and the mountains behind.

I’d stressed excessively about whether or not we would be able to get tickets for the once-a-day direct bus from Budva to Žabljak. Arriving in Budva we’d bought the tickets but this morning they were nowhere to be found and we ended up having to pay another 30 euros for the bus ride for a new set of tickets.

Donald Sutherland drove us to Durmitor

When the minibus drove into the bus station, it looked like something that had seen the birth of Tito. Our driver at the same time looked like Donald Sutherland.

We were lucky to get the front seats offering proper space in this tiny bus, though also a firtsthand experience with the front window in case of an accident since seatbelts is an exotic commodity in Montenegro.

But our driver was a professional and a multitasker. He could smoke, text, talk and drink a Red Bull all while he took us up into the Montenegrin inlands past the Bay of Kotor and the mountains behind.

While our driver was amazing, the minibus was falling apart. I don’t know if it was overheating or the road increase up the mountainside, but for long parts of the journey the bus moved around 35 to 40 km/h. I felt like I was riding that small train which takes tourists up the hill of Montmartre.

For hours we snaked our way up the mountain side, while other vehicles zoomed past us. We were the annoying tractor on the road I imagine. Our driver, however, took it calmly while lighting one cigarette after the other..

With front seat rows we got to enjoy this bus ride which had become a small adventure all on its own through the mountainous roads of Montenegro, while we could see as the speedometer slowed down to only 20 km/h.

In Nikšić the bus got full and some people had to stand up for the last leg of the journey. I really needn’t have been that worried about getting tickets.

We finally made it to Žabljak, where an unfortunate backpacker was impatient and opened the wrong side of the luggage storage. The bus almost came apart and the driver, the unlucky backpacker and a strong guy amongst the passengers had to fight to close the lid again.

After spending double on our bus ride by buying two sets of tickets we decided to tip our driver. Partly for his battle with strenuous mountain roads and stupid backpackers and partly for allowing us to stay up front all the way.

Žabljak

Žabljak is the regional capital of Žabljak Municipality and according to what I’ve read before coming it is nothing special. However, after spending our afternoon here and figuring out how to see Durmitor National Park in the next two days, I have to say I rather like this quirky place.

Žabljak can boast close to 2000 inhabitants. It is also the highest placed city in the Balkans at an altitude of 1456 metres. Most of the city is new as it was nearly completely destroyed during the Balkan Wars and then burnt to the ground during WW2.

Today the city caters to winter sport as well as mountain activities in the summer as it is the gate way to Durmitor National Park.

All the houses seem to be built in stone, old wood and tin, in various combinations. Most houses have tin roofs which are anything from orange to blue or green. Many are old and rusted giving the city a unique look.

In the centre lies the very beautiful Žabljak Hotel, which stands as a mountain itself. Behind it we found an odd area consisting of two streets with houses which seemed to have burned out some time ago. Derelict and desolate with graffiti and weeds everywhere, this small area close to the centre is a ghost town.

Walking through it we only met an old woman with blue hair and her grandchild a long with a massive cow grassing by one of the houses.

In so many ways Montenegro is developing fast and furiously, and also in Žabljak you find new hotels being built. And then you come across such an odd scene as this and all you can think is that here is proof that we are still in the Balkans.

Žofka