Third (?) highest mountain in Montenegro. 2523 m.s.l.
This year we were to spend our holiday in Croatia for the first time. After four successive years in Spain, it was time for a change. We were travelling together with another family of four, and set out in pursuit of a suitable location via the internet.
Following the success from last year trip to Mulhacen, I also set out to find the highest point in Croatia. This turned out to be the Dinara mountain, at 1830 metres, to the north of Split, in what was called the Dinaric Alps. Reading about the mountain showed that getting to the summit would be straight forward, with the only challenge beeing the heat and access to water.
Then it turned out, that the place to spend the vacation, appeared at the tip of peninsula Peljesac, and was a small village called Viganj. This is roughly halfway between Dubrovnik and Split, but in order to get to Split, you have to drive nearly all the way back to Dubrovnic, before you can turn toward Split, driving along the coast. I was looking at the map, and saw that in fact it would be easier to drive to Montenegro instead. Back to the internet, and look for the highest mountain in Montenegro. The search turned up Bobotov Kuk, measuring 2523 m. The mountain was situated in a national park in the Durmitor area to the northeast in Montenegro, with the nearest village beeing Zabljak. I read about the mountain, and could not find any indication of that the mountain would be inaccessible for two non-technical climbers like Sigrid and me. It also looked very much more exciting than the highest mountain in Croatia.
Then we set our aim for Bobotov Kuk, and I bought some maps and books from Amazon, describing both Croatia and walking in Montenegro. As the day neared for departure, I was browsing the internet for route descriptions, both for driving to Zabljak, and for climbing the mountain. Suddenly I came across an article stating that as late as in the year 2000, some mountains on the border to Albania had been measuerd to be higher than Bobotov Kuk, by ca. 20 m. I took a quick glance at the mountains described in this article, and found that they where in a different league than Bobotov Kuk. Much more alpine in charachter, and, it seemed snow on the peaks all year round. They were dismissed as unreachable at this point in time by Sigrid and me, so Bobotov Kuk it would have to be, although the mountain no longer held the added lure of beeing the highest mountain in a country. We would have to come back to these peaks another time.
I used the Michelin road map guide to find the driving route from our holiday site in Croatia to Durmitor in Montenegro. The road suggested included a drive through Bosnia-Herzegovina before entering Montenegro, and a wide arch to the east before heading north, and then west again, ending at Zabljak. I figured that because of bad roads, this was the best route to follow. As it turned out I was wrong about that. Still searching on the internet before departure, I found a description of a route that suggested a much more direct approach. When entering Montenegro, drive straight North, and then reach Durmitor driving to the east. This was a much shorter drive, and the author described the route as much more scenic. He added a note that if the drive was to be performed in the winter, you had to be careful of not getting stuck on the road due to heavy snowfall. Now, this would be in the middle of the summer, and scenic routes is what I like best, so this was a clear winner!
The route would be :
Later on I read that the high plains in Montenegro is home to the heaviest douwnpour during the year of all of Europa, nearly doubling the amount of rain/snow that falls on Scotland or the westcoast of Norway (where we come from).
So we were all set, packing our hiking equipment together with swimmingtrunks and other bathing equipment. When we arrived at the airport at Dubrovnik, I asked the car rental agency if it would be OK to take the car to Durmitor in Montenegro, and I got the green light to do that.
We decided to do the trip to Bobotov Kuk at the start of our second week in Croatia. Drive up to Zabljak on the first day, go to the mountain on the second day, and return home on the third day. During the first week, we experienced high temperatures, at least up to 35 degrees Celcius. I was a bit worried about how warm it would be at Durmitor, and rang the tourist information in Zabljak. (The walking guide for mountains in Montenegro listed such information) There a nice lady could inform me that the high temperatur during the day was in the twenties (still Celcius). This sounded just right. I then called a number (also from the mountainbook) to arrange where to sleep, and another nice lady promised to arrange an apartment (room, cooking facilities and bathroom) for us. We agreed that upon us reaching Zabljak, I would phone her again, and she would show us to the apartment.
The second Monday in Croatia saw us ready to go.
The trip to Durmitor was very nice. The only shaky part of the trip was when we were in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We had stopped at the first gas station after crossing the border in order to buy a roadmap. When we came to the city of Trebinje, we had the printed route description I had found on the internet and compared this to the roadmap. The route description told us to turn left, but all I could see from the map, told me to turn right. The fact that in Bosnia-Herzegovina almost all the roadsigns were marked in the kyrillic language, with no translation into the latin alphabet, made the problem significantly worse.
I stopped at the junction, stepped out of the car, and approached a man in his fifties, and asked if he could help me out. He was willingness incarnated, but with one (major) setback. He did not speak english at all. We toiled over the maps, and I pointed out Zabljak as my destination. He talked like a man posessed, and pointed on the maps where we ought to drive. This, incidentally, was the exact same route as described as the scenic route I had found on the internet. He pointed us in the right direction (wich was to the right), we thanked him, and there were big grins all around.
When we entered Montenegro, again, the first thing we bought was a roadmap. Then we started on the drive north. The road was in a much better condition that I had feared. When we were on the same height as Durmitor, and turned east, the road became much more exciting. It was a narrow road, climbing steep up a high rise, with no guard rail on the road shoulder. The road was newly maintained though, so the "tarmac" was in excellent condition. After the steep climb, we entered a vast grassy plain, where we could see what we believed to be the mountains of Durmitor in the horizon. Luckily, as Norwegians, we do have experience in driving on steep narrow roads, so this was great fun!
After a very long time (not caused by distance, but by cautios driving), the road turned slightly downwards to another plain, where Zabljak was situated. I noticed that at the highpoint of the road, there was a sign wich read "Dobri Do", and the height was 1907. I remembered that this was one of the starting points for a trail to Bobotov Kuk. As we drove past, I could not see anything that reminded me of a trail or signs that pointed toward Bobotov Kuk. A little bit uneasy, we drove on toward Zabljak.
As we enterd Zabljak, we realized just how rural a village this was. We found what looked like a bus terminal, and stopped there in order to phone the lady who had organized an apartment for us. When she answered the telephone, and I told her that we were standing in Zabljak, she bacame a bit flustered, as she believed that we were to come to Zabljak the NEXT monday. She, however, managed to find room for us, although I never figured out if it was a new place, or the place she had originally booked for us. Anyway, it turned out the the place we were to stay at, was less than 100 meters from where we had parked, and we just stood there waiting, until, what was to be our landlady, came walking over to greet us.
She showed us to the house, and we were to occupy the second floor, wich consisted of a large bedroom with a sink, cooking facilities, and refrigirator. In a separate room there were a toilet and a shower.
As soon as we had settled in the apartment, we set out to find the tourist agency in order to get a map of the Durmitor area. As we neared the tourist agency, we could see three girls getting ready to lock the door. The time was 18:00 hours, so we figured that this was closing time. It was time for brisk run! We managed to get there in time to catch the girls, and asked humbly for a map. The girls proved to be hospitality itself, unlocked the door, and sold us a map promptly.
After the successful obtaining of a map, we went to the nearest restaurant for dinner. We were warned that Montenegro is no favourite hotspot for vegetarians, as the main selection at all restaurants would be in the meat department. Anyway, this did not worry us, as we do not practice the vegetarian lifestyle. At the restaurant I ordered a steak, and Sigrid had a mixed grill. As we waited for the meal we considered the map.
The map was a slight disappointment compared to the map we bought in Spain last year (not to mention the maps from Norway). The scale was perfect, but the colours, and methodes of describing different types of terrain, managed to render the map hard to read. Anyway, we could see that there was a track from Dobri Do leading towards Bobotov Kuk. There also were routes from Zabljak, leading all the way up to Bobotov Kuk. We decided that we would go for Dobri Do as our starting point, and then leaving the option open if we should return to the car, or go on, all the way back to Zabljak after summiting.
The food arrived. We were hungry, and looked forward to some good eating. And the food was excellent. Together with the meat we got newly baked bread (a giant bread for each of us) and tomato salad. One small note about the steak though ... It was tender and tasty. Much better than the steaks I'd had at the Croation coast, but, I'm certain that the warmest the middle of the steak had ever been, was when the steak was attached to the bovine it was obtained from. This was "rare" with a capital R!
After this escapade we went back to the room for sleeping. The plan was to start very early in the morning, in order to have the whole day in the mountains. We bought some bottled water, and bananas on the way back.
We were up at about 06:00 hours in the morning. During the night I had to go to the bathroom, and found to my big surprise that the water had been turned off. I hoped that this would be corrected in the morning, and it was. After a quick breakfast and plenty of water, we packed what we needed for the trip, and left for our car. When we climbed into the car, and looked at the thermometer, it showed 12 degrees Celcius. The sun shone from a sky without clouds, and there were no wind at all. Perfect mountain weather!
At about 07:30 we were at Dobri Do, ready for Bobotov Kuk. Luckily, less that 100 metres from the road, we found the trail towards Bobotov Kuk, just as described in the map. The trail was marked with red dots paintet on the rocks. Not unlike the red T's used in Norway.
The trail soon reached a steep rise, and now we felt that the trip had really started. The temperature, and the general weather conditions were excellent. In the book about Durmitor it was noted that the in the afternoon it often would be cloudy on the higher slopes. We had not seen anything to this the previous day, and hoped that this would hold true for today as well.
After the first steep rise we walked on in a shallow valley on a distinct trail in the green grass. To the right we could see a distinct jagged mountain line. This formation was named the "Devils Teeth". We were passing along this ridge for quite some time, when suddenly we were on the lip of a descent into a deeper valley, with Bobotov Kuk direct in front of us. The view was teriffic, and the mountain looked formidable. The map showed that we vould go up direct on the front of the mountain to the pass on the right, were we should go below the distinct summit to the left, and then finally climb the last 150 metres to the summit on the back of the mountain.
We descended into the valley, where in the bottom there was a small lake. This was the first water we had seen on the trip, and it did not look inviting to drink. Luckily, we had brought enough water for the whole trip, as we had read that water was hard to come by in Durmitor. This turned out to be true. On the entire trip, we did not find a stream of water at all.
When the trail reached the bottom of the mountain, it split into a branch going straight uphill, and the main trail just continued alonge the base of the mountain. We had a little snack and water, and started on the steep trail to the pass below Bobotov Kuk. The trail was excellent marked, and we encountered no difficult passages on the climb. The view back from where we had come, became more and more magnificent as we ascended uphill.
When we reached the pass, a breeze had risen into our backs, and we went over the ridge, and descended 10 metres down on the other side, in order to get out of the wind, and have some food for the final push. Here we could see the trail coming from the Zabljak side, and even see all the way to the plain where Zabljak were situated. I now questioned Sigrid if she would like to go back the way we came from, or continiue all the way to Zabljak from here. She thought that she would like to continue, so that was settled then.
After 15 minutes rest, I placed my sack on a shelf in the boulders. I then packed only some water and chocolate in Sigrid's sack, and I carried that for the rest of the climb up. The wind caused us to put on a wind-breaker. We were ready for the final push toward Bobotov Kuk.
To traverse under the main summit to the left, and up on the shoulder was no problem at all. The view to the surronding peaks was formidable, and we were in high spirits. Then came a nasty surprise! When we reached the shoulder, and got our first glimpse of the back of the mountain, it turned out that the slope from the shoulder and down was far steeper than the side we had just ascended. Add to that, that the trail now became very narrow and steep. This was a bit worse than I had excpected. It did not look inaccessible at all, but a slight rearrangement of the brain was needed. We sat there for about 5 minutes debating the situation, and finally Sigrid came around to the idea of beeing extra careful, and minding the hands and feet with great care. I told her that I would follow right behind her, making sure that her hand and feet were safely positioned. We started out on the narrow trail.
The climb went fine. Sigrid was a bit worried, but by continously coaching from dad, we managed fine. Going up is the easiest part, as you are facing inwards and upwards, not seeing the long drop below. So I started to worry a bit about the descent. Also there are no pictures by me from this climb, as I had all my attention focused on Sigrid.
20 minutes later we were at the summit! As you can see from the pictures, Sigrid is not her radiant self, but a bit on the worrying side. I have to admit that the thought that was foremost in my mind all the time we were at the top, was how to make the descent without frightening Sigrid too much. We spent the time up there taking pictures, and gazing at the magnificent view. As mentioned before, the weather was excellent with a capital E! Not a cloud in sight, mild, and only a slight breeze.
After about 30 minutes we decided to start the descent. I went first, in order to act as Sigrid's coach. The descent really went far more easier that I had worried about during the ascent. It is to say that somehow, you get used to heights, and passages that frightens you initially, does not do so after you have been exposed to them for a while. The trick then is to remember, that putting your hands in the pockets of your pants, and whistling as you go such places is a bad move. Always keep your mind focused upon the task at hand, and if you fall while cautiuos, or while full of hubris, the drop is still the same.
45 minutes later we were back down to the pass, and had some food. Sigrid was still determined to continue to Zabljak, so we had a look on the map, and saw in the terrain below that we could follow the trail all the way down. No chance of getting lost.
We started out, descending the other side of Bobotov Kuk. This was more of a scree than the other side, so we had to be cautious, so as not to start small avalanches in the loose rocks. We reached the valley below without incident. Here were large patches with snow, and the trail went over these patches on and off. Soon however, we were out of the rock/snow part, and the trail continued through grassy slopes with different degrees of steepness all the way down.
We encountered several herds of sheep, and at one instance an old man who tended to the sheeps. This was a giant of a man, standing at least 2 metres tall, with huge hands and feet, and a face marked of a long life mostly outdoors. I'm not a small man myself, but I felt dwarfed standing next to him. He ignored me for the most part, and talked exlusively with Sigrid. He patted her on the cheek, and asked her about her age (we guessed, as he was only talking his native language). She showed this by opening and closing her hands, so that he could count the fingers, and see that she was 11 years old. When we said that we had been at Bobotov Kuk, he beamed at her, and patter her cheek again. I can only kick myself repeatedly in the butt for failing to take a picture of this old gentleman.
There were some parties of people on the trail, but my guess is that on the entire trip we saw no more than 15 people. Perhaps the season for walking in Durmitor is a bit later in the year?
The last leg of the descent was in a huge wood, leading down to the lake Crno Jezero beside Zabljak. This was the official entrance to the Durmitor national park. There were a number of new cottages here, and we understood that this is a popular resort in the winter.
When we finally got to the entrance, we asked the guard there if he could call us a taxi, as we needed to get back to Dobri Do to collect out car. A 30 minutes car ride. He spoke at length in the phone and told us to wait a bit. After a time, a private car with two men appeared. They stopped and talked with the guard, and it seemed that they were good friends. Still no taxi for us. One of the men in the car came over and asked us in english if we were the ones who wanted a ride to Dobri Do, and if so, they could take us there. My guess is that the guard never phoned for a taxi, but for his friends, so that they could earn some euros driving us. We were tired, and longing for a shower and a warm meal, so we accepted readily. The two men were very polite and nice, with only one speaking english. We had a nice talk while they drove us to Dobri Do. Before we started the ride, they said that they needed 10 euros for the ride. Compared to taxifares in Norway this was ridiculously low, so we agreed without any bargaining.
40 minutes later we were back at Dobri Do, to collect our car. I gave the men who drove us 20 euro in order to show that we appreciated the ride and the talk. I guess all 4 of us were satisfied.
Back in Zabljak, we entered one of the many small shops, and bought us two bottles of soda, and two bottles of the local beer. Then if was off to the apartment for a shower, drinking the soda (Sigrid) and beer (me). I even had a power nap while Sigrid showered.
After this we went back to the restaurant we had visited the evening before. This time we ordered steak for the both of us. I asked the waiter if he could tell the chef to prepare the steaks medium this time, remembering the RAW steak I had had yesterday. No problem he assured me, and we were left with soda, beer, a huge loaf of warm fresh bread, to contemplate the trip while we waited. Some time later the waiter appeared with the steaks, and we dug in. Surprise : The steaks were just as raw as the evening before. I should have asked for "well done" I guess, but the mind boggles at the thought of what a "raw" steak would look like ...
After dinner, it was straight back to bed. And, yes, the water was turned off this night as well.
The next day we cleaned out the apartment, and stowed all our things in the car. We went into one of the small shops again, and bougth bread, bananas, and some juice. As we had decided to drive home the same way as we came, we drove back up to Dobri Do, and stopped there for breakfast. This was another excellent day, but with a slight wind from the east.
When we finished breakfast, and started driving again, suddenly all the trails marked on the map appeared at the roadside. We had not seen a single one of them while driving the other way, and the explanation was that all the markings were positioned in such a fashion that they were only visible driving FROM Zabljak, and not TO Zabljak. Thats discrimination!
The trip back was a breeze now that we knew where to drive all the way. The only trouble we had was when we drove down from the Durmitor plain, and I did not notice a rock lying in the road just after a sharp turn. I was way too much occupied with looking at the scenery I'm afraid. Suddeny an extremely loud clank from under the car scared the .... out of me. I stopped immediately, and looked under the car. There some liquid dripped from the car onto the road, and I felt distinctly worried. Could it be oil? Brakefluid? Coolant? I had no idea. The liquid did not look like oil, so that left me with brakefluid or coolant. Luckily I remembered that less than 15 minutes onward there was one of the very few gas stations we had seen while driving the other way. We scrambeled into the car, and hoped that if it was some vital fluids that were leaking, at least we would make it to the gas station, where we could get help. For the next 15 minutes it was not the scenery, but the temperature dial for the enegine + testing the brakes regularly that had my full attention. There also were some added noises from underneath the car as we drove, adding to the general suspense.
At the gas station a very helpful attendant spent 10 minutes going over the car, looking underneath, and sampling the dripping fluid. He finally came to the conclusion that it was the air condition. In fact it turned out to be only condensed water that dripped from the air condition, and that a clip that held some pipes fixed to the hull of the car, had been knocked off by the stone. That is why there was some added noise from the car, as the pipes vibrated against the hull of the car.
After this (quite bad) scare, the rest of the trip home was uneventful indeed. We arrived home late in the day, and Sigrid was in the pool nearly before I had killed the engine of the car.
Sigrid and I could note yet another successfull mountain escapade, and could start looking for a new goal for next year.
Photos marked with Nils Ottar Molde is taken with a Canon EOS-1 Ds Mark I camera, using a Canon EF 16-35mm II USM lens.
Photos marked with Sigrid Indrekvam Molde is taken with an Olympus "mju" 700, all weather camera.
A very handy book to have is "The Mountains of Montenegro", by Rudolf Abraham. Published by Cicerone in 2007. (ISBN 978-1-85284-506-3) In addition to describing the mountains and many trails, there is also much information about how to travel within the country plus various trivia about the history and language of Montenegro. Also telephone numbers for Tourist agencies + hotels and campsites.
Here is how the GPS readings we collected during the trip is rendered in Google Earth Plus.
And here is the kml format of the route. Using the GPSBabel software, you could probably convert it to fit into your own GPS device.