Home Slovenia Whats It’s Like to Hike Triglav, Slovenia’s Highest Peak

Whats It’s Like to Hike Triglav, Slovenia’s Highest Peak

by David
Mali Triglav Peak, Climbing Triglav National Park

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Slovenia is home to many mountains, but if there’s one that matters above all others its Triglav. The highest peak in the country, Mount Triglav is a symbol of the country. Returning to Slovenia again, the opportunity to hike Triglav was probably the thing I was most excited and nervous about. In a sense I was right to be nervous as climbing Triglav in June meant negotiating not only the long trip up but also ice and snow. Making it to the very top of the Julian Alps is one of my grandest accomplishments in recent memory.

For two days, I had the pleasure of seeing some of the best views that Triglav National Park has to offer together with my guide from Mateja Travel. This wasn’t my only hike in Slovenia, but others like my hike in Jezersko were simply a warm up and this was the main event. As I expected, climbing here came with its challenges, but I maybe underestimated just how challenging it could get. If you’re curious what it’s like hiking Mt Triglav out of season then you’re really going to want to see this.

 

Mount Triglav

Mount Triglav in Snow

Before getting to the actual hike, let’s first take a look at the mountain at the centre of it all. Triglav is the highest mountain in Slovenia at 2863 metres elevation and is very much a national symbol. After all, it’s emblazoned on the nation’s flag. I actually met another climber who was Slovenian and was celebrating his 50th birthday by climbing the mountain.

Interestingly, it’s a little hard to properly make out Triglav when hiking up from the east. Instead, you first see Mali Triglav or the “smaller” Triglav, with the actual peak hidden behind. On the very top of Triglav stands the Aljaž Tower, a tower put there in 1895 by mountaineer Jakob Aljaž. The tower is supposedly 1.9 metres tall, but all we could see of it in June was the top poking free of the snow.

Triglav Summit

Even though it’s the focal point of Triglav National Park, there’s plenty more to see there as well. With multiple valleys and routes from different directions, there’s normally many ways to hike Mount Triglav. It’s just a bit harder in between seasons because of unreliable conditions, but that’s why reaching the summit felt like such an achievement.

To give some perspective, while there are queues of people climbing Triglav in summer, we saw fewer than 10 up there the first day and only 7 the day we climbed.

 

The Plan for Hiking Triglav

Hiking Triglav with a Guide

While hiking Triglav had been the part of the Slovenia trip I was most excited about, it almost didn’t happen. Even though we planned the trip for June right as summer was starting up, the weather in May had other ideas. Because of massive amounts of unseasonal snow, I was told in the lead up to the trip that Triglav would no longer be possible. There was just too much snow and that the conditions were too unpredictable.

Naturally disappointed, I completely understood and was glad safety precautions were being taken. That we would still be visiting Triglav National Park and doing some hiking there was a nice consolation. Of course, fate had other plans and the day I arrived in Slovenia I learned the conditions had changed again and now it was possible to go all the way up.

And bam, that lump in the back of my throat of nerves and excitement was back. This back and forth about going up would later make complete sense when I saw just how temperamental the conditions were first hand.

Slovenia Hiking

So, now to the hike itself. The plan for the hike was that my guide Škof and I would spend the first day reaching our mountain hut for the night. That way, we could hike Triglav early the next day and have plenty of time to make our way down on a different route.

While it is possible to climb Triglav in one day, you need to be really fit, experienced at climbing and know exactly what you’re doing. Taking 12+ hours, the only people we saw doing this were very experienced Slovenian locals who knew Triglav intimately.

 

Hiking Up the Krma Valley

Krma Valley, Hike Triglav Slovenia

With everything packed the night before, we were up at around 4am and soon on Slovenia’s empty roads. Driving through the dark, we arrived at Triglav National Park at 5.30am, the sky already starting to get lighter. Our starting point – the bottom of the Krma Valley, one of several that lead into the heart of the national park. In the middle of the forest, we said goodbye to Mateja and off we went.

Beginning in that low light, the trails were quite gentle at first. While stick in thick forest, the walls of the valley rose impossibly high on either side of us. Once we cleared the densest parts of the forest, it was possible to look back down the valley and see daylight reach more and more of the valley floor. Even if we had stopped this far into the national park, I think I would have been happy with the scenery.

Triglav Trails, Climbing Mount Triglav

The scenery started to change when we arrived in two meadows, both of which we stopped at for a little. The idea for this first day was that we would take as long as needed to reach the top. Doing so, we’d preserve our energy and muscles for the next day – the hard day. At that stage we’d already been walking for two hours and I was very on-board with making the day as gentle as possible.

Another hour later and we had a real break on the porch of a mountain hut not yet open. Yes, even in June the official climbing season had not begun. On a normal day, it would be breakfast time at this point and yet I had lunch on my mind already. Nearby, melted snow poured out of a mountain fountain, allowing us to re-fill our water bottles. At his point, we’d already climbed up from 784m to 1700m and had a long way still to go.

Triglav Mountain Hut

 

Reaching the Base of Triglav

Snow Triglav, Climbing Triglav in June

Back on the trails, we were soon met with a surprisingly steep rock face that required actual climbing. With narrow ledges and hiking poles dangling from my wrists, this was the first sign that this was no ordinary hike. The next sign came at around 2000m altitude as we reached the top of the Krma Valley. In front of us, the mountainside was a sea of snow with craggy, rocky islands here and there. Hiking in June I really didn’t expect this, especially given how far we still had to go.

At first, walking through the snow wasn’t too bad as the trails were reasonably flat and the snow firm. Alternating between walking through the snow and climbing up sections of rock, our pace was still quite good. Then the gradient changed.

The final hour or two of our climb was simply us trudging up steep slopes covered in snow. Rather than the solid snow we had encountered earlier, this snow was soft and easily gave way. Thus began my newfound dislike of hiking in snow, where you never knew if you’d sink to your knee or slide back.

Hiking Triglav National Park

All told, our hike from the Krma Valley to our lodge for the night took 7.5 hours. That is by no means a fast time, but given the snow and my experience, it’s one I’m happy with. Our base for the night was the Kredarica Lodge, right below the summit of Triglav. Just before making the top, the weather decided to turn, bringing in cloud to mask Triglav. As if the mountain needed any more mystery.

Still, we were able to look back at the Krma Valley and see how far we’d come. The valley walls that had once seemed so high earlier now looked quite minor compared to where we were now.

 

Preparing for the Climb

Kredarica Lodge Triglav

Having reached our stop for the day, it was time to recharge and get ready for the summit. After a hearty lunch at the hut and a quick nap, it was time to get our gear together. While we had been wearing hiking boots using hiking poles, most of the gear we’d brought with us was for the climb itself. Helmets, torches, harnesses, rope and carabiners, an ice axe and crampons – the list seemed to go on and on.

With time on our side, my guide Škof made the excellent decision to run through it all with me. While I had walked in crampons once before, it was great to have someone show me exactly how to walk in them.

Learning how to properly use the ice axe and carabiners would also pay off on the climb, as did the special knot that Škof showed me for tying the rope off on iron pegs. This kind of practice made me feel a bit more prepared for the next day, even if I was nervous about applying all this newfound knowledge.

Climbing Gear

Of course, having Škof as my guide made a huge difference. Hiking over the previous days with him meant that I knew I was in safe and patient hands. With Škof there was never a rush and safety was always a priority. Knowing a little about his background, his never-ending patience made sense. A policemen by profession and mountaineer by nature, Škof has been guiding people around the mountains of the Balkans for decades.

Cloudy Peak, Climbing Slovenia

In fact, he told me that he’s lost count how many times he’s climbed Triglav. It’s hard not to have confidence in your safety with that kind of experience. So while I was nervous about heading up the next day, it was more about the physical challenge than concerns for safety. Looking up at the summit of Triglav mysteriously covered in cloud is a daunting thing after all. Any wonder it was hard to get to sleep that night?

 

Climbing the Summit

Triglav Sunrise

Our trip to the peak of Triglav started being greeted at 3am with howling winds outside our window. As if I wasn’t nervous enough about the climb, the idea of climbing in that wind didn’t help. By 4am, we were standing outside Kredarica Lodge, the only light visible the torches attached to our helmets. With our crampons on, we set out and begun our climb.

While at first it was just snow, it wasn’t long before the way turned to steps and the beginning of the Triglav via ferrata. On the simple sections we just climbed but as soon as the climb got technical, we began clipping in with our carabiners. Soon, the rope also came out and the two of us were tied together, with Škof in lead and me following stage by stage.

Triglav Via Ferrata

The biggest challenge though were several 10 metre-high snow walls that we had to climb. Incredibly steep and with no protection at the bottom to stop us continuing along way down if we fell, these were the most nerve-wracking spots. For these, Škof would climb up first, secure a rope and then I would follow. Because of the angle, it felt like you were almost going vertically up, first hacking in with the ice axe, before then stepping and kicking firmly with the crampons.

We’d met a guy the previous day who had reached these spots without any gear and soon learned that it was just too big a risk. To give you a little sense of what it was like, this photo above was the top of one such snow wall.

Triglav Crest

As we climbed up Mali Triglav, I was worried because I was really struggling. Both Škof and I wondered whether the altitude was getting to me. Thankfully, I was just really low on energy and a bit of food fixed me right up. Still, our progress was significantly slower than most peoples because of my inexperience and the conditions.

We had planned to watch the sunrise from the summit but that simply wasn’t to be. It’s hard to be disappointed though watching the sunrise from up on the ridge just after climbing past Mali Triglav. Seeing the golden sunlight over clouds and snowy peaks was breathtaking and will forever be a sunrise that’s hard to beat.

Having gotten over Mali Triglav, it felt in a sense like we’d done the hardest part of the climb. We were able to take off our crampons and simply hike, with paying attention to my footing the new priority. One slightly nerve wracking part was walking across the narrow, snow-covered panoramic crest than runs between the two peaks. This snowy crest was maybe two feet wide with a long slope to the left and a fairly sheer drop to the right.

Aljaž Tower, Climbing Triglav in June

Honestly, the last bit was a blur as we neared the summit and the idea of reaching the peak filled my mind. The top of Triglav was soon under our feet, beneath plenty of snow and ice that is. All told, it took about 2.5 hours each way from Kredarica to the summit. In these conditions fitter, more seasoned climbers do it in 1.5 hours each way and it’s naturally even quicker when clear of snow.

Regardless of how long you take to reach the top, everyone’s treated to the same incredible view. Standing by the mountains fell away from us in every direction. While the scenery to the east was quite familiar at this point, from the summit we could finally see to the west as well. I didn’t think it was possible for there to be even more mountains surrounding us, but yep there they were.

At the Top of Triglav

While I was physically tired climbing up to the peak, it was more about mental fatigue going down. Hiking for hours that early in the morning in such tough conditions is bound to wear you down. Heading back, it took so much effort paying attention to where you step with the ice and snow. Not to mention having to scale down the walls of snow and ice, taking huge steps down a slope when you can’t see your feet. Despite the difficulty, we made it back without incident, the hike up a complete success in my books.

 

Hiking Back Through Triglav National Park

Triglav in June

After returning to the Kredarica Lodge and sleeping, it seemed like the hardest part of hiking Triglav National Park was over. Boy was I wrong. Leaving the lodge at around 1pm we set out to take a different route down. Somehow our descent would manage to almost overshadow our climb to the summit which is still hard to believe.

It started off poorly with my feet going out from under me. Like a starfish, I slid sprawled out for a 30 metre slide down the hill. Upon realising my boots were a little light on tread, we did our best to avoid too much snow going forward.

Considering the amount of snow throughout the national park that was a challenge. It didn’t help that warmer weather was causing plenty of melt. More times than I can remember, one of my feet would sink to my waist and I would have to push to rest it free. Still, we did eventually get past the largest sections of snow and sped up en route to Vodnikov Lodge. Along the way, we even got to see some shy ibex a little distance from the trail.

Our timing for arriving at Vodnikov Lodge for a break couldn’t have been better. No sooner had we sat down outside than a huge shower of hail came rolling through. Up to this point, we’d seen very few people on the mountains that day. The weather forecast was why. 40 minutes of waiting later and it seemed to clear.

Slovenia Hiking

With hours of hiking still ahead of us, we set out again. While it was nice enough at first, the weather had other ideas. That afternoon and evening, we got caught in four separate hailstorms, which were only broken up by oppressive rain, thunder and lightning. For three hours, we walked through this abysmal weather, rarely with any chance of shelter. No surprises, I have very few photos from here onwards.

Early on, the trail took us along exposed mountain trails, so there was nowhere to hide. Perhaps the scariest moment was crossing our final mountain pass as the thunder and lightning picked up. With one crack after another hitting the mountain peaks, thunder constantly echoed about. I’m not one to be scared by storms but this was too close for comfort.

The weather did increase our pace though as pushed to escape it. Over the pass, a steep snowy hillside stood before us. Instead of my previous careful approach with snow, I marched across it praying that the weather would ease up.

Vodnikov Lodge

It didn’t. We soon reached an undulating forest, dark and wet from the thick cloud overhead. As if presenting us with a new challenge, it was now time to worry about mud and roots as we walked. When the next hailstorm hit, we tried hiding under trees, their bare branches not doing much. We’d even taken to wearing our climbing helmets for protection as the hailstones the size of cherries bombarded us.

We didn’t reach the carpark where my tour guide Mateja was waiting until after dark. At this point, I was drenched, exhausted and yet still somehow buzzing with a sense of achievement. Definitely the kind of experience that is better to look back on than it is in the moment.

Miraculously, my camera and passport survived the downpour even though I hadn’t put them somewhere waterproofed. A big thanks to Sport Hotel Pokljuka for allowing us to change out of our wet clothes and warm up at their bar. I can’t imagine what it would have been like had we not changed.

Triglav National Park Trail

As for the experience of hiking Triglav? I wouldn’t change a thing.

 


Have you ever wanted to Hike Triglav or actually done it? Do you think you could manage with the snow and weather? Please share them in the comments below.

*Disclosure: My overnight, private hiking tour with Mateja Travel was as a complimentary guest. As always, opinions are completely and genuinely my own. I wouldn’t recommend them otherwise!

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3 comments

California Globetrotter August 28, 2019 - 8:56 pm

Congratulations on your massive achievement! It truly is quite the inspiration to get outdoors and do a bit of hiking though this is truly out of my ability! I couldn’t be more impressed!

Reply
David August 28, 2019 - 9:21 pm

Aww thanks Lori! I think you’re definitely fitter than I am with your great fitness regime!

Reply
Tilly Jaye Horseman June 15, 2020 - 1:34 pm

Wow, what a truly memorable experience. I’m a keen walker and love walking the fells in England, but I can’t see me ever being fit enough to attempt something quite like this, so I’ll just have to live vicariously though your posts! Lol… ? this really looked amazing!

Reply

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