We had 10 days of holiday ahead of us, all gear stuffed into hand luggage and car heading for the Charleroi airport. This time Ryanair would take us to the capital of Montenegró, Podgorica. We were both having high hopes. The pictures of that small mountainous country had made both of us drool a little. Discreetly.This day was the anniversary of Karhunkierros. The hike on which we met for the first time. It made the trip a little bit more special.
We had managed to check the flight time wrong, so we paraded around the military guarded airport and hour too early. We had plenty of time to keep guessing the nationalities of our fellow passengers and things like that, what you usually do while waiting for things like a flight or bus or a microwave meal.
Once our time to take off came, the runway was soaked, the planes threw up massive shoots of water as they soared to the sky. Soon we too were swallowed by an endless whiteness of the thick cloud cover. A couple of hours later we saw got to lay our eyes on our destination for the very first time. We saw the Tara canyon, mountain everywhere and ice blue waters flowing here and there. It was hard to confine the excitement.
Once we landed it was immediately obvious that we had found summer. The heat was overwhelming at first. Cooled down by the cars air conditioning we headed to the center of Podgorica. We needed to find internet and do some mandatory shopping. The city center is a curious mixture of the soviet past from the Yugoslavian times and a fast moving modernization. It is not a pretty city per say, but an interesting one.
Our first night we spent in a small apartment hotel in a village of Kolašin. It was a sleepy ski town, where the hot tourist season lives with the snow. Now the magnificent mountains were green and tourists missing. That wasn’t bothering us at all. But anyhow, we were soon leaving. As the sun went up to the sky, we were already heading for Vusinje. It is a small, very small, town on the bottom of a valley, not far from the Albanian border. We drove there via a narrow mountain pass that takes you first to Plav and then onward, deeper into the mountains. It passes some very beautiful and tiny farming communities, a true pleasure to drive through.
Our hike to the peak of Zla Kolata started right at the corner of the village mosque, climbing up steadily on a gravel road. At the corner of the village we met a man, who had been collecting wood with his horse. Somehow out there it feels, like you are going back in time, back into the days of calm life of the countryside.
The trail crossed some woodlands and beautiful meadows full of flowers.So many butterflies, that we had to look where you laid our feet, not to kill them. We had hot sun shining down on us and some magnificent mountains in the background, one of the peaks we were planning on climbing. The trail took us to the border mark of Albania, at a col between two mountains. There you get a nice view over to the peaks on the Albanian side and the Valbona National Park is right at your feet, too. Those forests are said to be well populated with bears.
We were headed still a little higher. The temperature started to get a little milder as we approached the 2000 meter point in height. We crawled still over a few boulders, right under the face of Zla Kolata. There is a narrowish pass in between the Zla Kolata and Maja e Thatë, through which a very violent wind got to blow down. That kind of a howling is something you do not want to listen to, while you are looking for a place for your tent. We managed to find a depression, that prevented most of the hard gusts reaching us. Still it was not too easy to get the tent standing steady.
We hadn’t met a single stream or source after passing the altitude of 1 600 meters, and we were running low on water. That was not a nice feeling after a day of hiking in immense heat. We had to melt snow for drinking and cooking, good thing there still was batches of it left.
The night brought no peace. I could sleep maybe 3 – 4 hours in total, same goes for Waffle. We found out, that our Quechua Quick Hiker, although it is not a bad tent, can’t handle storm winds properly. It let wind to blow in, so that the whole thing was shaking and lifting off the ground. The worst thing was to hear each gust picking up speed, roaring and then hitting us. I was desperately trying to hold on to my dreams, but it was impossible.
In the morning there was no possibility to sleep long. The sun was happily shining on our tent, slowly rising the inside temperature. We crawled out, tired and grumpy and melted some more snow to get through the day.
Soon we were on our way, following a trail that had all of a sudden gotten more visible, not big or wide, but visible. It passed by an ice cave, that was blowing cold air into the heat of the day. Very nice pit stop! The trail took us calmly towards the rocky slopes of our destination. Until it didn’t. We encountered a large patch of snow, that covered the trail. There were two ways around it. Either we would have to cling on the rocky cliff above the snow, or walk underneath it and then climb a steep grassy slope up. We picked the way below it.
Getting up to the beginning of the ridge, took quite some scrambling. It was a steep trail, partially hard to follow and full of spots with loose gravel. On top of that the wild winds had returned. Strong gusts were trying to push us off of the trail, we had to grab a hold of vegetation, rocks or what ever was available. Quite some times we stopped and considered whether it was smart to keep going or should we turn back. But since the peak was so close, we continued on.
Our efforts payed off. The view at the col were phenomenal. You could see all mountains everywhere, snowy peak after the other. Our way up to the highest point of Zla Kolata, being Maja Kolata was cut though. There was a fat layer of snow in front of us. There was no crossing it without proper gear. The lower peak next to it was beaten by the wind, so hard that it sounded sometimes like a jet engine. So we decided to be happy with the view we had and retreat.
The return was via the same way we had crawled up. We were both feeling the short night in our muscles and it was hard to find a secure footing. Plus the heat brought its own challenge to the game, we had to spare drinking water. On the way down we stopped by the ice cave again, that cooling down felt so good you won’t believe it.
Getting off of the cliff did not bring the relieve we were hoping for. The trail was not easy, it was going through a very rocky terrain, tilting our feet into all different directions. and the lower we got, the warmer the air became. It was far in the afternoon when we finally found a spring. That felt like entering the Shangri La. Water as much as we could drink! After the refreshment we could finally appreciate the beauty of our surroundings again.
A short hike further we cooked and cleaned ourselves at a small stream. and fed some mosquitoes at the process. The tiredness was really taking its toll on us and the desperation was sneaking in, as we were struggling to find an even ground to pitch the tent onto. Finally the search payed out. We found a beautiful spot at a corner of a meadow, with woods and sunset and no wind! We finally slept good and peacefully.
Third morning brought us back to our car in Vusinje. The villagers were inspecting us passing by, everybody busy at work, but still greeting a stranger. I don’t know how the people do it, work in a weather like that! During the whole three day hike, we did not meet a soul!
Anyways. That was our first hike. We survived it with all limbs attached. Next night we would spend in a hotel, since we had been promised a thunder storm. But more about the following events you’ll get to read from my next post. It takes us to Durmitor and to a sheep farm in surreal sceneries. Until then!