Climbing the highest mountain of Slovenia – Day 2

Comfort stops at our cozy bedroom. For 100 people, there are only three Turkish toilets in outdoor sheds and one of them is out of service. When it comes to running water, there is a really tiny sink with a stream of water so thin it takes more than a minute to fill a small glass. It is therefore hard to brush your teeth let alone wash anything else.

Some people have left before dawn to be able to see the sunrise from the summit. The plan of the day is to climb to the top then back down to Planika and continue on all the way down to the base. Depending on strength and people it takes one to two hours from Planika to the summit. In many places of the ascent there is only space for one person either going down or up.

Until Planika there are flowers of all sorts: ‘hairy’ cottony flowers, flowers in shades of intense purple or vibrant pink, simple daisies. Today the landscape is more lunar and arid.

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We meet all sorts of characters along our ascent. The mountain tribe with solid shoes, thick wool socks, pants with pockets, Gore-Tex parka and their accessories: walkie-talkie, carabiners and rope. The urban tribe with glossy black skinny pants like cyclist, fluo tops, walking shoes with neon stripes and their accessories: bandanna and golden tan. The ‘hotel rat’ tribe dressed all in black from cap to slim shoes, more ready for stealth theft than rugged mountains. The hip hop style tribe with tight pants covered with floral underwear and plaid shirts. We even cross path with a crazy guy who is actually texting, nose on his cell phone while going down on slippery downhill gravel. Our son is part of a non-tribe. He does not walk any more slowly because he wears regular jeans and a normal tee shirt!

The climb is steep at over 35% and there are many via ferrata cables to help ascend. We do not have the equipment with carabiners and harnesses but they are not necessary. We can just grab the cable with a gloved hand and make sure our grip is tight.

The first step is to reach the Mali Triglav – Mali means small. We reach baby Triglav in an hour, then we walk for about 20 minutes on the crest of the mountain and finally during the last ten minutes we have to climb a pure vertical 90-degree slope.

We finally reach the summit of Mount Triglav where a fantastic weather welcomes us and we can see very far. The plateau at the top is very narrow which makes it quickly crowded. All sorts of people have made it all the way up: from 6 to 80 years old! Hundreds of photos per minute are shot here and then it is time to go back to our base.

Our return is slowed by a large group of young children. The queue piles up behind us but we cannot pass since the ridge is too narrow. People are starting to growl and finally the chaperons push the children safely aside to let adults pass them.

Back at Planika we nibble and continue our descent to the Vodnikova cabin where we have a late lunch. The menu could not be simpler: cabbage soup with or without sausage. No more pancakes for dessert. After the meal, the descent becomes more difficult because it is sometimes quite steep which taxes the knees and toes a lot but also the thighs. We are trying to avoid slipping on the gravel. Walking eight hours in extreme conditions is tiring but to do so after a six-hour day of walking and climbing is another matter.

Our electronic apps tell us that our average speed ranged from 2 to 9km/h. My Withings pedometer showed 24,000 steps the first day and although we added almost three hours of climbing today, it shows only 23,000 steps! It apparently does not record climbing softly nor slow descent because it is not a steady pace. We finally arrive at our apartment in Bled where a hot shower is all we need.

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The next day a massive snow storm engulfed Mount Triglav!

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Climbing the highest mountain of Slovenia – Day 1

Where is Slovenia? Between Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and the Adriatic Sea. It is a very small and extremely beautiful country having it all: sea, mountains, sunshine, lakes, forests … Triglav National Park covers 84,000 hectares or just over 4% of Slovenia. The jewel is Mount Triglav, which at 2 864 meters (9,400 feet) is the highest point of the country. Reaching Mount Triglav is our primary purpose this weekend although we will also discover Bled and Ljubljana later, to rest!

Via friends known in Islamabad now posted in Sarajevo but previously in Slovenia we have a contact. Their former neighbor and friend Janez not only has proposed to brief us about the hike but to also accompany us. It is said that a Slovenian can only become a real Slovenian after he has climbed Triglav once in his life. At this rate Janez is at least 30 times a proven Slovenian!

Janez will be our guide in our reckless journey. I say reckless because we are not exactly sports fanatics, we do not exercise regularly and besides climbing easy hills in Pakistan for 2 hours every week we have no training for the mountains. Until 48 hours prior to the trip we did not even know if we could do it since the weather is a huge factor and changes fast all the time in these mountains.

We meet Janez near Lake Bled, one of the major tourist attractions of the country about three quarter of an hour from the capital, deposit our luggage in the rented apartment we will go back to the next day and follow Janez by car for about half an hour. We reach our base, leave the cars, gear up and off we go.

The base is at 1 360 meters, so there is 1 500 meters (5,000 feet) to climb under the sun with an ideal temperature of about twenty degrees (70F). We will actually not go all the way to the top today. It is possible for well trained and resistant people but it still would take them a good 10 to 12 hours.

The path starts in the forest and since it has rained yesterday the path is rather muddy and slippery. We also need to be careful about the slippery roots and branches. Eventually we emerge from the forest and discover Mount Tosc, the mountain we have to skirt around to see Mount Triglav.

So far the path climbs gently, sometimes a bit steeper but nothing too strenuous. The muddy path was soft for our soles but after two hours of walking the path becomes paved with sharp uncomfortable stones. When we finally see Mount Triglav, a cloud hides it partially. We pass a grassy plateau where friendly cows pasture peacefully. As we continue, the landscape becomes bare and rocky and some cables attached to the rocks help us get a better sense of security.

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In six hours, including a picnic stop and drink breaks we reach the Planika rest cabin at 2 408 meters. Sheep and goats welcome us. Planika is one of the closest mountain cabins to the summit. It is also the most comfortable and caters for ‘only’ 100 people, the nearby cabin welcomes 300 people.

After a few minutes of rest, the boys go for a beer while I use tiger balm to massage my thighs in a vain attempt to prevent cramps.Then I join Janez, my husband and our son for dinner. Our dinner is fast because the choice is excessively simple: goulash with pasta or polenta or only goulash or only pasta or only polenta! You may buy bread by slices if you wish to complement this.

By eight o’clock we are all in bed!

 

Foreign Service – Expect the unexpected!

Life in the Foreign Service brings many unexpected moments and crazy memories and this is the way I like it.

Nobody told me I would …

  • Pilot a Cessna over the Sine Saloum Delta in Senegal – I don’t even have a pilot’s license!
  • Glide from baobab to baobab like Tarzan near the reserve of Bandia.
  • Eat ‘yassa’ chicken with my hands, sitting on the floor in a tiny village near Joal.
  • Take West African businessmen and women to a trade show in Las Vegas and be their nanny 24/7.
  • Drive from Dakar to Bamako on the side of the road, in the sand, because it was safer than dealing with the potholes on the road.
  • Meet Madeleine Albright at breakfast during an American Chamber of Commerce event in Mexico City.
  • Take the kids to Acapulco and learn that, just near us, the narco-traffickers had chopped a dozen heads.
  • Meet and kiss Margarita Zavala, a federal deputy, wife of then president of Mexico Felipe Calderón.
  • Welcome musician and singer Seal at the consulate, chitchat and take photos.
  • Enjoy a lucha libre show with its masked warriors. Lucha libre is a very well-choreographed wrestling competition with heroes and villains. The fun was also among the spectators, for example grandmothers gesturing and yelling chinga tu madre and all other kind of nondescript foul language.
  • Meet and kiss vice-president Biden after his speech at the Embassy in Mexico City, and later receive a letter of appreciation in Pakistan, letter forwarded from Mexico even though it had a wrong address for the Embassy in Mexico.
  • Be car-chased by a crazy man in Chiapas where hubby had to remember and apply all his classes of Crash & Bang defensive driving.
  • Eat powdered ants in a wonderful Mexican dish.
  • Participate and rank top 2 in the first ever triathlon of my life in Islamabad at an age when some of us are grandmothers.
  • Climb the full size brass antelope in the Karachi airport on a dare given by my female boss – who did it too!
  • Be called daughter by a toothless Pakistani villager, thankful that via USAID we brought her electricity.
  • Hike the Margalla hills every week and befriend Pakistani girls in the mountains.
  • Become a designer and invent many unique dresses and shirts thanks to the sewing skills of my Pakistani tailor.
  • Plant my own tree to celebrate the end of a successful project. I was a drop in the ocean of that project but as a representative of USAID, I was treated like royalty.
  • Feeling like a rock star or the Queen of England when I entered a classroom and was “showered” in rose petals Pakistani hosts had laid on the blades of the fan.
  • Sleep on the floor of the hut of unknown Thai mountain villagers.
  • Buy a beautiful and unique piece of embroidery in Thailand that the embroiderer consented to sell only because I was married.
  • Eat in bamboo plates from bamboo dishes with bamboo chopsticks that had all been carved in front of my eyes a few minutes before the meal.
  • Taste savory dishes of the curly-haired Mangalica pig during the Mangalica festival in Budapest.
  • Celebrate Valentine’s day in Bosnia (usually more synonym of war than love, unfortunately).
  • Visit an exhibition in total darkness, led by a blind guide and experience like a blind person what life is like, dinner included.
  • Hike to the top of Mount Triglav, the highest mountain of Slovenia at 2864 meters (9,400 feet).
  • Eat foie gras in a special ‘Magyar’ McDonald burger, the libamajjal, where liba means goose, maj liver and the –al suffix with.
  • Climb a Via Ferrata for the first time in my life: the steep via Ferrata Hans-von-Haid-Steig trail to reach Mount Rax in Styria, Austria at 2 000 meters.
  • Learn a few words of Chinese because I am working as a TDYer in Beijing, China, in the middle of the summer – yet the weather is not as hot as in Budapest or Paris.
  • Three years after doing a TDY in Beijing, being assigned to Beijing and invited to model a qipao dress (also called cheongsam) at a fashion and culture show in the Silk Market.

Some friends tell me ‘I didn’t know you were doing these kinds of thing’ and I answer ‘me neither’!