Montenegro 7 – 21 June 2017

Where’s that I hear you ask! It is a country, which was formerly a state in the old Yugoslavia, bordering on Albania to the south. Montenegro is a very mountainous country and generally of limestone with deep river gorges.

The group comprised Ian Hargreaves, John Ward, John Anderson, Carol Petifar, Andrew Dyson and myself. Note the trip had been carefully organised to miss the General Election.

We few into Tivat, a tourist destination on the west coast of Montenegro, with Easyjet from Manchester. We were then transported to Zabljak via a private minibus, which Carol had arranged. Our accommodation was the Hiker Den, where we stayed in a 6 person self catering bunk room close to the town centre and shops/restaurants/bars. Perfect!

Zabljak lies of the eastern edge of the Durmitor National Park. The highest mountain, wholly within Montenegro, Bobotov Kuk, 2522m, is within the park. We advised by Alex, Hikers Den proprietor, to start with an easy day walking around a lake, Crno Jezerro, close to Zabljak. This we did but the weather improved so we extended the walk a little…..We ventured into the heart of the mountains to a pass on Meded at 2170m, with a very steep ascent and descent.

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Some lingering snow added to the entertainment on the descent. We covered 10.6 miles and gained 3365ft of ascent – not bad for an easy first day.

Next day we promised ourselves an easier day. A gently rising walk through forests and alpine meadows to a glacial lake, Jablan Jezero at 1791m.

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Beautiful place for lunch, which the others took advantage of, but Andrew and I decided to extend the walk to a view point high above the lake. We were rewarded with stunning views of the whole of the park and our first sighting of Bobotov Kuk.

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Another easy day – 12.6 miles and 3150ft of ascent. Time for a beer!

 

Day 3 saw us tackling Bobotov Kuk. We took a taxi to the top of a nearby pass Sedlo, at 1907m, then a track through spectacular limestone valleys to the base of the mountain and glacial lake. A very steep climb followed to a col some 600 ft below the summit.

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The path to the summit wound around the mountain onto its north side to avoid the major cliffs. Here we encountered more snow patches and some scrambling to attain the top. Time to enjoy the great views and sign the book before returning to the col, where Ian was patiently waiting, having opted out of the scramble. We regrouped then started down the descent into the valley leading back to Jabljak. More extensive patches of snow on a steep scree slope, but with care we managed to get down to the valley.

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A storm had been building since the col, but the rain was light and the worst of the thunder held of until late that evening. A fine expedition. Even with the taxi ride to the top of the pass we still covered 9.5 miles and nearly 3100 ft of ascent.

Our forth day in Zabljak and the clouds were down, so it was time for a genuine easy day at low level – uneventful, but a worthwhile walk through pastures and woods.

It was time to move on and after consulting with Alex he suggested we stop at Kolasin, which is just south of the smallest Nation Park, Biograska Jezero. He arranged an apartment for us in the centre of the town. We were transported to Kolasin in the same mini bus we used from the airport, stopping at the Tara Gorge en route – zip wires and tourists everywhere, and no where near as spectacular as the Vikos Gorge in Greece, which we visited last year.

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We arrived at Kolasin just after midday and having settled into our accommodation and found liquid lunch in a local bar we headed off on a short walk to a viewpoint as directed by our landlord, Dusilo. A very helpful man who enjoyed walking in the mountains himself had good knowledge of the local mountains and walks. The views were impressive. We had good views of the 2 main ranges in the locality, which would be the focus of our attention in the next few days.

The weather the next day look very good, so we opted for the Komovi Mountains, classic shaped peaks set in alpine meadows. Carol was suffering from back pains so opted for a walk through the meadows.

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Ian and the 2 Johns headed for the nearest mountain, Kom Vasojevicki, 2461m, a straight forward but steep and rewarding walk. Andrew and I headed for the furtherest peak Kom Kucki, 2487m, involving a longer walk through a valley lined with jagged peaks, and some scrambling to get to the summit.

Komovi

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A beautiful mountain and really rewarding day, walking a 8.5 mile and gaining 3167 ft of ascent. We met 4 people all day! Back at the bar we met with the others, compared notes and joined in a celebratory beer (or two), whilst waiting for our transport back to Kolasin.

The next day broke overcast, but the weather promised to improve through the day. We took our taxi to the Biograska Jezero National Park and got dropped of at the lake. A very peaceful place, especially without all the tourists. The mist on the water added to the spectacle.

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We walked around the lake then steeply up through ancient forests, climbing about 2000ft to reach the start of a ridge. We continued to climb more gently through patchy forest and meadows, eventually reaching the grass ridge, where we were rewarded with carpets of wild flowers and numerous butterflies.

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At the end of the ridge we dropped down to an eco tourist development, Katun Rupe Ravanjske – wooden shacks housing 2 or 4 people with a central kitchen and communal eating shelter. A quick beer enjoying the views before descending to the ski station were our taxi waited. We went through lots of new development associated with expanding the ski resort – hope they don’t spoil the area! A relatively short walk of 6.5 miles but it involved 3220 ft of ascent.

With the a risk of thunderstorms next day, we set off for a gorge walk at a much lower level and to the south of Kolasin. Mrtvica Gorge is a lower level than Kolasin and the temperatures were much higher than we had experienced since leaving the coast, which, when combined with the enclosed nature of the gorge, meant it was very hot.

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We followed a narrow gorge flanked by tower limestone walls for about 5 miles, enjoying views of waterfalls en route. Exhausted by the heated, we rested in the shade by the river before heading back to the pick up point and a cold beer.

Our final day in Kolasin. Taking advice from Dusilo we persuaded to go to Gomje Lipovo, a small village set in an idyllic valley,

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and climb a mountain called Torna. We had no maps but were assured that the route was well marked. We were dropped off at the end of the tarmac road and pointed in the right direction by our driver. Nobody about to ask directions so we trusted the red marks. In line with most routes there followed a steep climb through the forest following the red marks on the tress and rocks. I was ahead of the main group and after a while realised they were nowhere to be seen. I waited for a while as a cleared the forest, but then continued on the route. It turned out that they missed one of the markers and found themselves wondering in the forest, lost.

I continued to the col, still sign of the others, so trusting the red marks continued over a grassy bluff and dropped into a valley behind the main summit.

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I traversed screes then climbed steep grass/rock to gain the summit about 3 hours after leaving the start. Wonderful route. From the summit I saw Andrew and John W crossing the grassy bluff below me. I waited a while then started my descent, bumping into them about half way down the grass/rock slope. I learn that John A had turned back when they got lost to walk the valley back to Kolasin, and Ian turned back at the col, as he had always intended to do. I found Ian sat on a rock close to the start of the route and persuaded him to walk into the village in search of a beer – that look a some effort!

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A wonderful day out in stunning scenery and a classic mountain. It was only 7.8 miles but involved almost 4000 ft of ascent.

Time to move on…We had done deal with a local mini-bus driver to transport us around Kolasin, take us to Plav and to pick us up at Plav a few days later and return us to the airport at Tivat.

Plav was our intended destination close to the border with Albania, but Dusilo said it was a dump, and directed us to a village, Gusinje, about 10 k away, from where most walks departed. The third park on our trip, Prokletije National Park starts just outside the village. We arrived on cloudy afternoon which did nothing to enhance the grubby appearance of the village.

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It was also Ramadan, so the place was deserted. The scenery beyond the village was however more rewarding and our hotel was OK and cheap. May be things will be all right?

The weather had improved a little the next day but the clouds were down on the summits. In true Gritstone fashion the group split on to two, John, John and Carol decided to check out Plav. Ian Andrew and myself set off into the hills to walk to a lake about 1000ft higher than the village. The walks didn’t actually start in the village so a taxi (at great expense) was ordered to take us to the start. We first viewed a waterfall which looked more like a collapsed cave, before heading up stream, passing the largest spring I had ever come across. The river welled up out of the ground with no sign of and current until it exited the pool.

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Onward to the lake via a very rough and water worn cart track, passing the local constabulary in the way (we were heading to the border of Albania). He gave us a nod which we took to be an acknowledgement that we were OK to continue. We arrived at the point where the lake should have been but it had dried up, and it didn’t look like there had been a lake there for some time. Continuing passed the dry lake, we walked on for a while before having lunch, in Albania – no border post or anyone to be seen. Back at the start of the walk was a bar. We arrived just as it started raining, had a beer or two and call for our taxi back to Gusinje. We met up with the others, who had had an entertaining day watching the driving antics of the locals. No rules!

With 2 days left and the weather was set to improve, it was time to go into the mountains and follow 2 of the routes in the Cicerone Guide.

Some confusion at the start resulted in us tackling walk 2 instead of walk 1! We had a pleasant walk along a long flat valley (we missed the footpath turning) between towering cliffs.

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Retracing our steps, we found the path, which rose steeply up through first forest, then meadow and final stone screes. Great scenery! We regrouped at the high point of the walk about 400 m below the Karanfil and had lunch. John Andrew and myself thought we would find an alternative footpath back (shown on a map which Andrew purloined form some Czech people at the hotel). Initially the way was well marked but the marks soon disappeared. After some searching we saw a footpath crossing a scree – this looked hopeful. We followed and I climbed up through a large hole in the rock, assisted but a doubtful looking cable and started to look for the route. No marks were to be found and the others had decided that they weren’t going to follow me up the rock scramble.

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Retreat! Part way down the descent route I came across Ian and John. Ian was going very slowly and very carefully – he had twisted his ankle shortly after leaving the high point whilst crossing the scree. Back in the UK his twisted ankle was diagnosed as 2 broken bones! He did exceptionally well to get down under in own steam that being the case. Back the bar for some medicine and wait for the taxi. The walk was only 6.4 miles in length but involved 4147 ft of ascent.

The final day – best make it a good one. Ian was still hobbling badly (understandable!) and Carol was suffering from back pains so the 4 of us set of on the walk we intended to do the day before. Carol had found the correct route the day before, so we were soon climbing up through the forest on a good well marked track. At the first clearing we took a breather and regrouped. The alpine flowers and butterflies were amazing.

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The route climbed to a ridge which then circled round along the ridge (Albanian border) and over 2 summits at about 2060m returning to the same point. The views into the highest mountains in Montenegro and Albania were fantastic.

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A lost world. Trips to the highest summits take at least 2 days and are fairly serious outings due to the terrain, poor maps and lack of signs – it is recommended that a guide is employed to scale these mountains. The route involved 6.3 miles of walking in beautiful countryside and a total of 3300ft of ascent. Back at the bar Ian and Carol were taking in plenty of liquid refreshment, purely medicinal!

Our driver arrived on time and drove us to the airport without incident – a fine trip with just the one mishap…..

Peter Barrans

Other photographs available on Flickr – please follow link from the website

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