This UNESCO national park in the north west of Montenegro is little heard of in the UK, but if you’re looking for somewhere new to go then this is a fabulous place that is definitely worth exploring.
Zabljak is the nearest town and has everything you could need, a few restaurants, hostels, hotels and a supermarket. This is also the primary base for the outdoor adventure companies, with zip lining, horse riding, cycling, rafting and kayaking all on offer here.
The scenery is like nothing I’ve seen in real life. More rugged than the Alps, less lush than the Dolomites it’s really something else.
The Black Lake is the main attraction for the bus tours, being made of a large lake and a small lake connected by a small stream, which the signs tell me can flow in either direction depending on the time of year.
When I walked around it last night, there was a sign saying they have snow melt springs that make a big noise as they burst out of the ground.
Today I decided to walk up to the highest peak: Bobotov Kuk. Having asked around yesterday if there were any maps that answer was basically no, it’s well signposted. So I set off this morning a little later than planned (having forgotten to get any milk for breakfast) without a map.
The very first turning didn’t have signposts, but I trusted my gut that the offshoot was going in completely the wrong direction, and did eventually find the correct path.
While I didn’t have signal, my phone was important for checking the time, and knowing that the sign at the start had predicted 5hrs 30mins, I was hopeful that that was for the round trip and not just one way.
I checked the time at 1hr in, and hoped that I had done the hard bit, but knowing pretty well that that was unlikely, but I had covered about 1/3rd of the plan distance from the start to the pin on the map.
That first third was mostly in trees which was nice as it kept the sun off and kept me cool while climbing over tree roots and rocks to get up the slope.
The second third were above the forest line and I became quite warm, although the wind was really quite chilly. Having spent the previous week sweltering at lower levels in Croatia it was easy to forget the relationship between altitude and temperature (about 10C/1000m, weather dependant), meaning I had to layer up to sleep last night.
It seemed that every time I came around a corner there was a new view, a new incredible scenery that also showed pretty clearly how hard the hiking was. Near vertical faces are all around you and the ascent and decent are pretty relentless, very little of the route is flat. This combined with the gravel underfoot, made some of the descents pretty treacherous. I find I can be a bit clumsy so I’m never very confident going down steep slopes regardless of the surface.
At about half way there was a adorable little mountain hut with a beer sign outside. The National Park seem to know their punters! The ranger there tried to explain something to me in Slavic which I took to mean that there was something wrong with the route to the mountain and I should go via pi^cine instead. I thanked him and carried on, hoping there would be a nice obvious sign to that place. It seemed like there had been a landslide or something based on his mime, so I hoped that I would recognise that point and be able to simply turn around if I came to it.
When I set off I set myself 2pm as my turn around time, knowing that it can always seem just around the corner and not wanting to return to my campsite in the dark. It was after I had done the second big ascent after the mountain hut, putting my finally within sight of the right mountain, that I checked the time and realised that I was never going to make it up there in half an hour.
As my motivation and energy flagged, I made the call to turn around, much to the surprise of the people I had seen coming the other way. Part of me was kicking myself, if he could do it in socks and sandals, and she could do it in trainers and jeans, I should be able to do it properly equipped. But I think I made the right decision, as the descent was incredibly hard on the knee and my plantar fasciitis was threatening to bring me down otherwise.
On my way back past the mountain hut the man had a buddy who offered me the beer, or cola, or cheese! And I figured he had come up on the horse that was now tied up outside (must be impossible for the horse on that terrain I thought). Not much further on I came across a man leading a horse up the hill, so I guess the guy didn’t ride it! The horse seemed pretty reluctant if I’m honest, but maybe that was to do with struggling on the rocks. His load was just a small sack on each side that looked like they contained a 6 pack at most, which I partly thought seemed like a waste of a journey, but perhaps that contents were heavier or more vital than they appear. I also nearly stopped for a nap, but managed to eat a banana and carry on- making it back to the campsite at 4.30.
So it turns out I’m pretty pants at keeping myself fuelled for these big days. My 6hrs 20mins of hiking was powered on a bowl of cereal, half a pack of jaffa cakes, half a pack of salami and 2 bread rolls… Oh and I was feeling sick last night so didn’t have dinner.
What are your must have snacks and lunches in the mountains?