zaterdag 26 september 2009
Velebitski Planinarski Put
In September 2009 I walked the Velebitski Planinarski Put (VPP) in Croatia with a friend of mine. Now this sounds like something really exotic but its translates simply as 'Velebit mountain trail'. It is a fantastic trek. Unfortunately the weather was not too good and we had to deal with a lot of mist, wind and rain. I think still I managed to get a half-decent set of pictures from this trek. You can see them here: Velebit Trekking
Velebit is Croatias most important mountain range. Although it is not very high (the highest peak is just under 1760 meters) it rises straight out of sea. The views from above on the coastline and the islands are stunning. Despite its closeness to the sea (and all the touristic development) Velebit is still a surprisingly wild place. One the eastern side of the range vast forests exist where bears and wolves still roam freely. The contrast with the coastal side with all the dry barren islands below couldn't be bigger.
Very limited practical info exists on this trek in English so here are some notes for the future trekkers:
There is a whole range of huts along the trail at convenient distances from each other. Some of the huts are manned but the majority are simple shelters where you need to be selfsufficient. I will post some more information on the shelters at the individual stages below.
The whole Velebit is a natural protected area and camping is formally forbidden. In reality nobody will object if you pitch your tent near one of the huts. The exception are the most Northern en Southern part of the trail which are inside strictly protected Nature reserves. Here you always will have to use the huts.
A problem for campers and hikers is the limited availability of water along the trail. Velebit is a karst mountain range and all the water quickly disappears underground. There are NO lakes and streams along the whole trail. All the huts have a watersource.
Most of the huts have very limited capacity ( 10-15 people) so this trail is not fit for bigger groups!
There are fairly detailed and accurate maps available for the whole of Velebit.
The manufacturer is SMAND. Maps 16A, 17, 18 and 19 completely cover the whole trail from Oltare to Paklenica. The maps are sold in bookshops in the area and it is not too hard to find them for sale on the internet.
Getting there and away
The first checkpoint on the trail is the Zavizan hut at 1600 meters. Very strong hikers will simply walk up from sea level to the hut. More lazy people, like me, will opt for a higher starting point. We started walking from Oltare at 1000 meters, which you can reach by car. The problem is that if you drive there you have to find a way to collect your car at the end of the hike. Instead we parked our car in the town of Senj and took a taxi up to Oltare. From the end of the trail, Starigrad, you can simply take a bus back along the coast.
Provisions, stocking up
Very simple, you have to take the food for the whole trail with you. There is no possibility to buy extra provisions unless you descent back to the coast for a day.
You will not find any water on most stages so you have to take enough with you for the whole day. 1 liter will certainly not be enough!
checkpoints and markings
There are a number of checkpoints with stamps along the route. At Zavizan you can buy a stampbook. If you collect all the stamps you can get an official badge of the VPP from the Croatian mountain club. In reality practically all the stamps are missing so this has become pointless. It is still useful to buy the book, because all the checkpoints are in there. It makes it a lot easier in finding the route.
The (official) route is marked very well and it is very hard to get lost. Just at the descent from Satorina we could not find the path down to Kugina Kuca. For the rest we had very little problems.
This is not a very difficult hike. The paths are mainly good, marked well with not too much altitude difference. The exception is the stage to Sugarska Duliba where you will find yourself crawling over tree logs and fighting off braches the whole time. Some of the peaks along the route require some more difficult scrambling but these can also be skipped.
What makes this trek hard is that you have to carry food for the whole trip with you.
Stage 1: Oltare - Zavizan hut (3 hours)
A very gently sloped climb mainly through forest.
Zavizan hut, 1600 m is open all year and has about 40 places to sleep. Because you can get here by car this hut is often full during weekends! You are expected to bring your own food and for a small fee you can use the fully equipped
Stage 2 Zavizan - Alan hut (6 hours)
This stage follows the Premuziceva Staza, a carefully constructed path with very little altitude differences. The scenery here is amazing but unfortunately we had to walk in thick fog for most of the day. I was here a few years earlier so I know what it looks like but for my friend it was a bit of a disappointment.
Halfway the stage there is Rossijevo Skloniste, a shelter that can hold upto 10 people. It has a woodstove and some pans but there are no mattresses. There is a cistern below there hut where the water from the roof is collected. In dry summer months this cistern is often empty.
Alan hut, 1400 meters can house around 40 hikers. It is manned in the summer months and in weekends. A part of the hut is open all year as a shelter. The kitchen is fully equipped and water is no problem.
Stage 3 Alan Hut- Kugina Kuca 7 hours
The first part follows the seaboard side and offers fantastic view over the islands.
After a few hours the path turns right to Ogradjenica (a shelter, I didn't check it out) and then in a large turn to the summit of Satorina (1620 m). From just below the summit there should be a path to the left directly down to Kugina Kuca. We missed it and had to cross the forest using compass to run into the path again down below.
Kugina Kuca, 1140 meters is a fairly large hut that should be open during weekends. There is a small and basic shelter at the back where we stayed. There is a woodstove but no pans. It can hold around 6 people.
Stage 4 Kugina Kuca - Baske Ostarije 7 hours
From Kugina Kuca you take a path back towards the seaboard side to meet the Pemuziceva Staza again. The official route climbs Bacic Kuk (1303m), then goes down to Ravni Dabar hut (750m) to climb back again to around 1100 meters.
Because all the stamps were missing anyway and general laziness we skipped those checkpoints and stayed on the relative comforts of the Pemuziceva Staza. We were very glad we did because the weather got bad quickly and soaking wet we reached Baske Ostarije, 920 meters Here you can stay in the shelter Vila Velebita. We suddenly remembered we were spoiled (and very wet) guys and their fourties with steady incomes so we quickly decided for the luxuries of the hideous Hotel Velebno.
Stage 5 Baske Ostarije - Sugarska Duliba 7 hours
Forest, forest and some more forest make up this day. Very WET forest too. The path does not really deserve to be called a path either. It is more a collection of markings on trees to which you have to wrestle yourself a way through the forest. Potential VPP hikers should look at this stage more as a neccesary evil rather then a source of enjoyment. Wet and tired we reached Sugarska Duliba, 1210 meters
A nicely placed shelter with about 10 beds, a wood stove and some pans. The water source is 5 minutes behind the hut. This water should be treated and/or boiled!
Stage 6 Sugarska Duliba- Tatekova Koliba 5-6 hours
Another very WET day mainly through forest. After the checkpoint Jelova Ruja the path is partly destroyed by forestry activities that leave some horrible scars in the forest. Just before we reached Tatekova Koliba it stopped raining and the sun came out.
Tatekova Koliba, 960 meters is wonderfully situated on the edge of a field called Stap, completely surrounded by chalk-white rocks. The shelter can hold around 10 people and is fully equipped. For me the nicest hut along the trail! (or was that because the sun finally started shining?)
Stage 7 Tatekova Koliba - Struge, 7 hours
The route climbs up behind the hut towards the wonderful peak of Stapina.
From there it goed up and down a bit towards the large field Rujno. After that it is a 500 meter climb to Struge hut, 1400 meters A nice fully equipped hut that can hold around 15 hikers. From may to October there is a high chance you run into a park ranger at the hut. Wonderful guy; he sold beer!
Stage 8 Struge - Starigrad 9 hours
The normal VPP stage goes from Struge up tp Vaganski Vrh (the highest peak), traverses the main ridge for a couple of hours and then goes up to the peak of Sveti Brdo (the second higest) to descent to Ivine Vodice refuge. This should take about 7 hours.
Because our time left was limited we skipped Sevti Brdo and descended all the way down to the car park of Paklenica, where we hitchhiked back into civilization. A long way down, from 1757 meters (Vaganski Vrh) back to sea level.