So, Montenegro Part Two. After exploring the ancient coast town of Kotor and getting used to the heat for a couple of days, we ventured on a bus ride to Žabljak – the gateway town to the Durmitor National Park in the northwest of Montenegro. I say ‘ventured on’ because we’d heard a thing or two about Montenegrine roads and drivers, and it turned out to be true: it was a wild ride. After about three hours of fearing for our lives and enjoying drop-dead gorgeous scenery we arrived in Žabljak.
Arrival in Žabljak
After our stomachs were back in their right places we had a bite at Or’O restaurant across from the VOLI supermarket – I can’t say I recommend their vegetarion section. After that it was shopping time: stashing hiking food. To our relief the VOLI had pretty much anything we wished for – including gas canisters and stoves! We were already sorted in the fuel department, but in case you’re planning to head to Durmitor: yes, I can confirm that VOLI sells gas canisters and stoves! I took pictures but these are so ugly that I will link to them rather than embed them in this post. The gas canisters are the type you need to puncture, so if you bring a stove from home make sure it fits that type! Otherwise, you can buy a cheap-looking stove at VOLI, but if you’re anything like me you won’t want to test your luck: what if they’re out of stoves all of a sudden?! We brought a Campingaz 206S stove which will work with any brand of puncture canister. There were plenty of gas tins so no need to worry about that. In terms of food: we found everything from powdered milk and oatmeal to dried fruit and nuts as well as cheese, pasta, noodle soup, candy bars and fruit & veg. Not to worry!
Ivan Do campsite
OK, on to the good stuff. From the VOLI we walked two kilometres to Ivan Do campsite (1468m) at the end of the road, all the while closing in to the mountains. The campsite is in a really sweet, quiet spot right at the trailhead. The owners don’t really speak English but are very accommodating. There are two sanitary blocks with two showers and toilets each, and a sheltered terrace with picnic tables with some sockets. There is wifi but the connection isn’t great, so don’t count on it.
Since our first day’s walking is going to be a very short one, we sleep late and have a delicious and filling warm lunch at Hotel SOA. That name made us snort – SOA is the Dutch abbreviation for STD. We pack our trusty Vaude Taurus tent, buy entry tickets to the park at the tourist info kiosk and set sail for Lokvice. It’s a mere 4km away from the campsite and makes for a great warming up walk. The camping spot at Katun Lokvice (1800m), is perched below Meded Peak, at the edge of the theatre that is the Lokvice glacial cirque. It turns out to be a great base for the next few days, as promised by Rudolf Abraham whose Cicerone guide we carry. To our pleasant surprise the shepherd in the hut next to the bivouac site sells cold beers and coke! We pitch our tent next to the shelter, fill our bottles at the spring a little bit further down and call it a day.
Distance: 4km | Time: 1hr 45mins | Total ascent/descent: +445m -115m | Maximum altitude: 1820m
Note: you can also buy a map of the Durmitor at the info kiosk. However, I recommend you buy one before your trip. Several printed maps are available, such as this one.
The highest peak: Bobotov Kuk
The next day we rise a little earlier: time to tackle Durmitor’s highest peak! Bobotov Kuk measures 2523m and we’ve heard there’s quite some snow left, so we expect adventure. And we get it. Before long, we find ourselves clambering over huge boulders and then crossing a large snow field. I don’t know what it is about summer snow but it excites me a great deal, even though arguably metres deep winter snow is far more exciting. It’s just that I’m so happy that it’s still there and that I can have both summer and snow at the same time, I think.
After the snow field we scramble up a steep and tricky scree slope to reach the last pass before Bobotuv Kuk. Although it’s windy it’s a pretty spot and we’re hungry, so we decide to have our lunch break here, staying as close to the ground as possible. Continuing from the pass we get a superb view of Škrčko jezero lake, which we’ll hike to in a few days’ time.
After enjoying the views from the peak for a bit we descend the same way back – with a slight detour via Ledena Picina since I don’t feel like doing exactly the same route twice. We have a bit of a quibble about this and although the detour itself isn’t all that spectacular, we do get to see a group of about eight chamois, still shedding their shaggy winter coats. Back at Ivan Do we buy a rewarding beer and coke and meet with Georgiana and Carter – the latter on flip-flops on which he claims to always conquer mountains. He doesn’t look any the worse for it, but I’d rather not be in his shoes.
Lokvice-Bobotuv Kuk and back
Distance: 8.7km | Time: 5hrs 45mins | Total ascent/descent: 1050m | Maximum altitude: 2523m
Please note that the signpost at Katun Lokvice incorrectly states that it’s 9km to Bobotov Kuk whereas it’s only about 4km.
The next day we embark on a short hike to Veliki Meded (‘the great bear’) which is rated as ‘very difficult’ in our guidebook but turns out to be very doable, although we have to traverse a narrow ridge, aided by cables, to get there. Although I’m in favour of continuing north to Mali Meded and descending another way I lose the battle this time and we return the same way – tomorrow is going to be challenging enough.
Lokvice-Veliki Meded and back
Distance: 4.4km | Time: 3hrs 15mins | Total ascent/descent: 600m | Maximum altitude: 2285m
Lokvice-Škrčko jezero lake
I don’t feel great the next morning, but I discover the mini Lurpaks I brought but then forgot. I have this thing with butter – and my oatmeal isn’t complete without it. Halfway up our first steep slope of the day, to Trojni prevor pass (2245m) I discover why I’m not feeling on top of the world: it’s period time. Wilbert dryly quips that this must be the highest point on which I have ever inserted my cup so far. It’s quite the experience. So I’m not great company but the surroundings make up for it (I think). A chamois hurtles down the slope at a mortal speed; among the rocks to our right I see a rocky kissing couple, frozen in time.
It’s still blazing hot so we’re both happy when we finally arrive at the promised spring underneath the fangs called Zupci. Not long after, we arrive at the beautiful Zeleni vir lake, right underneath Bobotov Kuk. Thankfully there are some boulders providing shade. A small dog from who-knows-where shares it with us. Refreshed, we negotiate some narrow rocky ledges: a fun scramble that brings us to Samar (2075m) with its amazingly folded rock strata. From there we descend to the promised lake – which turns out to be a bit of a Tantalus experience: we can’t reach the lake shore but have to camp near the (manned) hut instead. To make up for it, there is a tap with fresh water right next to it! We check out the smaller lake to find out whether that isn’t a better spot, but it’s guarded by a flock of bulls (and flies) and we decide to keep it safe.
Lokvice-Škrčko jezero lake
Distance: 9km | Time: 3hrs 30mins | Total ascent/descent: 700m/790m| Maximum altitude: 2216m
Škrčko jezero lake-Ivan Do
The day starts with what our guidebook author aptly describes as a ‘long, slow slog’ to the summit of Planinica (2330m). It’s a very steep 650m ascent, the sun is burning and our packs are heavy. We see another couple that camped near the hut last night take a detour and are worried they are getting lost; to our surprise we meet them later on the trail and they’re ahead of us: apparently their detour was a lot less arduous and therefore faster. But the views from Planinica back to the lake are good so we huff and puff a bit but don’t complain anymore.
The plan was always to hike to Jablan jezero lake on day five and back to Ivan Do on day six. Which I was really keen on, especially since it’s possible to look into the Tara canyon a short hike from Jablan jezero. But the forecast looks really grim, so we realize we may have to adjust our plans. There is a shortcut back to Ivan Do about half-way through, so we can make up our minds when we get to the junction. But alas: the storm builds up quickly and the forecast tells us we’re in for a couple of days of very heavy rain. So we settle for the shortcut, and begin our descent.
During a break I write down the thoughts that the unfurling ferns and flowers I see everywhere inspired:
Uncrumpling. We don’t know what we are; what we will become – just that we are. We unfurl like a fern, or unfold like an iris – then, dazed, we find out that we are. Then we start to observe our surroundings and selves and find out what we are and are becoming – or others tell us. Only after that can we begin to shape, to design ourselves. Not from the start, only when it’s ‘too late’ – when we already irrevocably are what we are.
Then the rain comes down. Hard, fast, merciless. It’s warm so I decide not to put my poncho on, and enjoy the rain dance instead – and we’re close to Ivan Do anyway. Nevertheless, I shiver when we arrive and am happy when I can peel off my wet layers in the shower, and that I still have some dry clothes. We don’t feel like pitching our tent in the pouring rain so we retrieve our stored spare luggage at the campsite, rent a room in downtown Žabljak, where we dry our gear, nurture our feet and process the stories we’ve just built.
Škrčko jezero lake-Ivan Do
Distance: 11.6km | Time: 5hrs | Total ascent/descent: 700m/950m| Maximum altitude: 2330m
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