It’s been four days – four glorious days – since last we hiked. Not that I don’t love hiking, but having single rest days all the time makes them seem a bit like Sundays; relaxing, but with the niggling knowledge that tomorrow you have to go back to work.
In our four days we visited Mostar (catching a bus – yet another transgression of our hiking continuity, I know) where we saw the famous bridge, visited the war museum, and managed to pick up some books! Even in that fairly large city it was slim pickings, but I think we did okay. Hopefully this lot lasts us to the end of the hike (v. doubtful). Other than that, most of our time in Mostar was spent in a lovely terrace cafe down the road from our hostel. You could say we’re lazy travellers.
While the break did wonders for our aching feet, it did make leaving Jablanica very hard this morning, particularly as we’re climbing up Prenj, and the ascent is famously steep. Prenj is a huge, circular(ish) mountain, with peaks dotted around its crowning plateau. Our plan was to have lunch at Milanova koliba, which is just on the edge of the plateau, and then make camp at Jezerce kuća on the other side of Prenj. But, as you can see from the title of today’s blog post, that didn’t quite happen. In fact we didn’t even make it half way: that hill leading out of Jablanica really was a doozy.
Our first task for the day was to traverse the ridge separating Jablanica from the village of Ravna. An easy 5 km hop we thought when planning, but it turned out to be a slippery labyrinth of unmarked trails, the upshot being that by the time we climbed down into sleepy Ravna it was the wrong side of brunch and we needed a break.
Despite being so close to the lively highway town that is Jablanica, Ravna moved at a much slower pace. Pulling into a tiny convenience store/cafe, we grabbed a drink from where they were being chilled by the flow of spring water through a concrete bathtub. The cafe was empty but for a man leaning back on his chair wearing blue jeans and white T-shirt. After using improvised sign language to establish that we were from Australia, he asked where we were heading today. “Jezerce,” we replied. At the word Jezerce he puffed out his cheeks and sighed as if he was tired just at the thought. “Long way away,” his gestures said. We smiled weakly.
Leaving Ravna, we began the climb up Prenj. Initially it wasn’t so bad, but the track grew exponentially steeper until we were using our hands as much as our feet. The mountain seemed to be made of damp leaf litter, and we both slipped over half a dozen times. It was slow going, but our efforts were rewarded every now and then by glimpses of the surrounding mountains through the canopy, and I mentally ticked off the peaks as we climbed higher than them.
By midday we’d realised that we probably wouldn’t make it to Milanova koliba for lunch, and by 5 pm we started to wonder if we’d be there by dinner. In the end it was after 6 pm when we finally crawled into the ramshackle Milanova koliba, and, by unspoken agreement, called it a day. We’d climbed over 1500 m.
Milanova koliba is situated right next to a much newer (locked) hut, so I get the sense it’s been a bit abandoned. The inside is filthy and there’s rotting styrofoam mattresses everywhere, but it didn’t take long to clear ourselves a little oasis of clean sleeping platform. And, once we were settled in, it was a nice place to spend the evening, watching the sun set over our newly conquered mountain.
As we were cooking dinner, hikers started to descend from the peaks above to stay in the other shelter. First three, then another group of five or six, then a larger group after that until there must have been twenty-something hikers squeezed into a hut smaller than our own. A group of three guys sitting outside invited us to share their fire, and, as they cooked sausages over the flames, we learnt that some hikers had arrived without calling ahead, leaving them to either squish in with the giant group, or camp outside. For some unfathomable reason, nobody wanted to join us in our dilapidated mansion.
And so we settled in for the night, legs aching from the endless climb, but resolved to spend an extra day up here on Prenj. Our original plan was to descend to Boračko jezero (lake) tomorrow, but we’ve decided to push everything back by a day. Prenj is a huge, beautiful mountain, with dozens of peaks, and I’m glad that we won’t rush over it.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Stage 31 (alternate route to Boracko jezero via Jezerce kuca)
Start and end points: Jablanica to Milanova koliba (Međuprenje and Milanova koliba, the two huts, are right next door to each other; the former is locked and requires booking, the latter is unmanned, free and permanently open, but poorly maintained)
Villages: Jablanica – Ravna
Features: Supermarkets in Jablanica (Konzum, Voćepromet, others) – Mini markets and cafe in Ravna – Prenj planina (Prenj mountain) – Planinarska kuca Međuprenje (Međuprenje mountain hut) – Milanova koliba