Back to school for the new boy!
Our new School Adventures Director, Neil Kimberley, gets his first taste of travelling the Exodus way.
“We call it an educational”
Those words were still rattling round my head as I tried in vain to kill time in the Gatwick departure hall due to my overly cautious arrival time; better safe than sorry. I was three months into a project to set up the new Exodus School Adventures product range and four weeks earlier had suggested that maybe I should actually go out on one of these trips to see what they are like; I think the layman’s term is a ‘jolly’. As the new boy and clearly unaware of the acceptable phraseology, I was quickly informed that it was actually called an educational. Schools, education - that works for me. This type of organised adventure travel was going to be a new departure for me.
So, having agonised over the possible departures leaving during the summer, I had plumped for the Julian Alps Traverse in Slovenia, a trip from the new School Adventures brochure. Although I’d visited Slovenia before, I had not had time to explore the stunning limestone mountains of the Julian Alps. The biggest tick in the box was that at eight days it was the longest duration trip I’d be able to swing with the family left behind.
After a short flight, a seamless airport pick-up, transfer to the hotel and next mornings’ breakfast introductions with the rest of the group out of the way, we got our first chance to meet our two guides for the week, David and Bugi. They made for a great double act whose levels of entertainment increased each day as we got to know them better and the acceptable levels of banter were explored. Throughout the trip they proved to have the perfect balance between keeping us informed of what lay ahead, stopping to pass on great local knowledge and ensuring the group was kept safe on the more tricky sections of our route. Their efforts ensured that our enjoyment on the trip was kept paramount and that their passion for their country and mountains was passed onto us.
The selection of the Julian Alps for inclusion in the School Adventures brochure was proved to be an inspired choice. This area is a true hidden gem when it comes to real mountain trekking in Europe. Whilst busy with the enthusiastic locals at the weekends, we tended to have the trails and stunning scenery to ourselves for the most part. The route winds its way up through verdant, forested valleys, which were a particular treasure trove for the plant lovers in the group. The end of the first long day saw us at home to one of the many and well maintained mountain huts which are used along the route for both lunch stops and overnight stays. They are run independently and each has their own distinct character but all share some great common traits. Comfy beds, good hearty food and a plentiful supply of wine and beer; the three pillars of mountain survival.
Once above the tree line after lunch on day two, we were suddenly in a whole new world. The limestone peaks surrounding us almost seem to be of pure white, gleaming in the sunlight. We passed various lakes, as we climbed higher up the Seven Lakes Valley, each with there own particular hue of green, turquoise or blue. The plant lovers were still kept entertained by the vast array of alpine flowers on show including the elusive Edelweiss. We were even treated to the sight of a marmot basking in the sun near to one of our rest stops. The terrain under foot now became more testing as we ascended up onto the broad limestone plateau that led us to our night’s resting spot.
The next day saw us traverse the range to the hut where we would be based for our ascent of Triglav the following day. As the highest peak in the Julian Alps this was the main goal for many. We had our first encounter with some of the short sections of Via Ferrata which enabled us to cross some of the more exposed sections of path. David and Bugi came into their own here and shepherded us across very professionally. Even so, you did need a head for heights on this part of the route as some of the paths are quite exposed. Our summit day bid came and went as the cloud, wind and rain descended on us and we were forced to sit and hope in the hut until the decision was made that the ascent would not happen that day and we made an early trek through the rain to the next hut. Any trek that has a summit attempt included runs the risk of falling foul of fickle mountain weather and it had somewhat dampened the group’s spirits that day. Numerous games of Uno and starting early on the red wine helped a little but secretly we all knew where we would rather have been.
There was a glimmer of hope on the horizon however; the guides had agreed that if there was a sudden change in the weather during the night and if we got ready by 4am then we might be able to squeeze in a rapid summit climb before the day’s trekking commenced. I don’t think they ever really believed we’d be up and ready or that the weather would change. Thankfully for us all, one intrepid member of the group set his alarm for 3am and sure enough the skies were clear. After 15 minutes of chaos in the dark, we were all outside, body harnesses and helmets on, ready for our climb. We were treated to the most perfect conditions on the way up, the sun gradually rising over the horizon, a cloud inversion below us and not a breath of wind. Everyone quickly got the hang of the Via Ferrata equipment and quicker than expected we reached the summit ridge. Bathed in the early morning light we snapped away with cameras until the brooding clouds in the distance forced us to descend.
Over the next two days we gradually wound our way back down through the tree line and forest to the valley floor. Weary legs yes, but with a great sense of achievement and some fantastic memories and photos of the stunning limestone landscape of the Julian Alps. We put a full stop to our week with a day exploring the beautiful town of Bled. Dancing until three in the morning in the nightclub was probably a mistake, but our motley crew kept the locals entertained! Ice creams, leisurely coffees and boat trips on the lake filled our last morning before the flight home.
Two months later and the trip seems a distant memory now. Our new School Adventures brochure has been launched and has had a great reception as teachers are seeing the benefits of our style of adventure travel for young people. We’ve made them simple to set up, taken away the burdensome admin normally associated with running a school trip and provided a range of adventures that should suit all budgets, interests and holidays. The last six months have had their challenges but we now have an excellent new product range for schools. It certainly has been an education!
Listed below are our Walking and Trekking trips to the Julian Alps. For the School Adventures trip, please visit the Julian Alps Traverse page.