Acending Mt Triglav, Slovenia

Becoming Slovenian

A pinkish hue begins to tiptoe across the barren crowns of jagged limestone peaks, announcing their hulking presence along the horizon. Far below the fertile meadows remain embraced in a cradle of darkness, tucked in by a soft duvet of mist that curls upwards at the edges. Ambitious rooks have risen early to peck for stray pastry crumbs from our breakfast on the balcony of our refuge. We sip steaming mugs of tea as more light begins to filter towards our hut, bathing a pile of harnesses in an pool of colour and causing the carabiners to glint.

The Julien Alps

With squinting eyes, our gaze naturally hones in on the days challenge: the summit of Mount Triglav, highest mountain in Slovenia. As David and Miha, our expert local guides, predicted, we had been gifted a morning with near perfect conditions. All of the climbing equipment that we had carried with us for the previous four days was donned and with high spirits the safety of the refuge was left behind to begin the ascent.

Ever since the first recorded climb in 1778, reaching the summit of Mount Triglav has always been regarded as a rite of passage for Slovenians. Half way up, and firmly clamped in to one of the many iron cables anchored in to the rock, Miha invites our gaze to a near sheer cliff face, buttressed by the remnants of an ancient glacier. This was the route that he had chosen to earn his stripes as a Slovenian, and was incredibly non chalant about his feat of daring do. This is after all the country that produced the first man to swim the entire length of the Amazon River and the first man to ski down all seven summits.

For us mere mortals, earning our honorary citizenship papers was to be done the “traditional” way. Smooth to the touch, the shiny limestone signifies the well-worn route that leads to the top. Although regarded as one of the easier ways up, sections of the route prompt the group to make good use of Via Ferrata provided.

Closer to the summit, the path abruptly tapers off on either side, with the shadows of climbers nervously snaking down an unwelcome drop. Then, like an overzealous slap on the back from a proud father at sports day, the wind arrives with gusto to welcome you to the highest point in the Julian Alps.

Whilst most views in the Alps offer you a sea of surrounding peaks, it’s the variety that you see from the roof of this mountain range that makes them so special. In front of us lie the green pastures of Austrian meadows that blend into the recognisable peaks of Grossvenediger and Grossglocker; to the West, Italy and the unmistakable shape of the Dolomites. And on a clear day like ours, Croatia can be glimpsed, signalling the beginning of the Adriatic.

Astride the top of Mount Triglav stands a solitary, simple metal structure known as Alijaz Tower. It reminds me of a 5-year old’s impression of a rocket ship. “Congratulations everyone, welcome to the highest point in my country”, proudly bellows David. “But to truly become Slovenian there is one more thing you must do!” David beckons me over, and with a boyish grin tells me look closely at a rock. “What am I looking for?” I ask expecting to find some ancient wisdom below this structure. Then, without warning the spare rope he had been carrying taps my backside. “Congratulations, you are Slovenian!” Elated applause follows from his surrounding countrymen.

Before I can raise a hand to question the motive behind what had just happened, the latest climbers arriving at the top begin to form up below the structure just as I had done. With a hand on my shoulder, and small flask of schnapps offered as a reward, David volunteers an explanation. “In my country, we have seen the good times and the bad, but no matter what you go through in life it is important to keep your humour. This is why after we scale Triglav, a feat that is by no means easy, we do this as a way to stay grounded and remind ourselves of the importance of humour, and with views like this," (his hand sweeps across the horizon), "how lucky we really are”.

Facing out at the visual feast that lay before me, I begin to feel the beginnings of an enormous grin start to creep across my face. I couldn’t have agreed more.

Trips
Slovenia: Julian Alps Traverse
Mount Triglav Weekend

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