Maglic – 2,671ft
Eric Gilbertson, Janette H, Kris Brewer
Date: September 2, 2012
“Bosnia – no,” the border guard grunted emphatically, swinging his arms out horizontally in a universally-understood sign of no. His patience with us had worn thin and it was apparent we would not be crossing the gate in front of us separating Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Kris backed the car away from the gate and pulled off on the side of the road.
“Let’s take one more look through the car,” I said. “There’s got to be a little green piece of paper somewhere. We didn’t drive six hours this morning to not get in to Bosnia.”
From what we gathered from the Bosnian border guard’s limited English, we needed some little green insurance card for the car in order to cross the border. But we hadn’t needed this at any other border crossings, and in our hurry to please him hadn’t been able to produce such a card. We opened up all the glove compartments again and started searching under all the gear piled up between the seats. Then I spotted an official-looking black folder that must have come with the rental car. I opened it up, and spotted an equally-official-looking green piece of paper.
“This has to be it – let’s try him again.”
We pulled back up to the gate, and the guard grudgingly got up off his seat again and ambled over to our car. Kris handed him the little green piece of paper, which he examined suspiciously.
“Yes, Bosnia – yes,” he said after a moment, with a big smile on his face. He waived to the other guard to lift the gate and handed us back the green piece of paper. We had made it to Bosnia after all.
Kris, Janette, and I were in Europe for a week trying to climb as many country highpoints as possible. We’d originally planned to go for the gold and climb the hardest country highpoints in the Alps, namely Grossglockner in Austria, Mt Blanc in France/Italy, and Dufourspitze in Switzerland. However, snowstorms late in the week in the Alps forced us to change plans and head south and east for better weather. We’d hit San Marino, Austria (during the only weather window in the Alps), Slovenia, and Croatia, and it looked like we’d have just enough time to squeeze in Bosnia and Herzegovina too.
Saturday morning we’d woken up in the small village of Glavas, Croatia, and started the car up for the drive over to Bosnia. Our car GPS had optimistically predicted an ETA of 12:34pm at the next trailhead, and we were certain we could get the mountain climbed in the afternoon, maybe even with time to spare to start driving again.
Our navigation troubles started soon that day, though. We followed the directions successfully to the coastal town of Split, but could not find the mysterious highway 2 the GPS wanted us to take. In hindsight, it turns out highway 2 does not exist, at least not yet. Because we hadn’t planned to drive this far away from the Alps I hadn’t brought any maps that covered this area so we were completely relying on the GPS. We kept heading southeast along the coast, but could only drive about half the speed the GPS had predicted we’d drive on the mysterious highway 2. We briefly detoured inland and found a higher-speed road, but this ended after only half an hour and we were forced back onto the coast. Of course, the coast was beautiful with all the islands offshore and cool beaches, but we were more concerned with getting to Bosnia at this point.
12:34pm came and passed, and we were still driving along the coast of Croatia. We reached the town of Dubrovnik and finally found a road heading east towards Bosnia, which we gladly followed. Our GPS showed the road going right to the border, and then stopping. In fact, the GPS didn’t show any roads in southern Bosnia, so it was a bit unclear what our next move would be if we crossed the border. [As a side note, if you look on Google Maps, southern Bosnia is one of the few places in the world where no roads show up, even though roads actually exist there. I’m thus not too surprised our GPS wouldn’t work in Bosnia.]
We successfully crossed the border, and then were on our own. The GPS was obviously no-longer trustworthy since it didn’t even know about the road we were driving on. We kept driving into Bosnia, taking the largest road at any intersection, until we pulled off in the town of Trebinje to fill up on gas. I ran inside and managed to convey in sign language that I was looking for a map. The guy behind the counter didn’t speak any English, but dutifully produced a map and showed me where we were. Bingo – now we finally had a reliable navigation resource. I gave him five Euros and triumphantly walked back to the car.
Back in the car we pulled the GPS off the dashboard and stuck it face down between the seats – it had caused us enough frustration for the day and was liable to get injured if it stayed in our sight. After one final wrong turn we finally started heading in the correct direction, north on E20 towards the next town of Mosko.
Now that navigation was more dependable we could actually appreciate the countryside. Southern Bosnia is pretty nice, with rolling grass-covered hills and sheep and cattle grazing. As we got farther north we encountered larger hills and the ground became forested. There’s not much evidence left of the wars, except for the occasional bridge that’s been blown up. We had a 10-mile detour at one point to bypass a destroyed bridge, but otherwise the country seemed to be mostly recovered.
By 5pm we reached the small village of Tjentiste, and turned right on a non-descript little road across from the only petrol station. My guidebook said we’d take this for exactly 17.7km to the unmarked trailhead, so we dutifully took note of the odometer.
The road wound up into the mountains, starting out paved but gradually developing potholes and eventually turning into a rough dirt road. Kris was at the wheel and put his expert off-roading skills to good use, avoiding all the major potholes, loose rocks, and high centers the road had to offer. There were surprisingly several other cars coming down the road, large vans even, despite there being no houses up there. We suspected they were smuggling something in from Montenegro, since our guidebook noted that this particular little road is a secret backdoor entrance between the countries with no border guards or inspections.
By 6pm we crested a final hill and saw a small red sign on a tree that said “MAGLIC.” Our odometer only read 15.9km, but we figured this had to be the place. Now came strategy time. We could climb the mountain tonight, but it would be about 5 hours hiking round-trip, putting us back to the car probably around midnight. That might give us time to tag Hungary on our way back to Zurich to fly home, but we’d also already had a late night-hike of Dinara in Croatia the previous night. There was also a short via ferrata section on the route that might be sketchy in the dark, and Bosnia is known to still have landmines in the countryside, so we wouldn’t want to stray off trail in the night.
After some debate we decided to save Maglic for the morning and get a good night’s sleep camping at the trailhead. If you’re ever looking for an awesome place to camp in Bosnia you should definitely check out the Maglic trailhead. We found a huge stump leveled into a table, with five logs around it for sitting. There’s a large flat grassy area with a great view of the summit, and about four other wooden picnic benches fashioned from logs and branches. An awesome campsite for sure.
We rose at 6am and were on the trail by 7. We found the trail to be in much-better shape than our guidebook “Europe’s High Points” described, and the peak must have gotten more popular recently. Janette led the way, with Kris relegated to the rear while recovering from a case of AAF (not to be confused with HACE or HAPE). The trail wound through the forest, then out into an open field with a spectacular view of the north face of Maglic. The face was all vertical cliffs, with some patches of snow at the base, and it wasn’t apparent that there could be any non-technical route up to the summit. We trusted the guidebook, though, and had left the rope in the car.
We reached the base of the cliffs and started scrambling up some short via ferrata sections. The metal cables weren’t exactly necessary, and I actually tried to avoid touching them just to make things interesting. There were a few exposed traverses, but nothing that would warrant using a harness and slings with the via ferrata.
The steepness gradually lessened until we were hiking up grassy slopes to the summit ridge. At the ridge top we peered down into what was almost a crater, with Maglic on the right marked by a big flag, and some Montenegran mountains on the left. We headed right towards Maglic, and after a final short section of scrambling reached the roof of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Bosnians are certainly proud of this mountain: there’s a metal flag on the top (metal so it’s always unfurled) and a big concrete plaque with a bust of Tito, the former Yugoslavian ruler. Unfortunately the view was obscured by smoke, either from forest fires or lots of people using wood stoves (we suspected the later after seeing so much wood for sale in the towns). But we could still admire the mountains of Montenegro across the border. The only sign of civilization we could see was the secret backroad into Montenegro. Otherwise it was all apparently wilderness.
With a 16-hour drive to the Zurich airport in the backs of our minds we soon left the summit and hurried back to the car. On the way down we passed two other groups of Bosnians ascending. It was a weekend, of course, but I was still surprised that other people would make the long journey to this mountain.
We hit the car by noon and I took over the wheel, immediately heading back down towards Tjentiste. I didn’t add any new obvious scratches to our rental van (though perhaps several non-obvious ones on the undercarriage), and we soon hit smooth pavement again.
We followed windy two-lane roads north to Sarajevo and farther to the Croatian border at Brod. In Bosnia we actually passed four separate police traps on the side of the road, each one manned with two officers wielding a small red stop sign. Usually oncoming cars would flash their lights at us as a warning in advance, and we never got stopped. We returned the favor to other cars that were approaching the police traps. (It wasn’t actually clear if they were speed traps or random stops, though, since the cops didn’t have any speed guns).
The Croatian border crossing was a circus: we had to wait a full hour in line, with Bosnians coming up to our windows trying to sell us trinkets the whole time! Luckily we weren’t held up by the border guards this time, though, and smoothly crossed into Croatia. We continued driving through Zagreb, and into Slovenia before finding a nice hotel in Krska to spend the night.
The next morning we started driving at 6:15am into Austria, Germany, and finally back to Switzerland. Kris and I dropped Janette off at her apartment and rolled into the airport just in time for our flight. We could have probably arrived 15 minutes later and still made the flight, but definitely not 16 minutes later. We had certainly cut it pretty close considering we had driven seven hours that morning, but we made it.