Croatia – Dinara

Dinara – 6,007ft
Eric Gilbertson, Janette H, Kris Brewer
Date: August 31, 2012

croatia1Kris booted up his computer, logged on to the Slovenian internet provider, and pulled up our six most trusted weather websites. It was Friday morning and we were nervously awaiting the results. Good weather in the Alps would give us the green light for an attempt up Mt Blanc, which was the biggest prize for our trip. We had previously driven 16 hours out of our way to Chamonix earlier in the week hoping to climb the highest mountain in France and Italy, but had been turned back by bad weather. We had instead driven back to Slovenia chasing sunny skies and had climbed Triglav on Thursday.

Kris and I also had a little more at stake with the weather forecast– Thursday night we had gambled on good weather and made a small non-refundable deposit online to reserve spots in the Gouter Hut on Mt Blanc. We suspected other mountaineers were waiting until Friday morning’s forecast to make plans for the weekend, and that the hut might fill up quickly if the weather was clear.

Unfortunately the forecast was even grimmer than before. Now the French Alps were predicted to be in the rain/snow until the coming Tuesday, giving us no window to summit. Kris and I lost a little money, but figured it was still worth the bet.

We looked around at different countries, hoping to find better forecasts. Gerlach, the highest mountain in Slovakia was high on our secondary priority list, and had a good Sunday forecast, but it was over 12 hours away from Zurich and it would be tough to reach our Monday flight in time if the mountain took longer than expected. The weather looked clear farther south towards Croatia and Bosnia, though, and none of us had ever been to those countries. I hadn’t actually done any prior research on those country highpoints since they were so far away from our intended mountains, but I did have a guidebook with all the country highpoints in Europe that should contain sufficient information.

Bosnia also had a unique appeal to it, since it’s well off the beaten track for tourists and mountaineers. It’s not part of the European Union, just recovered from years of civil war, and might offer an interesting adventure. My car GPS also supposedly had road maps for all of Europe, so navigation shouldn’t be a problem.

We agreed to follow the good weather and starting heading south. It was currently raining hard in Slovenia, but as we left the mountains and approached the Croatian border the skies started clearing. Also, as we would discover over the next few days, the GPS became less and less reliable the farther we got from Western Europe. This may be a function of roads being mapped less reliably in less-developed countries.

At the border crossing into Croatia I blindly trusted the GPS directions to a turnoff that led me into the truckers lane behind 20 stationary semis. The road was one-way coming in, and it would probably take hours to get through this crossing waiting for all the trucks to be inspected. I carefully and quickly drove back out the wrong way on the one-way road and got back into the car lane for the border crossing.

The border crossing went smoothly with each of us getting new stamps in our passports. I was actually starting to get nervous that my passport wouldn’t have any space left, since I officially only had half of a page free. The agent found a place for his stamp, though, and we continued into Croatia.

We passed the outskirts of Zagreb, and continued through Brinje and Gospic. One turn the GPS recommended looked suspicious to me, and I thought I would finally outsmart it by staying my course. This time, though, the GPS was correct and my error cost us a full hour on our ETA (estimated time of arrival). We did get to swing by the Mediterranean Sea near Zadar, though, and still got to our turnoff at Kijevo by 5pm. This town had caused us a little confusion, since my guidebook spelled it as Kijero, and we’re still sure if that’s a misspelling or just an alternate spelling.

At Kijevo we started driving down windy single-lane roads into the countryside, taking the larger road at every intersection. Eventually we saw an old dilapidated bus stop with a mountain painting on the side and Dinara written next to a left-pointing arrow. We were definitely in the right spot.

Here the road turned to gravel, and we drove to the end where the official trail started. It was 6pm now, with probably two hours of daylight left. My guidebook predicted a 5 hr roundtrip hiking time, but we didn’t even consider waiting til Saturday for the hike– we wanted to see sunset from the summit tonight.

croatia3We quickly started up the trail with minimal gear, stopping briefly at an old castle along the way for some pictures. We’d had some debates earlier in the trip as to what exactly constitutes a castle, after we passed many questionable structures in Italy and France. My argument was that, to be a castle, the structure needs to have slotted windows for shooting arrows out of, and the step-function-shape walls on the top for defense. Otherwise it’s just an old building. This structure in Croatia was undeniably a castle by my definition, and probably centuries old.

We continued hiking up the trail, through dry forests and eventually into a large grassy meadow. We were apparently above treeline, though this may have been because of lack of water for trees as opposed to altitude. The trail started climbing up to a ridge to the west and Kris darted ahead with his fancy DSLR camera, hoping to get some good sunset pictures. But, unfortunately, the sun set by the time we reached the ridge. The trail continued north along the ridge, passed a few “unlikely forests” as our guidebook called them, and numerous sinkholes that looked like giant craters.

croatia4By 8:30pm we climbed the final section of trail and found the official Dinara summit marker, reading “1831 VRH Hrvatske.” (Hrvatske is the local name of Croatia). There was another local maximum 50ft farther along the ridge that we tagged just to be safe, before taking our official summit pictures at the marker. The wind had picked up near the summit and it was actually a little chilly for August.

Those of us who’d brought extra layers (Janette) put them on, while the ultra-lighters (me and Kris), toughed it out in shorts and T-shirts. We were fine, but just had to keep moving to stay warm. We quickly headed down the trail to warm up and hopefully get back in time for a good night’s sleep.

Kris, as usual, forgot to get his summit rock until at least a mile back from the summit, but I offered to break mine in half for him if he ever wanted his collection to be official.

croatia2When we were within 30 minutes of the car it started raining, but luckily only lasted a few minutes and we quickly dried off in the desert-like air. We made it back to the trailhead by 11pm and set up the tents right next to the car. Unlike Slovenia we were certain here that nobody would care if we camped there, and there was even a picnic bench next to the car to cook dinner on.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was next on our list, and with 2.5 days before our flight back to the states hopefully nothing would stop us from bagging one more country highpoint.

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