At the top of Mt. Križ, Julian Alps, Slovenia

Climbing 2 K+ mountains in the Julian Alps after the first snowfall

IN Climbing blog , Hiking , Julian Alps , Triglav National Park , via ferrata

With the early snowfall coloring the peaks of our highest mountains white, my thoughts go back to a special two-day climb in late August to three beautiful mountains in the Julian Alps I was honored to climb with my Dutch-Austrian friend Georg. Originally, we had been planning to climb Triglav over its 1-km high vertical North Face taking the Prag Route on the first day and explore the Triglav Lakes Valley on the second day, but as fate would have it, Slovenia experienced a sudden extreme drop in temperature just a few days before our trip and the mountains above 1,800 m dressed in an unexpected 30-cm snow cover. That called for a quick last-minute change of plan, and instead of climbing the Triglav North Face, we rather opted for the southern slopes of the spectacular mountains on the opposite side of Vrata Valley, also home to the beautiful Alpine ibex.
Hiking in the Julian Alps, view of the Triglav North Face, Slovenia

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Wandering through the land of the Alpine ibex

On the hidden slopes of the Julian Alps lies a remarkable kingdom of the legendary Goldhorn, an Alpine ibex with golden horns that had supposedly chased away everyone intruding upon his territory. Today, the rare Alpine ibex continues the Goldhorn’s famed charisma. With only about 300 left in the Slovenian Alps, their awe-inspiring image with horns as long as over a meter earned them the title of the king of the Alpine world. While there’s a big chance meeting a chamois in the Slovenian Alps, finding an ibex generally means knowing its territory well, seeing a large group of ibexes, on the other hand, only means sheer luck.

Alpine ibexes with Triglav in the back, Julian Alps, Slovenia
The guardians of Mt. Triglav

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On our way back down from Stenar, we bumped into this carefree Alpine ibex.

Slovenian Alps are so much more than just Triglav: Križ & Stenar

IN Adventure , Alps , Hiking , Hiking blog , Julian Alps , mountaineering

Triglav as seen from below Stenar
It’s been repeated so many times that we’ve all started to believe it. The mantra “you’re not a true Slovene until you’ve conquered Triglav” drives the nation, anyone from small kids to older hikers, to the 2,864m (9,396 ft) mountain, which quite truthfully isn’t by far an easy climb (remember Climbing Triglav: the third try?). The tourists, too, are flooding the mountain, especially during the summer. Truly folks, it’s beautiful, but, quite frankly, there are mountains in Slovenia just as beautiful, if not even more so, without a continuous line of eager climbers winding their way to the top.

Triglav as seen from below Stenar
All pictures are by Exploring Slovenia




Exploring Slovenia’s most popular guided treks:
Triglav Lakes Trek
Triglav Lakes and Soča Valley

Golica and endless fields of daffodils
Gorgeous Mrežce above Bled

At the beginning of July, my usual partner in crime (read: my husband) and I planned a day in the Julian Alps, a 1,700-square-mile (4,400 km²) area full of high mountains, Triglav being the most imposing of them all. While the crowds focus their fascination on the highest peak, we had our hearts set on the mountain range towering just across the Alpine valley Vrata. A goal for the day were Križ and Stenar, two 8,000+ feet panoramic mountains with views considered to be the best over the north face of Triglav. The best part, though, is the booming wildlife which walks the world freely and completely indifferent of their human hiking counterparts. The rumor has it that the local mountain hut keepers feed the chamois and Alpine ibexes, raising them half domesticated and thus particularly friendly to the camera.

On our way back down from Stenar, we bumped into this carefree Alpine ibex.
On our way back down from Stenar, we bumped into this carefree Alpine ibex, who hesitated to retreat even though the three of us came 60 ft from him.

As opposed to other 8K+ Slovenian mountains, Stenar is less technical, but still requires a long approach. If you make the route a day hike, you’re looking at a 4.7-mile roundtrip with 5,600 feet of elevation gain (and loss). When combined with Slovenia’s afternoon summer thunders, you’re really better off with less sleep than being chased off by a thunderstorm.
Hiking to Stenar
Being careful hikers and having had our share of unneeded drama in the mountains, my husband and me set our alarm at 4 am. But from habit, we somehow managed to shut down the annoying buzz and continued to sleep until 6 instead. Aaaaaargh, the panic! After quick morning preparations, we left our house at 6.30 and were at the trailhead at 8. Not perfect to say the least. Still, if the weather stayed nice, there would be enough time to finish the whole route before the dark.
Stenar and Križ. Photo by Exploring Slovenia.
The first couple of hours were the hardest. It’s a steep climb and you keep gaining elevation fast. But it’s not the elevation that’s the killer here; the trick is in the heat. That’s also one of the reasons why an early start would have been smarter. You see, the steep terrain has a south position, thus absorbing as much sunshine as possible. If the trailhead started at the cool 55 °F (13 °C) at 8 in the morning, the south face warmed up to about 80 °F, which combined with its steep slope and windless air required numerous minute breaks in every tiny space of shade we could possibly find.
Hiking to Stenar. Photo by Exploring Slovenia.
That’s also where we met Nina, a soulmate hiker from Bled who I could easily identify with, especially with her explanation of where she was headed “for Bivouac IV or higher if the circumstances allowed”. Let me translate. High mountains in Slovenia are not a place for single hikers and if you’re like me and often can’t find a partner for a hike, you’re bound to smaller goals. We adopted her without hesitation and continued the hike together. As it turned out, she was great company and procured a much needed map which we accidentally forgot at home in the rush morning packing.

Up next: Slovenia in spring: from flowers to snow in six hiking trips
Doing a headstand on Mt. Križ.
When we arrived at Bivouac IV, a small bivouac nestled in the midst of Stenar, Škrlatica, Dolkova Špica and other great mountains, two Czech hikers were already preparing their early lunch in a laid-back atmosphere. We joined them for a chat and snack. While we all communicated in a mix of the Czech-Slovene-English language and vigorous hand waving, it was their hiking boots that told half of their story. Completely worn out, the soles of one of the Czechs’ boots had apparently come off the previous day, but had already been sawn back on with spare laces. Since both had a big thing for Slovenian mountains, they had been to Triglav four times and Bivouac IV and that part of the Alps as many as six times! According to the Slovenian mantra, these two should have earned the premium citizenship to say the least. 🙂Laid-back atmosphere at the Bivouac IV in Julian Alps.
After resting our legs a bit, we headed up for Mt. Križ. Since we’d used a good part of our water in the first sunny section, we welcomed the plentiful water reserves stacked in thick patches of the remaining snow on the way. Anyway, we still had 1,410 ft (430 m) elevation before reaching the top of our first goal.
Headed towards Mt. Križ.
Above Kriški podi and its three lakes, still frozen from the harsh winter in the Alps.
The higher we hiked, the more beautiful it got. Once we reached the top of the ridge, we were excited to see the back of the mountain, the three lakes underneath, still deeply frozen from the harsh winter there in the Alps, and the Pogačnik mountain hut on Kriški Podi.
Near the top of Mt. Križ.
Until this point, everything had been basic hiking spiced with a few more or less deep holes to watch our steps closer. But once near the peak of Mt. Križ, the route changes and gets more technical with a steel cable securing the most exposed parts. The trail climbs over large rocks along an incredibly steep cliff on both sides. It’s truly not that hard, but if you have a soft spot for exposure, you may find the trail to the top of Mt. Križ and then onwards to Mt. Stenar unnerving as one wrong step could potentially lead to a deep fall.
The trail from Križ to Stenar.
The first peak came fast and after a short lunch break we put our helmets back on and headed for the main goal of the day, Mt. Stenar. First, the trail was surprisingly easy, gradually descending down Mt. Križ. We followed the signs along a barely visible trail until … until we got lost. You see, what you might not know about Slovenia is that it usually lacks signs and directions just where you’d need them most. OK, I admit, things have got better over the past decade, but there are still sections with sketchy signs and that trail from Križ to Stenar is definitely one of them.
At the top of Mt. Križ.
At the top of Mt. Križ.
The footsteps we thought were a marked trail soon ended and so we got stuck on an incredibly steep slope made of talus and big rocks with no clear way down. Sure, we could go back, but truly, where’s the thrill in that if the nature offers to test your climbing skills in a big girl’s (and boy’s, of course) playground?! Anyway, we saw the real trail about 300 ft beneath us; we just had to find a safe way across. Picking our way down we climbed in every possible way; first down, then up, afterwards to the right and then again to the left, and so on. Eventually, I found a ledge after which we finally made our way downhill safely on talus. Thankfully, we all crossed in one piece.
Finding a safe way down to the marked trail from Križ to Stenar.

After that, everything seemed trivial. We traversed talus slopes, which in spots were still covered with snow, and then finally began climbing back up again to Mt. Stenar. The most fascinating, though, were the chamois, who elegantly hopped from one rock to another, effortlessly passing all the previously seemingly impassable spots.
Chamois in the Julian Alps.
Chamois in the Julian Alps.

Another hour or so and at 2.30 pm we were proudly standing on our second peak of the day, Mt. Stenar. Knowing that the descent would take a while, we didn’t hesitate long at the top. I did take the time, though, to record this short time lapse of the play of the clouds over Triglav. Hey, did I mention that the view of Triglav and its north face from Stenar was just astounding?

We picked up our pace, quickly descending towards the Sovatna slope, but then, somewhere in the middle of the way further down, we noticed a big Alpine ibex strolling around one of the very few green patches among the jagged rocks and cliffs speckled with pretty colorful little flowers. We approached him quietly, slowly crawling on our toes while watching him carelessly munch on soft grass. After a while, our furry friend decided it was time to move on, while we treated ourselves to a 20-minute snooze in a meadow of flowers before heading back down to real life.

An Alpine ibex proudly standing before Triglav.
Thankfully, the weather held nicely the whole day. We reached the Aljaž Hut near the parking lot at 6.30 pm, that was just the right time for a refreshing evening drink. Other hikers exchanged interesting stories, a good part of them included Triglav, and we listened, knowing how incredible our trip had been, probably even more so than overcrowded Triglav.

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