The Velebit Highlights - The Places No Hiker Should Miss Out
Early autumn last year I went for one of the craziest adventures of my life – Velebit mountain.
September is the perfect time to visit Velebit. It’s not so devastatingly hot anymore, and the sharp autumn winds are not yet blowing at their maximum powers.
For those unfamiliar with Croatian mystic mountain, Velebit is the mountain range that spreads along the coast of northern Adriatic from its north to its southeast. Rising straight from the sea, Velebit di-vides the continental and the coastal parts of Croatia. So, the two distinct climates meet at its highest peaks causing the weather changes that can turn a simple hike into a serious challenge.
And a serious challenge was what we were apt for – the two weeks hike along the Velebit traverse, with no support, no extra logistics, no wi-fi. Complete freedom. Complete discon-nection. Adventure par excellence.
One day I’ll put it all in a book, hoping I would successfully bring down all the excitement and all the discoveries we went through. But, that’s one day. Here, I’ll just offer a quick run down the highlights of this remarkable mountain.
It begins in the Northern Velebit National Park.
Our 12-days adventure began at Zavižan, one of the best-known localities in the Northern Ve-lebit National Park.
Zavižan is a common departure point for hiking and mountaineering tours in Velebit. It is quite ac-cessible and offers all the facilities to enable the final preparations before heading into the wilder-ness.
It is also the oldest high-altitude weather station in Croatia, the one Croatians are most trust-worthy to bring them the exact short-term weather report.
For three generations, the station is being staffed by the Vukušić family who also runs the mountain hut. Thanks to the Vukušić family, a visit to Zavižan is possible throughout the year.
The Premužić Trail
Zavižan is a starting point of the Premužić Trail – a hiking trail every mountaineer in the world should take at least once in a lifetime.
Constructed using the drystone technique, the Premužić Trail is considered a masterpiece of trail-building, not only in Croatia but worldwide. It was designed and constructed by Croatian forestry
engineer, mountaineering enthusiast, and a passionate Velebit devotee Ante Premužić in the early ninety-thirties.
The beauty of the trail, winding through the labyrinth of limestone towers, hides the enormous effort of its construction. The area it runs through was highly inaccessible in a time of its construction, but Premužić held on to his original idea – to provide the easiest possible access to the most rugged sec-tions of north Velebit.
And he made it.
In its full length of 57 kilometers, the Premužić trail virtually has no steep ascents and is therefore suitable even for mountaineers with only the basic hiking experience. And the emo-tional reward it reciprocates is incomparable.
It took us two days to hike the trail in its entirety. We were amazed by the beauty of the trail itself and the surrounding wilderness. As it soon turned out this was the most civilized part of our adventure.
The real wilderness was just beginning. It was waiting for us at the Dabarski Kukovi
The Dabarski Kukovi
The Premužić Trail ends at the area of Dabarski Kukovi, the diamond gem of the mid-Velebit region.
After two days of hiking along the carefully constructed path, the sudden change of ambient sur-prised us. But, we knew this is where Velebit shows its true face – the wild, rugged and untamed.
Velebit mountain was once well populated. People used to live in the mountain, live from the moun-tain and mountain roads were connecting the stone-built villages enabling the internal traffic of goods and crafts.
The latter 20th century brought a dispersion of Velebit residents. People migrated in search of a bet-ter life. Though many traces of past vivid life routines – human and animal stone dwelling, water cis-terns, stone water pans, ponds, terraces with gardens and small fields – still can be found in almost every valley, the wilderness mostly covered the face of the mountain.
The region of mid-Velebit enhances the feeling of complete disconnection with the rest of the world while connecting us back with mother nature.
The Dabarski Kukovi is a series of high limestone towers, rising from the wide, green mead-ows, cutting the blue skies above. Like hidden stone-giants gently sleeping in the valley.
The area is a favorite climbers’ spot, an escape place where climbers can undisturbedly focus on their beloved sport with no-one in sight for miles around.
The only man you can meet there, a climbers’ guru in a way, though he never even tried climbing, is Mile.
Mile runs a mountain hut sitting at the bottom of the towers, and takes care of the climbers’ hedonist needs, like providing them with a campsite, woods for an open fire, a winter shelter, and a beer.
The thing about Mile is that he always talks with you like he knows you, even though he might be seeing you for the first time. Always smiling and joking, always positive and opti-mistic, nobody is a stranger in the Mile’s hut.
Mile welcomed us and fed us with his home-prepared venison stew. What a refreshment t was com-pered to dehydrated stuff we were carrying in our backpacks. The evening went on sitting by the campfire until Mile said goodnight.
– You have many more miles to walk and so many beauties to witness. You should rest now.
And he was right. Our Velebit expedition was far from over.
Two more days hiking through the forestry led us to another glorious gem of Velebit – a gi-gantic wide terrace of Rujno.
The mid-Velebit is mostly covered with deep forests. As our eyes got used to the shadowy light un-der the branches of pine trees and oaks, the sudden appearance of wide-open space blinded us with the sun.
Veliko Rujno is a huge plateau at an altitude of 900 meters, situated in the heart of a moun-tain. The large meadow spreads out as far as you can see. It takes several hours of walking, but the place fills you with divine majesty.
No wonder Veliko Rujno is a holy place. The small chappel of Veliko Rujno is the final point of a tra-ditional catholic pilgrimage that starts in Starigrad Paklenica, the small town on the coast.
The pilgrimage itself is a peaceful, inspirational experience. Hundreds of people are climbing up the mountain quietly, holding candles, singing spiritual songs in low voices
Unfortunately, we had to start climbing to higher spheres of the mountain, all the way up to reach its highest peaks.
The Velebit Highest Peaks Range
The south region of Velebit – with the National Park Paklenica – enjoys the privilege to include all of the Velebit’s highest peaks, grouped in a single line along six hours hiking path.
The trail is not hard. It follows the vertex of a mountain, going up and down, at times showing the continent side, at others the coastal sloops that dive straight into the Adriatic.
Among the series of peaks, two of them stand out: the Peak Vaganski and the Holy Hill
Vaganski vrh (1757m)
The highest peak of Velebit, Vaganski vrh (1757m), is a huge plateau on the top of the mountain. Because of its broadness, it doesn’t fulfill the feeling of conquering the summit. Luckily, the second-highest peak – Sveto Brdo (The Holy Hill), just six meters lower than Vaganski, makes up for that.
Sveto Brdo (1751m)
Formed like a giant pyramid rising high from the foothill of Velebit, Sveto Brdo provides a breathtaking panorama in all directions.
To the north it shows the straight line of the mountains peak order; to the west it shows a huge part of Adriatic coastline proving the myth of its tremendous intendedness; to the south it shows the end of the mountain range with ledges diving into the canyon of the Zrmanja river; and finally, head on to the east, it shows the wide field of Lika and Bosnian part of Dinaric Alps in the distance.
We descended the Holy Hill in silence, overwhelmed by the contemplating ambient of its glo-rious manifestation.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Our expedition was soon to be over. We were glad and sad at the same time. After 12 days of hiking we were looking forward to a hot shower and a proper meal, but we knew we will not be nearly able to share our new experiences with our loved ones the way we would like them to be shared.
We’d have to bring them over with us next time.
And that’s the thing about Velebit – you can’t just leave it behind. You are coming back to it again and again and again.
Each time bringing someone new with you.
Because Velebit is worth showing and sharing.
Would you like to come with me next time?
Your CTC Team, S.J.