Josipa and Matija set off on the Via Adriatica trail on January 1, 2021, starting from Prevlaka, the southermost peninsula in Croatia. The last time we talked to them was one month ago when they were at Svilaja mountain, not even half of their journey. Yesterday, after 54 sunny, rainy, snowy, foggy, and windy days, this Croatian couple completed the Via Adriatica trail.
In the meantime, the Dinara mountain, a newly declared Croatian 12th National Park, amazed them the most, while Velebit mountain showed all of its natural power and broke them with snowstorms. However, after successfully overcoming all the climbs, peaks, sections, weather troubles, they finished their journey at Cape Kamenjak in Istria.
Lost in a minefield
Since Svilaja mountain, when we last heard from each other, the weather conditions created many problems for Josipa and Matija. First, due to the heavy rain, they could not move from the shelter for three days, and the weather forecast was getting worse and worse. They had to move on because there was no point in waiting anymore.
On the Dinara mountain, on the way to a shelter called “Vjetre s Dinare” (“Wind from Dinara” meaning Croatian stormy wind bura), they went through the fog, rain, icy rain, wind, and finally – through a minefield.
“We followed the markings, which at one point got lost because there was snow. It was a thick fog. We didn’t see anything; the GPS didn’t work either. So we went on our own about 200 meters. We saw a board in the distance, turned backward on us. We thought we would see something written on it, some marking! We climbed up, turned, and looked – ‘caution, minefield, please don’t pass this way.’ I can’t describe how we felt at that moment, without a trace, in the middle of nowhere. Besides, we were followed by a dog, a Turkish Kangal, which normally eats wolves,” describes Josipa the moment when her whole life passed before her eyes.
Still, they somehow managed to get to that “Wind from Dinara” shelter, apparently so named for a reason. However, that’s where another struggle started – lighting a fire.
Real Himalayan conditions on Dinara
All the wood was wet, and Matthias struggled to light the stove. Due to the rain falling for the previous three days and over which the snow was falling, their boots were completely wet. Wood splitting and lighting a fire caused them many problems on the way, which, they admit, took a lot of energy and nerves.
“This whole heating situation was forcing us day after day to pick up bags and warm-up, so we went to bed around 7 pm every day,” says Josipa.
Mountain lodging Rupe on Dinara
On Dinara, they felt the power of the bura wind for the first time, which even extinguished the fire during one night in the shelter. All the smoke entered the small house, and all attempts to ignite the stove failed.
“It was freezing, minus 10 degrees Celsius, and the feeling reached minus 20 degrees with 110 km/h of gusts of wind. We experienced real Himalayan conditions on the Dinara,” says Josipa.
Fortunately, they had warm sleeping bags with them – that were even too hot! Josipa and Matija couldn’t believe that they were lying in a room while it’s minus degrees while being hot in feathered bags. That’s what it means for a mountaineer to have the right equipment. Still, they took advantage of those windy days to take photos and enjoy.
Mountain lodging Pume on Dinara
In the end, they had to leave the shelter and, despite a strong bura wind on which was difficult even to stand, let alone walk, they moved on. As the sun always comes after a storm, the weather finally calmed down, and it was beautiful.
Dinara – idyllic, fascinating, special, spacious, beautiful
The path towards Lišanjski Peak, the highest peak of the southern Dinara, they say, is a magical place that cannot be described but must be experienced. It is also the furthest point from civilization on the entire route.
“You are in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing in sight, no city, no roads, and everything around you is white. Everything is full of white peaks and hills. Idyllic. If someone threw me here and asked where I was, I would certainly not say that I was in Croatia,” says Josipa.
Josipa on Dinara
Matija on Dinara
And Lišanjski Peak itself is fascinating – you can see Bosnia, Dinara, the Cetina River source. In those hours and 15 minutes of climbing, they saw many fresh traces of bears, but (fortunately) no bear jumped out in front of them.
That part of the trip was the most beautiful, they agree. The weather was good. They even walked in short sleeves, though the snow had not yet completely melted. This incredible experience will remain in their memory forever. And when they descended to the source of the Cetina, Lišanjski Peak seemed so far away. An exceptional experience, unique energy, and a special ambiance, they say.
The source of Cetina River
For Sinjal, the highest peak of Dinara and Croatia, they have no words. Now that they saw it under the snow, it seemed ten times more magical than in September when they first experienced it.
“We were standing up at the top, watching, and we couldn’t believe where we had come. On one side, you see Biokovo that we passed. On the other side, you see Velebit that’s waiting for us. We were proud of each other and ourselves. I get little chills when I think of that part,” admits Josipa.
“Dinara is so spacious, so beautiful. Of all the mountains on this road, the Dinara has remained most etched in my heart and memory,” says Josipa.
Velebit – almost giving up
They walked an average of 25 to 30 kilometers a day to the Dinara, and since they came to Velebit, they had been moving like snails. The weather conditions did not allow them to move faster than 10 kilometers a day.
On Velebit, they again got in a minefield, more precisely a demined area, also due to fog. The fear from Dinara returned. Everything around them was white – down because of the snow, up because of the mist, or clouds in which they were. They were disoriented. Then they realized that it was too dangerous to continue the journey.
Apart from the weather – alternating rain, south wind, bura, minus – their problem was every arrival at the next shelter. There were tears in those moments, they admit.
Šugarska Duliba on Velebit
There were some challenging days along the via Via Adriatica trail for this Croatian couple
They could not continue in the rain, especially in the thunder, because it is common knowledge that many mountaineers die due to thunder. However, luck was on their side. One friend drew their attention to a shelter that was not marked on the map, making their journey and planning easier.
On Velebit, they experienced a storm of all storms, with bura gusts of 150 km/h. In places where it pounded them, they barely adhered to sticks, arms, and legs. In one part, the bura even lifted them off the ground.
Josipa on Velebit
“Right in front of Baške Oštarije, where a warm bed and meal was waiting for us, the bura was blowing so much that it lifted us off the ground. If we were a pound lighter, we would probably fly into the air,” says Josipa, adding that bura and cold take the most energy.
On the famous Premužić trail, cut into the slope, they thought it would be easy. However, when the snow fell, everything froze, and the track did not exist. It cost them time, energy, and nerves. It was a mental and physical breakdown, a difficult period.
“When the weather is great, the terrain is a disaster, and when the terrain is great, the weather is a disaster. Eternal struggle on our path. We were both sad and disappointed after Velebit because of that. Biokovo and Dinara got along so well, then we came to Velebit, and we thought it would be great because it’s familiar to us,” says Josipa.
Josipa on Premužić trail on Velebit
Generous help from friends, family, and even strangers
Just before the end of the Via Adriatica trail, in Gorski Kotar, they could barely make their way through the fog, which is why they could not even enjoy the beautiful views. By then, they were slowly fed up, on the verge of giving up, but then, as always in life, friends jumped in. Unselfish support from friends, colleagues, but also strangers came from all sides and gave them extra wind in their backs so that they would not give up when there are already so many successfully traversed sections behind them.
Josipa and Matija on Vojak – the highest peak of Učka mountain in Istria, at the very end of their journey
At Cape Kamenjak, their final destination, they were greeted by family but also by a few unknown people who were supporting them online. Friends couldn’t welcome them because of work, but they’re preparing a party on Saturday to frame and mark this whole story.
Although they hoped to finish the trail in mid-February, the weather proved to them to be patient and that sometimes things had to go according to nature’s plan, not human’s. They became patient with each other as well.
“When you spend so much time together, 0-24, you have to make some compromises. As a couple, we function very well, and we support each other when it is hardest,” says Josipa.
Josipa and Matija on the Sinjal Peak – highest peak of Dinara and whole of Croatia
Except for roe deers and a few lynxes, they didn’t see any wild animals along the way, only a multitude of wolves’ and bears’ traces, small and large. Also, they were mostly alone along the way, occasionally accompanied by a group of other mountaineers, as well as some beautiful and lovely dogs. However, as they say, they would not survive this trip without the generous help of their friends from Mountaineering Association Vrlovka, who would come and wait for them along the path to give them food and equipment. The fearless team of that mountaineering association even walked with them on Velebit’s part while a strong bura wind was blowing, providing Josipa and Matija immense support.
‘We wanted to promote the beauty of Croatia, Via Adriatica trail, and active lifestyle’
When asked whether they would dare to retake this path, they agree they wouldn’t after all the troubles they faced along the way. But, if asked that question in a week or two, they would definitely say yes, but only under better weather conditions.
Winter has its charms, but it is also exhausting. It requires a lot of hiking equipment, and it is much more dangerous to go in winter than at any other time of year. If Josipa and Matija could choose, they would go in the spring or late fall. When in the mountains in Croatia, one should be humble and patient.
View of Croatian islands from Velebit
“Our goal was to promote the beauty of Croatia, to promote Via Adriatica, and to promote an active lifestyle, especially now at this time of the corona when we are all locked in our homes. I think that hiking is a wonderful hobby, both for the body and for the mind, whether in a company, in a couple, or alone,” says Josipa.
Although Josipa and Matija are experienced mountaineers (Matija is even a member of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service – HGSS), the tour was very demanding for them, both physically and mentally. Considering that they only got a chance to set off on Via Adriatica now, during winter, because Matija’s work has been banned and Josipa is having a vacation, the winter conditions did not favor them. But regardless, they enjoyed the inexplicable natural beauties of Croatia and met many generous life-long acquaintances along the way.
“It’s hard to describe all those feelings that go through your mind and heart along the way. To understand what we are talking about, it is the best to set out on such a journey on your own,” advise Josipa and Matija.
All the photos are from interlocutors’ private archives.
You can follow Josipa and Matija and their other hiking journeys on their Facebook page.