June 26, 2019No Comments

Hiking Bobotov Kuk in Montenegro

For anyone traveling in Eastern Europe and looking to spend some time outdoors, Durmitor National Park has lots to offer — canyons, glacial lakes, mountains, and plateaus. The challenging hike to Bobotov Kuk's summit offers a diverse mix of scenery and a rewarding end view that spans multiple countries. We cover logistics around a two-day northern approach to Bobotov Kuk starting and ending in Žabljak.

  • Distance: ~12.5 miles.
  • Elevation: 8274 ft / 2522 m
  • Duration: 1-2 days (you can do it in ~10 hours in a roundtrip day hike). We split it up into 2 days.
  • When: Summer and early Fall (we went September 11).
  • Difficulty: Moderate (a lot of scree and sun exposure).

Good to know:

  • Parking & fees. Pay 3 Euros for park entry and park in the parking lot of Crno Jezero overnight.
  • Bring a water filter and fill up often. There were only two water sources (a lot of the lakes dry up). One of the water sources was muddled with dirt and had livestock living close by. The other we couldn't even find.
  • Stove compatibility. Screw-top propane tanks are almost impossible to find. Instead, they use puncture based propane stoves, available at the grocery store. For us, this meant eating our meals cold, a nice introduction to "stoveless" hiking — though warm meals are a nice luxury.
  • Bring hiking poles or hiking boots. There was a ton of scree, so we were grateful for our poles. Doable to hike without them, but you can easily slip or twist your ankle. So ideally, you have hiking boots if you don't have hiking poles.

Day 1 - Crno Jezero, Žabljak to Katun Lokvice
3.5 miles, ↑ 5,562 feet elevation gain (GPS log)

Žabljak, a charming ski town, is a great launching point for the hike. It's home to bakeries, supermarkets, restaurants, and plenty of places to stay –and a great place for stocking up before your hike. To reach the trailhead from the center of Žabljak, follow the signs to Crno Jezero (Black Lake). We were lucky to have a rental car to drive there, as its quite a long walk from the town center to the trailhead.

Crno Jezero has a huge parking lot where you're free to park your car overnight. We lucked out and got a spot right in front of the ranger booth at the start of the path. There we paid a small fee and the ranger took down our names. Before setting out you'll want to check the weather with the ranger, as Bobotov Kuk has a reputation for unpredictable weather.

We set off through a corridor of trees and tea, fig, and mushroom vendors, and found ourselves in the company of families and visitors enjoying a day at Crno Jezero. The end of the path brought us to a majestic reveal of the glacial lake Crno Jezero and the last bathroom before the start of the hike. We took in the sights and then split off the main road to head towards Katun Lokvice.

Man looks towards valley with rocks and greenery

It takes around 1.5 - 2 hours to reach the Katun Lokvice campsite and to my delight, the path there is lined with conifer trees and raspberry shrubs. The path is straightforward (rocks are marked with a white circle with a red outline) until you reach a rock spray-painted with signs that pointed in all directions. It took a crew of confused hikers to decide to take the path to the right. Following it, we were eventually brought to a sign that proudly proclaimed 'BEER.' Which was a big feat considering that someone or a donkey had to lug it up deep into the valley. The sign was fixed on the house of a farmer who manned the campground alongside his farm and few livestock. The campsite is free, though there's a small fee if you want to stay in the (barebones) lean-to. The best part is the backdrop opens up to a spectacular view of the mountains.

Katun Lokvice farmer campsite

The campsite is conveniently near a water source (just continue on the trail for another 3-min and you'll see the word 'voda' scrawled on a rock ?). When we came across it, the water source was a trickle of a tiny stream that used to belong to a lake that has since dried up – and from what we heard, other campsites that use to have a water source had entirely dried up, though this may differ season to season. The dribble of water was a little murky and close to livestock so we used a Sawyer filter in case.

There were five tents set up at the campsite, filled with hikers from Germany, Russia, and Israel. Together with the groundskeeper a few of us got a fire going and as the sky turned to dusk, our motley crew gathered to dance around the fire and exchange stories. While the air was chilly, we were warmed by the fire and the Nikšićko beers supplied by the groundskeeper. At one point, in the dark of the night, we heard the approach of an ominous jangling sound coming from beyond our view of sight. Our conversations tapered off in anticipation of what was to arrive – but we soon burst out laughing when we realized it was simply a flock of sheep that was returning home. They flooded through our campsite and returned to their pen beside the gatekeeper's home.

Sheep at dusk in montenegro
Sheep are roaming through the campsite

Day 2 - Katun Lokvice to Bobotov Kuk to Katun Lokvice
9 miles, ↑ 7,960 feet elevation gain
(GPS Log. Missing 3 hours)

The morning was jarringly cold. While the backdrop of the mountains made for an epic view, it meant that our side of the valley was shrouded in darkness for a good half of the morning. I pulled on as many layers as I could find, regretting my decision not to pack gloves for the hike. We put on a light pack with essentials and left the rest of our stuff at the campsite. Definitely make sure to fill up your water bottles before setting out since we didn't see water the entire route (again all dried out! Or too hard to spot), and you'll be SWEATING before you know it.

We were immensely grateful the moment the sun rose high enough to thaw our fingertips. From there on, the sun's rays intensified and the climb got steeper, and by the top, we had almost shed all our layers. Almost two hours in, it was hard to believe that we were on the same day and climate as the morning. We crossed a quarry field, scrambling over large loose rocks, completely exposed to the relentless sun. To be honest, it was mainly thanks to Jaffa cakes and Mott fruit gummies that I was able to stay motivated on the long slog uphill.

Person sits on grassy path with boulders to Bobotov Kuk

We decided to skip the ice caves due to its lackluster review from other hikers, who described it as a "Mere pile of snow. Barely." So, we charged straight towards Bobotov Kuk.

Nearing the top, you might be satisfied with the already incredible views and be tempted to call it a day, but I encourage you to continue because the views only get better. If you have a fear of heights or are prone to vertigo you might want to sit out the final climb up Bobotov Kuk. Otherwise, with the support of sturdy cable ropes, you can hike/haul your way up to the summit.

Man ascends the vertical face of Bobotov Kuk by using a cable

Bobotov Kuk's summit has a truly stupendous view — if you do a 360º you can see Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia all from the same spot. Probably one of the most rewarding viewpoints I've ever had the privilege of witnessing. The mountains below have intriguing crepe-cake like folds that resulted when African plate collided with the Eurasian plate and crinkled and folded the surface of the earth. Bobotov Kuk was originally thought to be the highest point of Montenegro (at 2,523 m), but has since been dethroned by three other peaks in the Prokletije region. Nonetheless — it's still epic. We had a rewarding lunch and people watched for some time at the summit.

While I don't typically have a fear of heights, I'll admit going down definitely did give me the chills. One could argue that the path down is even more challenging than the path up. Scree is even more difficult to navigate going down. Definitely be cautious of how you descend, as loose rocks can easily injure hikers below. The descent is really where hiking poles come in handy for arresting potential falls. We saw many people slip on the way down, so take it slow and easy!

Group of people walk down steep path from Bobotov Kuk
Having a beer at Katun Lokvice

While we were tempted to stay another night at Katun Lokvice campsite with our new-made friends, we decided to pack up our tent and head back to Žabljak to get a headstart the next day. If you can, carry the beer/coca-cola cans you purchase at the campsite back down to recycle it. It's tough for the Katun Lokvice groundkeeper to transport any trash out so he makes a garbage fire near his home to burn all the cans hikers buy, so better to carry it out with you.

With our legs feeling like jelly after the long day, we treated ourselves to a nice meal at Caffe & Restaurant Or'O, which had a sleek ski resort vibe — food was great and a very hearty change from our last few stoveless meals. We ended the night at the nice and convenient cabin at Olja Guest House for 20 euros.

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December 30, 2017No Comments

Westfjords (Vestfirðir)

Some nights, home is where you park the car. Other times, we've been lucky enough to be invited by others to make their home our home.

I've woken up to cold mornings warmed by the coffee Vincent has prepared. Woken up to cuckoo clocks, to the warmth of our car's seat warmer, to a gushing river, to the drumming of rain, in a former fish-factory-turned-hotel, to mornings too cold to leave the cocoon of my sleeping bag.

I've gone to sleep under a sky illuminated by northern lights, with the purring of a cat, paranoid in a gas-station parking lot, or in complete darkness – unsure of what landscape I would be waking up to.

At Gudrun's place, we woke up to rooster calls backed by the chimes of cuckoo clocks. Her cat Frosti was already up on his favorite perch, watching the chickens from the window. The rooster didn't seem fazed, and as if sensing our assumptions Gudrun corrected them, "Frosti's afraid of that rooster." For breakfast, she fetched fresh eggs from the chicken coop and vegetables from her garden — not an easy feat considering the harsh weather as we entered fall. She mentioned that for dinner, she planned to cook the Arctic char her son caught. Frosti turned around to look at us expectantly upon hearing the word fiskur, Icelandic for fish.

cat watching chicken

Frosti scheming from the window.

The walls of Gudrun's house are adorned with drawings and art from friends, her bookshelves are brimming with her favorite books, books she translated, and books she wrote. To my delight, there is no dearth of photo books. To page through her photo books is to see Iceland rendered in a new light. The landscape we visitors are so spellbound by are rendered secondary by local photographers since they wake up to this grandeur every day. Instead, they grasped onto traces of humanness — the light trails of cars and synthetics. Others, as if challenging the grandeur of the landscape, shot inches away from mountain-faces. What is typically ignored in my line of sight is joyfully rendered anew.

Yet some things never get old. To Gudrun, the northern lights were a phenomenon that never ceased to excite her. Each night, she checks on the northern light report and reports the predictions. That night she excitedly shared that we were entering a good week for northern lights - clear skies with a high chance of lights.

Gudrun lives life with the spirit I hope to possess at her age. After a dinner, we cleared the table of plates and replaced it with a sprawling map of the island. She pointed at the highlands, an area impenetrable for our car, and recounted her trip biking and rafting through the area. We struggled to imagine the sheer magnitude of that experience, as we had emerged wide-eyed just from hiking Fimmvörðuháls which only touches the fringes of the highlands. These days, Gudrun is volunteering at a cabin in the middle of the highlands in the extreme isolation and perils of Iceland's harsh winters. Nearly nobody ventures into the highlands at this time of the year. Yet, she tells us that she is entertained by the company of three crows and the tiny house mouse that seeks refuge in her cabin.

Sometimes when I want to return to the peace of Gudrun's home, I put on Ásgeir's album. Gudrun loved to play the tracks of her old neighbor along with other tracks from local Icelandic artists.

That night we eagerly stayed up looking into the distance from our attic room, yet we see no lights beyond the occasional passing car. The next morning, we semi-reluctantly head out to Þingeyri, as we had grown accustomed to Gudrun's hearth and interesting conversations. Yet while winding through the quiet roads of the Westfjords, it's impossible not to be drawn back into the landscape. There is only one path to take and we follow it to Ísafjörður, where we find our friend Helgi's recommended fish buffet Tjöruhúsið. We took a gamble, as the manager said, "we may or may not be open since the season is winding down" when we called. But to our delight, we see them setting up the tables in the cozy lodge-like restaurant and linger around until they opened up shop. Helgi's nostalgic description of the restaurant already set high expectations and we had planned this leg of the trip around eating at Tjöruhúsið — and yet, we were blown away to the point we wanted to stay another night just to enjoy the dinner again. At Tjöruhúsið, the daily catch determines the menu, a surprise for both chefs and visitors, until the fishermen arrive at the dock a few hours before the restaurant opens. The fresh fish is brought out of the kitchen still simmering on skillets. From there, guests are allowed to help themselves to as much fish as they want — after all, it's a fish buffet.

Completely sated by Tjöruhúsið's fish soup and buffet, we drive into the dark, continuing westwards with no particular destination in mind. As we drive further into the night, we begin to see an irregularity in the sky. It's as if there's something tugging on the sky and the folds are giving off a reflection. Yet it's so faint, we're not sure if it's a trick of the eye and can only see it when we take a long exposure photograph. A few minutes later the phenomenon intensifies and by then we're completely spellbound by our first northern lights sighting. The irregularity of the lights movement is bewitching and it's easy to see how it has inspired so much lore around the world. We later found out that fall is a great time to watch the northern lights and that week happened to be one of the strongest periods of northern lights, to the point that the Reykjavik government mandated that all the city lights should be turned off so everyone could enjoy the intense Northern Lights. Falling asleep blanketed by the dancing Northern Lights while car camping remains one of my favorite memories.

Driving Westfjords