The Highest Peak of Croatia – Sinjal

Even though Croatia is quite mountainous, we don’t have any peaks over 2000 meters. Our highest peak is Sinjal (1831 meters/6004 ft) in the Dinara mountain range and I had a desire to climb it for quite a while. Actually, everyone in the country should attempt it at least  once!

Dinara is one of the most beautiful mountains in the country and this particular view is one of my favorite ones of the entire Dalmatian hinterland!

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The view of Dinara from Peruča lake (Spring, 2015) – This is NOT Dinara where the highest peak is but the southern section of the mountain

This hike was planned for a long time. First we wanted to do it this past May but had no time. With forecast looking favorable for the beginning of October, we made quick plans for this Saturday, filled up the tanks and made small shopping for food. The climb is demanding and there would be no time for proper meal.

Before departing, I did a lot of research but the information available online is not really sufficient. Especially not for those willing to drive. That is why I will put quite a few photos and give as many details as I can.

First, Kinin is the starting point.

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Knin in the morning mist

We decided to meet near Krčić waterfall. That is one of the most impressive waterfalls in Croatia. Usually.

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A very dry season

This time of year, there was no water coming from Krčić stream just above the waterfall. This was our meeting point. Right by the very start of Krka river.

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Krka
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The fleet

One can reach Krčić just by turning first left (or at the bridge) when driving from Knin to Sinj. Since were going the oposite direction, we returned and followed signs to Strmica and Bosnian border. Only few kilometers on that road, there is a sign to a village Guge. Take right before restaurant Ivan and follow the sign to Dinara (sharp left).

The road to Dinara is a dirt road from the start. While it can be done by a regular car, this is not recommended at all. You need a proper off road vehicle to do this trip. Or one can walk.

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Guardian dogs

The road is wide and in fairly good shape. Almost no traffic and no life but we did see a couple of shepherd dogs.In any case, follow the signs to Planinarski dom. Not too many of them but enough. I also used Google maps to stay on the right road. After a fairly boring, short ride, the views of the mountains became stunning. We came out of woods to Markov grob view point. This is also a good spot to leave a car and walk all the way to Sinjal.

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We saw some other people making a stop and taking photos and we also met a guy who is counting wolves! Of course, he does not see them but looks for wolf dung and other signs.

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Counting wolves

We did see, just before reaching Markov grob a jackal crossing the road! So I was glad I could report it to someone who can actually mark it down where it matters. It was actually an interesting combination of a dark jackal and a hawk crossing the road. I am sure that would mean something in more romantic times where “signs from the skies” were important but we just continued.

We got to talk to this guy (he is from Sinj) and learned that wolves in Croatia are truly endangered and that there are only about 200-300 animals left! There were also some newspaper articles on populating the region with large Siberian wolf but we learned that it is all nonsense.

The road continues right from this point and we drove to another sign and then up the hill. We also saw some hiking markers to help out. Soon, we reached a very scenic Badanj peak overlooking a lovely valley. The weather did not look good any more…

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Badanj
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Weird engineering

…and this was the last bad part of the road till Brezovac mountaineers’ lodge located at the edge of a very picturesque and spacious valley.

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This was an ancient home of numerous families of shepherds. There is a great video of last ones of them: https://youtu.be/7ymcKpsk3cw  The times have changed.

Brezovac lodge is a solid place with great grill area ( of course). This is, for many, the place to park the car and continue on foot to Sinjal as the path through the forest is quite scenic.

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Brezovac

Since we had kids and most of us are in no shape to walk for three hours from the lodge to the summit, we followed another group driving to a closer place. The trail is nicely marked through the woods and there is no way one can get lost.

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This road is for serious off road vehicles only! And then we parked in a lovely valley.

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Peaks in the mist

The weather was great and sunny but there were clouds at the very peak and we could not really tell where the peak was. Again, the trail is very well marked and it is nearly impossible to get lost.

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One part of the group left us while waiting for our friends who decided to park at the lodge. We started the hike with kids as the trail is easy at the beginning.

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In the fresh, mountain air we got hungry fairly soon and it was already 11 AM. The right time for marenda (or brunch).

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What’s a hike without a beer?
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What’s a hike without home made apple pie?

And it was time to continue as we were still quite far from the peak. Some of us did not feel like going much further so part of the group stayed in the meadow below waiting for us who decided to reach the peak.

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Waaay to ambitious for a 5 year old :)))

We continued following the trail that now got steeper.

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..and got us into the woods.dinara031

This was an easy part…

After the woods, the trails gets much steeper and more difficult. I had to stop several times and thought about giving up on half a dozen occasions.

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Getting serious

But, when one travels in a group, it is easier to continue. Stopping to catch a breath and to enjoy the views also helped.

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Soon, we were in the most difficult part of the climb. That is the part that is very rocky and one needs to be careful. That is right below the final part that leads straight to the summit.

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Sinjal!

The monument at the peak has probably been destroyed by lightning and I was so looking forward to see that sign saying that this is the highest peak of Croatia. But there is only an official sign.

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…and we did get the stamp from the box!

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Quite proud of my son as there are not too many 12 year olds that have been here!

The peak was a busy place as there was another small group of hikers just below the peak and we got offered the gemišt :)))

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Too bad for the views but this was all we saw from the very peak.

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And then it was time to go back. It took us over  2 hours to  get to the peak from the parking but going back was much faster and with fewer resting stops.

Descent is not as demanding but still not a joke. And I wanted to enjoy the nature and take some shots of the region.

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Badanj in the distance

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I could not think of an easier way to get here but some guys thought of a HARDER way to get to Sinjal!

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Their objective is to climb to the peak (with their bikes on their backs) and then drive down to Glavaš. Glavaš is another point where people start their hikes to Sinjal.

We got to the valley soon and decided to drive back as the days are already shorter and wanted to enjoy more time at the foothill of Badanj.

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Badanj has some fascinating stone “towers” and shapes.

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While there were not too many animals, I did see one spectacular caterpillar!

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Spurge hawk-moth caterpillar (Hyles euphorbiae L.) or Mlječikin Ljiljak in Croatian

Leaving Dinara behind us, we stopped at trout farm to get some fish farmed at the very start of Krka river. It does not get any better than this!

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Going back, through the night and quiet villages of Bukovica, we felt (again) blessed by the fact that we live in such a special and uniquely beautiful little country. I do take my kids everywhere with me so they learn to appreciate all the riches we have and to stay connected to nature. Together with about a dozen others who climbed that peak on the same day with us, we are a minority. It is easier to sit on a sunny riva and have an opinion on the economy, tourism, politics, sports…

 

 

 

 

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Following the Roman Roads

The spring is finally back! Great time to enjoy outdoors and to do some final exploring before we get too busy. Focus is crucial in our line of business so there will not be so many trips purely for pleasure this summer…
First Sunday of April brought beautiful, sunny weather and we decided to head in to the hills. This time following ancient Roman road leading from the coast all the way to the interior.

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Restored milestones

The basic route was to follow the modern road (that closely follows the Roman and pre-Roman communications) from Pakostane on the coast via ruins of Asseria  to modern day Medviđa (Liburnian/RomanSidrona?) and Krupa river spring into the heart of southern part of Velebit massif.
Tourist board of Benkovac did a great job putting the milestones by the road!!!

Our first stop was Kaštel Žegarski. Ancient tower guarding a fertile valley of Žegar. I have never visited although must have passed it several dozen times.

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Tower of Žegar

It is a typical tower from the 1500s like numerous other in the region. It is quite well preserved with even some wooden elements still supporting the former windows. Hidden in the woods, one has to look closely when entering the village to spot it between the houses on the right.

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Spring is here

We continued over the hill to Krupa river spring. It is quite lively by the river these days with people picking wild asparagus, shepherds with goats and sheep…

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Goats at pasture
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Dung beetle at work

We did not spend too much time there as we are familiar with the place. Krupa is probably Croatia’s most beautiful river but the spring is hardly impressive.

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Krupa river spring from the road above

Soon after the spring, the magic starts and few kilometers later, it enters the most beautiful canyon.

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But, our goal was Lika. Following the ancient road that most certainly passed through this region. It followed the ancient communications and gradina hilltop fortresses lined along the route. The last one is Smokovac near Krupa spring. It is easy to find it – starts right near the main water bottling plant and heads straight to the mountains.

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Landscape did not change in several millenia

The landscape is quite barren, rocky and inhospitable. Bura is harsh in this region and there is lots of snow in the winter. The road gets ruined by the water flowing but there seems to be someone taking care of it as it is in a fairly good shape. Nothing a proper SUV cannot cross anyways. Not for regular cars!

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We thought we were alone and there will be no one on the road…

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But then we saw a WV Caddy approaching! We just passed him but noticed that the driver was surprised as we were. Obviously, we were on a good road so we continued further up the mountain where the landscape got more serious, mountain-like  and the the condition of the road worsened.

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Duboki dol

We were at the crossroads at one moment and had no clue where to go. Duboki Dol fields were to our right and one section – better looking – leading towards it but another section did not look that bad either. Had to even walk part of the road to make an educated guess at one point…

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Mountain is stunning!

Luckily, the WV Caddy returned (followed by two SUVs, probably hunters) and we asked for the directions. What are the odds to actually have someone to ask for the directions! The guy was most helpful so we followed him for part of the road. It was the road to our left and from then on, it was “left, left, right, right” to get to the main road in Lika – if anyone wants to drive this.

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Offroading at its finest

The mountain offers stunning views but we stopped only for picnic lunch as we wanted to see few more places that day.

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In bloom

Soon we were across: at the Lika side of the trail. The road did not offer too many evidences of ancient traffic actually going this way but this is the easiest way to cross the mountain and there are plenty of wells and water holes along the route so it must have been busy back in the day. Archaeologists did some exploring in this area but plenty of work yet to be done as no guard posts have been located or possible settlements/gradina hilltop fortresses.

The landscape in Lika was typical for Velebit.

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Getting to Lika

It was a great experience and the kids enjoyed running through the fields, echoes of the mountain, fresh air … Next time I plan to spend a whole day in the mountain and maybe do some bird watching as I hear some birds I never heard before. There must be some owls as well since Velebit is known for large ones.

Talking about big birds…

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Gray Heron in a puddle by the road

Our next stop was supposed to be an ancient road near Knin but could not locate it so we continued to Mokro Polje.

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Entering Mokro Polje

It is a fairly large village located in a beautiful valley by Zrmanja river. It was predominantly Serbian (cc 1800 inhabitants back in 1991) and it is almost abandoned now with only about a dozen elderly living in few houses.

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Classic Dalmatian architecture

Some are restoring their old houses and doing quite a good job although that AC unit could have been hidden from the front facade…

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The village was probably inhabited by the Roman veterans after the Rome finalized the conquest of the region. Nearby Burnum military camp was de-militarized in 69 AD as Roman peace was finally brought upon the local tribes of Delmates and Liburnaes. The Morko Polje field is quite big and offers a great place to live.

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Unusual detail

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And beautiful Zrmanja river runs through.

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There is life everywhere. Except in the houses…

While picking asparagus, we met one lady who was just going to get fresh water from the river and she told us bout people leaving and how only few elderly ladies remain. Their little hamlet is further away from the main road and it is very picturesque with tall oak trees still standing.

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The old lady told us that someone was here looking for tall trees to cut them down but they did not let these beautiful giants to be cut down. Some people simply don’t have a heart 😦

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Cut down trees…

It was sad to see this lady (83) being the youngest in her village. But that is the destiny of many more villages in the country…

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It was time to move on: with freshly picked 2 kilos of wild asparagus. We took another ancient road towards Ervenik. Views of Zrmanja were beautiful from almost every stop along the canyon.roman056

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Ruins of Keglevica tower by the river of Zrmanja

So life thrived along these roads for centuries during the Roman times and then, after the barbaric invasion, probably the entire region was inhabited for longer than that. The life came back with some Morlach settlers escaping the Turkish rule back in late 1500s but will end soon. And then? When will be the next time people move to Morko Polje to live? Never?

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First swallows have returned

Everything will be left for birds and animals.Maybe it is better that way.

 

 

Winter Wanderings in Dalmatian Hinterland

As the winter is gone, Easter holidays just behind us, we are all looking forward the beauty of Spring in Dalmatia, I am publishing one last winter blog post.

I love winter in Dalmatia although I don’t get to enjoy it as much as before. It has been quite busy and hope to have more free days in April and upcoming summer. I did not get to explore as much as last year and there are quite a few places still to see and visit. The basic plan is to cross every road, to drink from each spring, to climb most of hills…

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Velebit covered in snow (February 2016)

Zadar hinterland I have covered quite a bit in the past years and have only few more areas to visit to wrap it up. One of the areas I am constantly visiting is Bukovica which is one of my favorite areas in all of Croatia. There is something quite unique about this rocky, inhospitable looking region…

Medviđa

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There is an ancient road leading from Medviđa to beautiful Žegar field with one side road that I never explored. So, this winter, curiosity won and I made a sharp right to Komazeci hamlets. The entire area was greatly devastated in the past war so very few people live here. Most of them are breeding cattle and cows are often seen on this road.

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Deep in the hillside sun sets early

The Sun sets early in these hamlets as they are behind a high hill. In some of these hamlets, only sheep can be seen and I certainly hope that there is someone to lock them up as there are plenty of wolves roaming in this hillside!

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Old houses. Abandoned decades ago…

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It is peaceful and quiet. Only birds can be heard but we also heard some gunshots!

Italian hunters, with local hunters, often hunt in this area. There are reports that some of them illegaly hunt singing birds but I hate hunting no matter what is the prey… I wish all those activities are banned in the country.

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Bringing dogs in their pick ups

The area is beautiful in Spring and cannot wait to revisit in few weeks when everything is in bloom!

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Ancient water hole

All these drives are awesome off road experiences! Not so demanding in terms of mud but quite scenic and interesting for good off road vehicles.

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The Unstoppable Beast

Gornji Karin
The area of Karin is another one of my favorite areas and just perfect for exploring as it hides several abandoned villages and historic places. One of them is a tiny, abandoned hamlet of Ćose. Hard to reach, it is now visited only by some cattle.

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Winter sunset

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There is an old family complex in one part of the hamlet. It is made with great skill although most of these complexes have been ruined during 60s and 70s with concrete adaptations. Originally, they are all made of stone and some of the houses are quite impressive! The eternal beauty and harmony of old buildings has not been match in modern architecture of the region. And that is sad. As most of these places are now in ruins…

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Ancient oak tree

Especially impressive is an ancient oak tree near the village. It is a tree of myths and legends. The center of life of this village directly connected to the land where generations lived and died. The place where ghosts are still present. Good spirits of the past still can be heard whispering through the bare branches of this magnificent tree.

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Gumno

On another occasion we went to another hamlet. Lakići is also abandoned and all in ruins.

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Lakići from air

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I had a drone with me and took some nice aerial shots although winter is not the best time for taking photos. However, the trees are without leaves so one can capture all the important details. The village is filled with beautiful, traditional North Dalmatian architectural details at every step.

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Some of the huts are still covered with stone slabs but, since they are not in use, they will not stay covered long…

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When planning a trip here, I have noticed that there may be an interesting canyon near by. We were not prepared for a gorgeous and deep canyon only a hundred meters away from the village as there are no rivers nor streams!

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Canyon from the air
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The view of Karin Sea in the distance

We continued down the road to Karin. I am not a fan of it. It is likely one of the most devastated places in the region but the entire bay, called Karin Sea is not the prettiest part of the coast for sure. We went to see one ancient gradina hilltop fortress but were stopped before we got too far from the car.

One local guy wanted to warn us off his dogs nearby. We were not planning to go there as it was in the opposite direction but his presence was helpful as he has some serious dogs in the bushes! The guy, Ivica, moved here after the war and he showed us several wounds he suffered back in early 90s.

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Shrapnel wounds 

He is originally from Županja and now lives, with his family in Karin. And breeds dogs. He has 10 šarplaninac dogs in one field. Šarplaninac is also known  Illyrian Dog or Dog of Sharr Mountain and is a famous Balkan breed. It originates from the border region of Macedonia and Albania and it was a common guard dog of Balkan shepperds and also a service dog of former Yugoslav army. The pride of his selection is a massive Medo. The dog is so vicious looking that even Cujo looks cuddly compared to him! Luckily, the chain is quite strong and he could not get to us!

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Medo

The spring is almost here and new adventures await. Plenty of great places to see, rivers to cross.

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Winter sunset