A year ago, my friend Tonči Radja of “Špiljar” speleology club, informed me of a very curious find in one of the pits of Biokovo. Unlike something he has ever seen, he found complete skeletons of bear and deer at the bottom of one hard to reach pit near Biokovsko selo.
To get the bones out and to finance research, we were asked for some funds but had to wait till November to make the donation. It is not a big donation but every little helps in the situation when our economy is struggling. So, after we made a donation, all that was left was to set the date for action!
The day chosen was Sunday, December 10th and we met in Split till the entire crew gathered. It was a good day for practice for younger members of “Špiljar”, too! The pit Zovine is about 60 meters (cc 180 ft) deep with a small lake at the bottom. It is REALLY difficult to find it without a guide!
The entire terrain is extremely inhospitable and difficult but, at some point in time, people lived even here. At least for some part of the year while there was pasture.
Once we were all the meeting point and everyone who would be going down was ready, we headed into the woods.
Not exactly a forest but a labyrinth of thin trees and limestone rock formations, deep pits and small amphitheaters. Basically, the terrain is very difficult to move through and you really have to know where you are going and have a local guide to get to the pit.
Which is good. As the pit is hard to notice and fairly easy to fall into if coming from a different direction.
Once at the location, the group set all the gear and ropes and assigned the roles and sequence who is going first, second…and so on.
The pit is also great for training young crew so there was a number of beginners with us. There is also a small lake at the bottom and I wish I am able to get down. It did not take long, for the rest of the team, to get to the bottom and soon, the first remains started coming up. There were 5 full bags with bones of both animals quite nicely preserved.
Next stop was Biokovsko selo where we were supposed to meet with the biologists from the Museum of Natural History of Split.
This is a tiny hamlet with only few inhabitants left. The traces of hard life are evident everywhere. Closed doors that open rarely.
And soon we all met in front of our host’s place to show what was found and for biologists to pack it properly and send for analysis and conservation.
The finds were extraordinary according to biologists! Apparently, at least 10 000 years old but a proper dating and analysis are needed. Quite proud that we enabled this and hope to be able to help even more in the future.
It was an exciting day and a proper way to finish this successful operation was to have a small party at our host’s home. It does not go without grilled meat prepared the classic way.
And it was great to see our host’s pride and joy!
The sun slowly set behind Biokovo. In this part of Zagora (hinterland), days are short as massive Biokovo casts a long shadow… Shadow that will soon very few notice.
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!
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.
We decided to meet near Krčić waterfall. That is one of the most impressive waterfalls in Croatia. Usually.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
…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.
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.
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.
This road is for serious off road vehicles only! And then we parked in a lovely valley.
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.
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.
In the fresh, mountain air we got hungry fairly soon and it was already 11 AM. The right time for marenda (or brunch).
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.
We continued following the trail that now got steeper.
..and got us into the woods.
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.
But, when one travels in a group, it is easier to continue. Stopping to catch a breath and to enjoy the views also helped.
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.
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.
…and we did get the stamp from the box!
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 :)))
Too bad for the views but this was all we saw from the very peak.
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.
I could not think of an easier way to get here but some guys thought of a HARDER way to get to Sinjal!
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.
Badanj has some fascinating stone “towers” and shapes.
While there were not too many animals, I did see one spectacular caterpillar!
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!
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…
When one thinks of Dalmatia, oak forest is probably not the first association. One can think of rocky landscapes, low bushes and shrubs or lush pine tree forests. Typical Mediterranean vegetation. However, Dalmatian coast looked very differently in the past. The first photographs show a very barren landscape with almost no trees. Mostly because everything was cut down centuries before no matter if they needed wood to burn in their stoves or just cleared land for defense purposes. Clearing for wine yards and olive groves during the late 19th century, Dalmatian landscape stripped of nearly all trees or bushes. And then came the more eco-friendly vision of planting pine trees as they looked pretty and were growing quite fast. Original, black pine (pinus nigra var. dalmatica) can now bee seen very rarely and most beautiful forest of this pine tree is near the highest peak of Brač island. Crnika or česmina (Quercus ilex) used to be the most common of all oak tree varieties on our coast but now is limited to only few proper forests on Rab and northern islands.
However, from the records and evidences, it is clear that most of Dalmatia was under some real oak forests. Mostly downy oak (Quercus pubescens). The last of the true oak forests still stays tall between the tiny villages of Pristeg and Dobra voda near Stankovci.
The forest is just a remain of a proper, big forest that covered the region and it is basically just a lovely patch in the landscape. The woods are now intersected by wine yards and fields at the edges but one can still get a good sense of what a proper forest looked like.
The forest is not under protection so the trees are, occasionally, cut down. Even though it is illegal. Since the number of people in the nearby Pristeg and Dobra Voda is shrinking, as young men and women are leaving for cities, the future of the forest looks promising and will probably be expanding to now abandoned fields nearby. Oak forests are recovering in many other areas of Dalmatia as people are leaving villages for the cities.
The forest is also a great home for many bird species and nearby plane is a home to Montagu’s harrier – Eja livadarka (Circus pygargus) but there are quite a few interesting mushrooms growing in the shade of the beautiful trees like these highly valued Caesar’s mushroom.
This beautiful forest is just one of those special, hidden gems off the beaten path. Great for late summer walks and mushroom hunting in the Fall!