From 9th to 14th of September a long-distance hiking event was held on a Croatian mountain Velebit. Participants were expected to be prepared for the wilderness, unpredictable weather, and to ensure their basic foodstuff. The organizer ensured hot meals and water at ever Checkpoint.

Considering I was already in love with hiking in Croatia and Velebit I was looking forward to the opportunity to explore it thoroughly. That opportunity came when I first heard about the HIGHLANDER Velebit event.

To be completely honest, I didn’t train too much. A few recreational trails and a weekend of hiking which is my normal routine whenever I get the chance, so I can’t take it as serious conditioning. Unfortunately, job obligations didn’t allow more than that.

We received clear directions from the organizer on how to pack, where we’ll have hot water, hot meals, and all the necessary pieces of information. We could plan for everything... except for the weather...

Saturday, 9th of September. 1st day, 1st leg:

The three of us arrived from Split to Senj and from there we had organized transportation to Zavižan where we had gathered at the start line with the rest of the hikers. First scheduled leg was a 33km long route from Zavižan (1645m/nm) – mountain lodge Skropovac (958m/nm). That route was a very good warm-up for what was to come in the following days. We passed the majority of Permužić’s path, one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Europe, through National park Northern Velebit. The track was beautiful – walk and a beautiful Nature, without any large ascents and descents and we had already met some beautiful wild horses and had seen traces of other wild animals.

Sunday, 10th of September, 2nd day, 2nd leg:

After morning coffee on the meadow, we headed towards mountain lodge Skropovac. The second leg included a 14km long route from mountain lodge Škropovac (958m/nm) to Hostel Baške Oštarije (919m/nm), 111m of height difference. The second hot meal and bivouacking were by the Hostel at Baške Oštarije. We came to the Checkpoint fairly early we decided to betake to shelter Šugarska Duliba which is 7 hours away from Baške Oštarije in the rain and look for a shelter in Nature. The journey we’ve been through in the rain was a special adventure. Haha!

We set up tents in the forest which is 2 and a half hours away from Baške Oštarije via Sladovača, crossroad that was very important for the following day. We had planned tomorrow’s route, studied the map, ate dinner, and went to bed.

Monday, 9th of September, 3rd leg, 1st time:

A real thunderstorm happened just last night.

Our maps of Velebit were soaked, but the option of heading back to Baške Oštarije for us was unacceptable. So we decided, in the rain and thunder, to head forward and reach a location where phones would have a signal so that we could reach the organizer to check where to go.

After 8 hours of walking in bad weather conditions and unplanned roads, we were completely soaked, hungry, without cell phone service, a map, and any information. All our enthusiasm was gone when we saw the marking for Baške Oštarije realizing we walked in a circle, so we called the organizer who helped us return to Baške Oštarije. We had quickly set up tents in the area specified for bivouacking, dried our clothes on a gas stove, and started to compose a game plan for tomorrow.

Tuesday, 12th of September, 4th day, 3rd leg, 2nd time:

It partly brightened up in the morning and we knew that the thunderstorm was behind us. Therefore, after our morning coffee and breakfast, we headed on the already well-known path to the crossroad in the woods at which we were lost the prior day. I was even happy to go the same path ‘cause I could compensate for all the pictures I couldn’t take because of the storm. We arrived at Ramino Korito which is a special reservation of the forest’s vegetation and one of its parts encompasses a beech jungle in South Velebit. Wilderness and wildlife in the forest is something that you could only see in a National Geographic documentary – the bears, wild boars, lynxes, wolf, deer, foxes, and birds. We were lucky and didn’t have any close encounters with wild animals, but we were very careful the entire way through and were alerting our presence. As the weather calmed we arrived at Šugarska Duliba (1212m/nm). The shelter that thrills with its architecture and view. So we had set up tents not far from the shelter just before the last rain.

Wednesday, 13th of September, 4th leg:

After the calming of the weather, lightening up, passing the Ramino Korito, and arriving at the southern regions we noticed that Velebit is gentler. The Mediterranean climate could be felt more, we went out in the bora and continued our journey to Veliko Rujno. The foreseen route for that day was 19km long leg form Jelova Ruja (967m/nm) to Veliko Rujna (900m/nm), with 490m of height difference. We started from Šugarska Duliba via Panos to Tatek’s tent. To me personally, this route was the most attractive hiking tour in the event, all the way to descend and the walk to the Finish line. We had drinking water the entire way and in Veliko Rujno our 3rd hot meal and bivouacking were waiting for us. All the way to Veliko Rujno we had encountered domestic animals on the trail. We had to bypass bulls with our planned route that had a lot of ascends and descends such as previous days. When we finally arrived at Veliko Rujno, we set up tents in the backyard of a church, warmed up, ate dinner next to a bonfire, and planned our route for the last day of the race.

Thursday, 14th of September, 5th leg:

The 5th leg was really relaxing. After what we’ve been through in the previous days – 16km long route from Veliko Rujno (900m/nm) via Stradžbenica and PD Paklenica, Velika Paklenica all the way to the Finish line. This part was not only a sightseeing tour with incredible views of a mountain range but also a vacation from the entire trip. Going back to civilization where the organizers were waiting for us with a warm cup of coffee and some fruits. We’ve been through a lot. From different climate zones, weather changes, morphology, and typology of the terrain. Woods, karst, ridges, and river bends. Friendships and events, blisters, close encounters with the animals, or at least their traces.

Behind us is an incredible hiking experience with beautiful views of the vast forest and the Dalmatian coast, in one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Europe.

We weren’t in a rush, but we arrived within the set time. And we are still overwhelmed by this experience – after 127 hours, 125km, 3000m of height difference, 20000 lost calories and 600 photos - how we wouldn't be?

See you next year!

Split, 19th of September 2017

Antonija Dominović