First of all, some introduction. My name is Martin Ehlert, I am 50 years old, I come from Ridderkerk in The Netherlands. I am married and have 3 stepchildren. My father in law lives in Lički Dabar (city of Otočac) in Croatia, Gorski Kotar county. In 2017 I learned of multi-day hiking event Highlander Velebit, but too late to be able to enter. So, on the first opportunity for the 2018 edition, I subscribed.

In April I started with training walks with the backpack and the equipment I would bring during the event. Training is important, but in the Netherlands, we have one problem… there are no mountain regions. No matter, I came to Croatia on 29 of August. In the days before, the last provisions were bought and the backpack was loaded.

Early on the morning of the 1st of September my father in law brought me to the start at National park Northern Velebit. I signed in and took the food for the first two days and the gifts from the sponsor. A special feeling started to grow, in a short time will we start… what to expect…?

At 9.00 under the ringing bells of the chapel at Zavižan the first group started, and we hit the hiking trail. Looking around I see all kinds of different people, all outdoor enthusiasts with happy faces, we started something great! The temperature was good that day, a little fresh at the start but upon entering Premužić’s trail the jacket could be taken off. The first part of the day there was a little rain, but not hindering. After a lunch break, under the guiding eye of the people from HGSS, I started towards mountain hut Skorpovac.

Around 19.30 getting near Skorpovac I could hear the rumbling of an upcoming thunderstorm. I managed to get at Skorpovac just before it was full dark, got my first stamp in the HIGHLANDER passport, and went to set up the tent. There were already some tents standing, so I put mine between them. Then I made dinner. While lightning my stove, the thunderstorm, and rain broke loose. I managed to make my meal under the shelter so I got to stay dry. After eating my meal, I went to bed… The first day complete, with no difficulties encountered… I was happy.

The next morning on my way to Baške Oštarije. Good weather! Nice day of walking, some ascends and descends but nothing too extreme and again: wonderful nature. Early in the afternoon, we were at Baške Oštarije, enjoying a Croatian good food ‘grah’ and talking to the others present about their plans. Some were going for Šugarska Duliba, others went for Ždrilo. After Baške Oštarije the walk changed, although the total height difference might not be big, there were a lot of ascends and descends over a mountain range… Also, the terrain was getting rough, the markings not everywhere clear, so some extra checking on the map and GPS. Around 18:00 I was at the crossing where I would leave the trail to make camp at Ždrilo. When I arrived at the campsite, other hikers were already set up, making a meal. I set up the tent, picked something to eat and we exchanged some rakija (I brought some domaća šljivovica). At night a heavy thunderstorm and painful legs from all the ascend.

The next morning, I departed at about 7:45 knowing the first part back to the route was mostly going down. After about 30 minutes I was back on track towards Panos. The route is advertised as difficult. Already had some of that yesterday, the part toward Panos was indeed challenging. The fallen trees and the steep ascends made it a challenging walk. But the weather was good, no rain today.  Around 16:00 I was at Panos, got the stamp, refilled water, drank a Red Bull, and a beer. After a bit of planning, the decision was made to continue to Stap (Tatek’s Hut). A walk of close to 4 hours. The leg Panos – Veliko Rujno is described as difficult, so I knew what to expect. The walk was beautiful, with again a lot of ascends and descends and beautiful views. At around 19:30 it started to get darker. But then there was a sign: Stap 15 minutes, so just a small bit left. I set up my tent in the last bit of daylight and made something to eat.

The next day, I just managed to pack before it started raining. Nothing too dramatic my poncho could not handle. The first part after Stap is challenging and beautiful. After about an hour, it stopped raining and eventually the sun came through. Very nice… stuff getting dry again. My shoes which were getting heavier (wet), dried a bit as well.  At 13.30 I arrived at Veliko Rujno close to Paklenica national park and was welcomed by Andreja. Enjoying a very nice meal and a beer, she told me that actually, the final part would be 3-4 hours… so I decided to set up my tent and managed to get most of my stuff dry in the sun. In the evening I heard that there is a shortcut on the last part to Paklenica, but the final part is a very steep descent. Keeping safety in mind, after all the last 4 days were challenging, I decided to take the ‘normal route’.

Wednesday, the last day… I woke up early, packed my stuff, and made some breakfast. I started walking at 7:15. Again, amazing nature, wonderful views in the nature park. I had not visited Paklenica before, but I will be coming back there considering that there are some of the most beautiful trails in Croatia. Around 10 o’clock I was at mountain hut Paklenica. I was invited to a rakija by the staff members. After one drink, I started the last part toward the entrance of Paklenica. All descend and flat terrain, so to my advantage.

Although the route was easy, my feet started hurting walking over the cobblestones... 5 days of walking takes its toll. At 11.15 I was at the finish! I made it! Final stamp in my passport, and getting my medal and certificate and a well-deserved beer! After a few minutes, my father in law arrived, also very proud. While enjoying a drink, I was asked to be interviewed (in English) for Croatian TV. No problem of course. My Dutch/Croat family had a good laugh, the program was dubbed in Croatian, my Croatian had improved very much.

Looking back I had a wonderful experience! I really enjoyed the challenge, nature, and the people (participants and staff members!). Will there be a next time for me?  Certainly.

See you all next year on the most beautiful Croatian mountain!