We first noticed the event last year whilst holidaying in Croatia. We noticed an article in The Adriatic Times detailing the hiking event. We love Croatia and thought this was a good idea to become better acquainted with the country. Although we both enjoy multi-day hiking and have completed the Camino de Santiago, 800 kilometres in five weeks and walk regularly on our forest, we have never camped before. The HIGHLANDER felt achievable despite our age, 76 and 67, as the organiser had assured us there were no bears lurking in the hiking trail!
We commenced our training with heavy rucksacks until we felt confident we could manage it.
September came round very quickly. Initially, at National park Northern Velebit we found the gorges riveting to look at as we traversed along the cliffs, whilst gazing down into the forested valleys. One of the most beautiful mountain regions for hiking in Croatia.
We started off at 1,678 metres high, on Premužić Trail, one of the most beautiful Croatia hiking trails and the views were so awesome that we were unable to pick up our pace and found ourselves mesmerised by the views and the raw nature and mountain range. Hearing that bean soup was being served at mountain hut Alan, we stepped up our pace and were greeted at Alan by a charming lady who gave us homemade bread, delicious bean soup and a beer, very good food. Can it get any better! We pressed on from Alan, realising that we were a lot slower than the other Highlanders and were not going to get to Skorpovac that evening. We would have to camp in the wild. Now, the light was fading and we realised that we had to find a place to pitch our tent pretty quickly. There was one problem - we were high up on a sloping path, looking down at the sea and the islands. There appeared to be little grass and no flat areas anywhere. Meanwhile, the weather was now looking very threatening. A decision had to be made quickly. We were very exposed, with a screen above and below us. Just as we were despairing we found a little bit of grass, enough for our tent, but sloping towards the sea. Here we quickly put up the tent, just as the rain started to fall. We dived into the tent, got under our sleeping bags as all hell broke loose. It felt like Armageddon. The rain and hail battered our tent and then the thunder and lightning started to rage directly above us. The noise was deafening, crashing and banging, with great shards of lightning lighting up the tent every few minutes. All the while this raged above us we were unable to stop sliding down on top of each other as the tent was at an angle. We have never experienced anything like this in our lives but somehow found it exhilarating. Nature was informing the Highlanders who was in charge of the Velebit mountain. Getting up at 4 am, having had little sleep, we decamped, packed and set off before 6 am for Skorpovac, by which time the rain had stopped, hoping to reach it quite soon. We had now drunk all our water, sat down, wondering what to do next, when we discovered another sign to Skorpovac saying one hour away. Due to dehydration, Anthony was hallucinating, seeing huts in the distance which turned out to be branches or rocks. Then all of a sudden the cavalry arrived in the shape of some young Croatian hikers, also outdoor enthusiasts who gave us all their water. We finally arrived at Skorpovac which was very welcoming, made some good friends, had a lot of laughs, cooked a great meal on the wood burning stove and felt good about the world. The camaraderie amongst the Highlanders and other hikers were very inclusive and we shared many life-affirming conversations. At the point, we met Dragan who was carrying a 32-kilo pack! After breakfast we set off for Baške Oštarije, again experiencing amazing views and the vastness of the open terrain, where we felt very insignificant and could only wonder at what nature had produced. As we neared Baške Oštarije, we faced some unsigned areas, which we misinterpreted and found ourselves on the main road with no hostel opposite, where it was supposed to be! However, a lone motorist, who had parked just where we emerged from the track, turned out to be a famous paraglider and ex-special forces soldier. We shared a long conversation with him, strangely about the meaning of life, and he directed us to the hostel a couple of kilometres away. We turned into the hostel courtyard, where we were greeted by the smiling faces and cheers of the other Highlanders with great relief. Within no time at all, we both had a cold beer and a hot meal - a moment to remember all our lives! Marion has since had her feet assessed and is currently on a foot strengthening program and will be replacing her boots, which were totally unsuitable for the terrain, with the correct footwear. We cannot speak too highly of the organisation, the friendliness and the professionalism, which surrounds the HIGHLANDER and his staff.
We have started training now and will be back next year to complete the event all the way to Paklenica National Park, within the five days.
Marion & Anthony