This is my first solo trek in the Julian Alps.
Mt. Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak, runs at 2,864 meters (or 9,296 feet for my American homies), and is shaped like, well, like three heads. The humbling thing is that the mountain isn’t really that high, especially when I think that I’m now in Nepal, where locals would not even consider such an elevation to be a foothill. That’s not just an assumption, either – a Nepalese man told me, that is not even a foothill. But when you start at 526 meters, you end up gaining around 2,338 meters. That’s a lot of meters for a flatlander like me. But even then, that’s assuming you manage to hike in a relatively straight line.
Which, I do not.
I missed the cattle gate marking the beginning of my route and ended up making a giant ‘C’, inefficiently gaining and losing hundreds of meters of elevation throughout the day until I reached the lowest mountain hut, 400 meters below the one where I planned to sleep. It was 6pm, I had hiked twice as long as I expected, been out of water for 2 hours, and I had no idea if they even had room for me since I had no reservation at this hut (pictured below).
Somehow, 37 of the 38 beds were taken and I managed to get the last one. I was really lucky; others who arrived after me had to sleep on tables. I ordered cabbage stew, bread, and a hot cup of tea, silently worrying about the nine hours of hiking the next day. Eighteen hours in two days was more than I’d done with partners and I doubted I had it in me.
But then I looked up and saw the same four French guys sitting at the next table that I had briefly chatted with on the road near the trailhead that morning. Joining them felt like a relief, as we began to share experiences from our day. They bought me a glass of wine when they heard how lost I had gotten, which made me start to wonder why I had insisted on doing this solo. What did I need to prove? I have some pretty badass friends who have done many solo treks, including six months through the Appalachian Trail. Maybe I just wanted to see what that felt like, to be without company and get to know myself like that. To see what my pace was without other influences, to see where my thoughts drifted with no distractions. Or some sort of hippie junk like that.
But if this trip is my chance to learn about myself, then I already know that I love being in community. So I asked to join them for their summit bid early the next morning and thankfully, they said yes.
We woke up early and worked our way up the trail, with the four of them stopping every now and then to make sure I was okay (I’ve learned I’m a slow hiker). They wanted to do the longer variation to the summit, which was cool with me because I already felt better hiking with them. We arrived at Triglavski Dom, the last hut before the via ferrata section.
They started pulling out harnesses and helmets and as I looked at the summit, I realized it was steeper and more exposed than other via ferratas I’d done. I hadn’t brought my harness or helmet, so we fashioned a harness out of a few slings and carabiners and began working up the last 300 meters to the ridge. The rock was polished, the ridge was sharp, and we lost our footing more than once. I remembered my Slovenian friends telling me that a few people die on the ridge each year as I passed memorials along the way.
But thankfully we made it, joining another group of psyched trekkers at the summit. Normally it kind of sucks to have to share your summit with a group, but this time it felt less like a crowd of strangers and more like a community of really, really happy people.
We snapped some photos and booked it out of there as more people started to make their way up. We passed one woman with a guitar strapped to her back and a 70-something man who looked dressed for a family photo, in his sweater vest and pressed slacks. Slovenians are absolutely insane.
We made it back down to Triglavski Dom, where I left my French friends, as they planned to rest and then do more hiking in the mountains. On my own again, I was struck by how gorgeous these mountains were, these mountains that had seemed so frustrating only the day before. I really began to realize then, that mountains aren’t just beautiful – they’re honest. These beautiful mountains that I was so struck by don't care about me. They don't care how tired or dehydrated or hot or cold I was. Or how embarrassed I was to have missed a gate and turned an 11 hour hike into 18 hours. They have seen plenty of hikers before me and they will continue to see others, long after I left. I think had respected the mountains before this trip, but no where near to the level I do now. The best I can do is make peace with them and hope to continue to exploring.