Dawdling around Durmitor

After the epic mountains of Bosnia, I was very keen to check out the durmitor national park across the border in Montenegro (having hiked the lovely southern Prokletije mountains in Montenegro last year when doing the peak of the balkans trail). I flew to Podgorica and rented a car to drive to the mountain town of Zabljiak. I arrived on a Sunday so had to overnight in town as the store was closed and I needed gas for the stove. I had an excellent Balkan dinner of pork kebabs and went to bed early

Day 1 – to Lokvice with an out and back to Bobotuv Kuk – 1100m ascent, 14k (guidebook said 8 hours took 6)

Up at 6.30, I had my supplies ready, figured out my gas stove converter (it is impossible to buy screw top gas canisters here so I have bought a kovea adaptor for the pierce-able canisters) and had bought my park ticket by 7.30. I headed off from Ivan do, detouring down to the black lake.

The first slog up to Lokvice was lovely but a slog with a full pack and extra water. The path meandered through trees and I had a lovely dog follow me up to the glacial cirque at Lokvice. Two shepherds try to sell me beer, but I took shelter from the wind to make a coffee. It was bitterly cold. To lighten the 13kg in my pack, I pitched my tent in one of the many depressions above katun Lokovice which had a spectacular view out over the cirque.

I then summoned the energy to begin the ascent of Bobotov Kuk – Montenegro’s highest summit – with the dog in tow all the way to the pass. The walk was lovely albeit with quite a lot of scree and boulders. The last grunt up to the pass before Bobotuv was bitterly cold and windy and I had no feeling in my fingers. The views from the pass were nice but the peak was shrouded in mist (and had been throughout my approach, so I decided to head down after taking in the view.

It was a nice meander down and I got back to my tent for a hot late lunch around 3pm. There were only two other tents nearby. The shepherds skulked by around 6pm to ask for a camp site fee, and I told them firmly the rangers had told me payment wasn’t necessary, so they buggered off without complaining (the rangers had said no such thing but I am well versed in scams) . The nice Croatian guys camped in the next depression paid 10 euros and got no receipt.

The weather forecast was for minus two but I survived the night fine in spite of only having my summer tent with me (I had a winter bed roll and quilt) and mercifully the wind dropped when the sun went down

Day 2 – over to Skrcko Jezero 900m ascent, 12k (guide book said 5.5 hours and it took 5.5)

I woke up at 6 and was delighted I had shed some layers over night and I hadnt been cold. The forecast said it was zero degrees but it didn’t feel like it out of the wind. I read the papers, had coffee and then headed out through the sheep who were blocking the trail at 7.30am.

The route was advertised in the guide book as ‘moderate’ and unsigned but obvious on the ground….hmmmm. Off I went and the trail was easy navigating around the side of the cirque, and I actually surprised myself by doing fine on the steep scree – I hate scree. And then I climbed past a bluff and the guidebook said ‘the path to the pass should be obvious in the grass from here’. Um no. The guidance was to stay left of the scree and bluffs but the gpx trace seemed to lead me through the steep bluffs with painful drops. Not good. And to top it off I was blimmen freezing as it was only about two degrees. Oh well, I had a word with myself and decided to keep trying to find a route I could both go up and down (never go up or down anything where you can’t retrace your steps as then you have no escape route). Persevering for a while and scrambling up a few rockfaces I eventually got to some grass from where I could see a safe route across to the pass. Phew!

The views from Tronj pass to Bandijierna and the fangs of Zilpi and the backside of Bobotuv Kuk are stunning and I was all alone. I didn’t hang about though as the wind was blasting through and it was freezing

The route down the other side met the main trail from Sedlo to Surutka so it was reassuring to see markers and some people and I stopped for lunch at the lovely Zeleni vir lake at 11

The route to Skrcko Jezerco (lake) took me a full two hours versus the signposted 90 mins. It involved scree, bouldering, three chained sections, two steep scrambles (one of which I got wedged in coming down as my backpack is wider than me). However the walk was amazing -Samar has these lovely folded rock formations and it is stunning. I arrived at the hut at Skrcko lake around 2pm and pitched my tent by the little lake and had some tea and fruitcake. The guidebook said the 8k would take me 5.5 hours and it did. Blimey – I guess it isn’t much trail here and a lot of rock hopping

I then wandered down to skalala to see the waterfall (which had no water). I met two Dutch hikers who had no map and asked me for directions. They were very stressed after the route down from plananica and were looking for the shortest route to a road without gaining any altitude. I sent them down past skalala which my notes says is sign posted and hits a road in 8k. As I was heading back to the tent pitch, I was amused to see two hikers near my tent at 4ish when I got back…. I heard them again 45 mins later on the hill behind my tent (where there is no trail) and then again 45 mins later back in the basin and clearly lost. By this time two other hikers had arrived and pitched their tent up 100m away on the other side of the lake and they gave the lost hikers some directions. But it was 5.30, two hours of daylight left and even for very fit people with good navigation I thought we were at least three hours from the nearest road. I hope they took the wise option and stopped in the hut for the night which had blankets and water – better to be hungry for a night than lost and hypothermic in the bush. Oh well – moral of the story – have a map on your phone and extra supplies

Day 3 back to civilisation -12k and 800m of ascent, 4.5 hours

I had an excellent sleep – my new exped pillow is a game changer (weighs a punishing 200g versus 60g for the last one but I sleep so much better). I was awake and brewing coffee at 6.30am and fully packed and heading out by 7.20am. I meandered down to the lake and then headed up the path to plananica. The path in my guidebook was no longer on the official signage (an alternate route via meded was signposted) but I thought I would see how it was . Well the path was obvious on the ground although the waymarkings hadn’t been repainted for a few years, but it was tough – steep, narrow path, watching every foot step and a bit too terrifying to stop and look around. (My vertigo worsens with age). I kept my head down and took it steady and was at the top of the 650m slog 2 hours after leaving camp – so I definitely deserved a coffee and some double cream Oreo’s (a new delicious discovery in the Voli supermarket .

The rest of the route back to civilisation was a lovely meander through a high valley and some lovely pine forest. The high valley surprised me with some lovely wild horses and some less lovely enormous bulls (I am scared of bulls). I was listening to oasis as I passed so I serenaded the bulls hoping my voice would keep them at bay. I was enjoying the singing and hadn’t seen anyone since leaving camp three hours earlier, so kept singing until I ran into six day hikers – I feel sorry for their ears.

I meandered back into town and found a hotel for a shower and had a big lunch and then a nap

Zabljiak, Montenegro, September 13, 2022

Additional info

The cicerone guide to Montenegro was good, albeit a little out of date

Parking is fine at Ivan do – I left the car there for three days no prob (near the rangers office)

There are very few water sources which are reliable (lokvice, Zeleni vir, skrcko and Jablan) so prep accordingly and take enough receptacles to carry what you need (I had 2x 3 litre cnoc water bladders)

Check the mountain forecast. Normal September temps are 15-25 degrees, I had 0-15 degrees. Worth checking and packing accordingly

It’s two and a bit hours drive from Podgorica airport (lots of cheap flights from London) to Zabljiak.

I didn’t find screw gas for the jetboil but did find piercable cartridges which worked with a kovea adaptor – at the Voli supermarket in Zabljiak (open mon- sat 7am- 10pm)

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