Hot summer day of 2011:
– Hey look at this! Few guys hiked through whole Biokovo mountain. Shall we do the same?
– Wow! Definitely. Let’s do it!
In short, that’s how me and my best friend agreed to do the Wolf of Biokovo mountain tour (Biokovski vuk) on a hot summer day of 2011. We were already hiking a lot at that time, conquering local mountains peak after peak and we felt just like the sky is the limit. And as I recall that time – it was. We were hiking junkies. We didn’t have any equipment but it didn’t stop us. I remember that we got our first real hiking boots after we climbed quite a few peaks in ordinary shoes. We didn’t have any income at that time and proper hiking equipment can be somewhat expensive to get. At least the equipment we ought to have for Wolf of Biokovo mountain tour (Biokovski vuk).
We have already explored most of the southern part of Biokovo mountain, knew these hiking trails very well and we knew that final 2 days will be easier for us because there is not much snow in this lower part of the mountain. However, we read that this part was hardest for original walkers because of dense vegetation they had to go through in order to get to hiking trails.
From the love toward Biokovo mountain one of our adventure tours was born – Biokovo nature park hiking.
Let me tell you a bit about the tour. It’s quite simple. You need to walk through 100 kilometers of Biokovo mountain in winter conditions. Simple to read it but quite challenging to do it. Some people tried to do it in spring and autumn but that’s not how the tour is imagined. Original hikers were members of SAK Ekstrem from Makarska and they departed on this tour during the winter months. We’ve decided to do the same. And the planning began… We were to start our adventure in the first days of 2012. That left us with roughly 5 months to prepare both physically and mentally. As I mentioned, we already hiked a lot and didn’t have much problems with enduring physical efforts. Lack of proper equipment was much bigger problem for us. The tour starts in Bartulovići, a remote village at the foot of Biokovo mountain and it ends at Baćina lakes – a beautiful group of 7 lakes near our home, city of Ploče. During the winter days are really short and we knew that we’ll have to walk for 8 hours each day in order to reach the end of this tour. That meant that every second of daylight counts if you don’t want for this tour to last 10 days or so. Even if you want it to last that long that brings another problem in the equation – you need to have enough food and water for 10 days and it has to fit in your backpack along with other equipment. So being fast and light might be better choice for this tour.
So what would you actually need for a tour like this? Much and more. Temperatures on Biokovo mountain during winter months are never above zero, days are short and you need to walk a lot to reach your goal. Add a constant wind that blows during the winter months to spice the challenge. People who originally hiked this tour managed to finish it in 5 days. Check our Biokovo winter hike to see how this mountain looks like in winter conditions. One of the most important things in a long tours like this one is water. Northern part of Biokovo was covered in snow so we knew that we’ll have enough water for first 2 days because we decided to melt snow in order to get water. As for the rest of the tour we knew that there are some water springs along the way that we can use. Nevertheless, we used water we brought with us smartly. Food is another story and you need to be clever here. When walking a long tours like this one you need to eat a lot but you should also bring high-calorie food that doesn’t weight that much. Because, remember, you’ll need to carry all that weight for at least 5 days. Protein snack bars are good choice for a fast energy boost.
Time wasn’t a burden for us, we would walk this tour for a week if it’s necessary and we brought enough food to keep us going for that long. Back to the equipment. Aside from a proper clothes and shoes (which we had) one of the most important things is winter sleeping bag and a tent. You don’t want to sleep in the open space is such harsh conditions. Tent we had. Sleeping bags? Not really. Quality winter sleeping bag is expensive and we didn’t have money at that time. It’s ok, we thought, we’ll use our 3-seasons bags we already have and sleep in our clothes. Perfect, I think we’ll manage. Boy were we wrong.
We were diligent and were preparing for the tour for months. Hiking, planning our routes, planning our hiking days, water consumption and water sources along the way. Everything seemed perfect. We can do it! The time of Wolf of Biokovo tour (Biokovski vuk) was approaching and just like that we were standing in Bartulovići village on a cold winter morning. My friend’s father drove us there from Ploče and now all we need to do is walk from here all the way to Ploče. One hundred kilometers. Through the mountain. We said our farewells to his father and embarked on our biggest adventure so far. It was 5 AM, meaning we won’t have light for a few more hours. Headlamps on a head, backpacks on our backs and full of energy we started to climb up.
Our backpacks had 20 kilos each. As we began our ascent there wasn’t any snow but as we were progressing soon our feet were sinking deeper and deeper through it. During first day we had to reach St. Ilija peak. We knew it would take us a whole day to get there so we didn’t lose our time. Or we did lose it as it will show later. One thing we like about hiking is exploring around so we made quite a few stops in attractive places which costed us some time. In order to get to St. Ilija we needed to climb the hardest peak of Biokovo mountain – Šćirovac first. Many say that it’s the most remote of Croatian mountain peaks. We were on St. Ilija before but only that day did we stand on Šćirovac. Along the way we saw footprints of Biokovo wolves. Somewhere deep inside I hoped that we are going to see an actual wolf, at least from a distance, but it didn’t happen during this tour. The only bigger animals we saw were chamois, “trademark” of Biokovo mountain.
Sun was gliding through the sky way faster than we could walk and it seemed that we could hardly reach St. Ilija before the night falls. We were not losing any more time on unnecessary explorations and headed straight to our final destination of that day. Clouds were already started to gather on a horizon and below us and we knew that soon enough we’ll be engulfed by them which will make everything a bit more harder…and adventurous. We started to walk faster but the snow made it hard to progress. At some points we were knee deep in it. It takes much more energy to walk like this and we were losing more energy than usual. Our heavy backpacks didn’t contribute to the cause and were pushing us deeper in the snow thus making it harder to progress. With a final minutes of twilight we reached St. Ilija peak and its chapel to the saint of same name. The wind was blowing unmercifully and we started to look for a place to put our tent at. We struggled a bit but it was almost impossible to put up a tent under these conditions. We were starting to cool down and we needed to act quickly. We dropped the idea of sleeping in a tent that night.
So where are we going to sleep that night? We decided to spend a night in a chapel on a St. Ilija peak. God will protect us we believed. In fact, it was a good shelter. Just it was a third or fourth version of this chapel. Because you see, every now and then it gets struck by lightning. St. Ilija as a saint always holds a lightning in his hand in every statue or painting. And we were to sleep inside. Cool. But we didn’t worry about lightnings much as we worried about freezing. It was cold, and I mean cold. Middle of winter, more than 1700 meters high and with a hurricane like wind. We had our humble dinner there like it was our last one and went to sleep. And this is the point where highlight of the tour happened. Our 3-season sleeping bags couldn’t do shit against this type of cold. We were even sleeping fully clothed (changed our wet clothes and had a dry one). It didn’t help. We were peeing in a empty water bottles to keep us warm. Despite the coldness we survived the first night and woke up with a first rays of sun that were protruding through the chapel window.
As my friend got blisters during this first day because his hiking shoes were not made for long walks and because we were not equipped properly for this tour, we decided to descend down and withdraw from our adventure. Biokovo mountain showed us all of its winter grace but it showed us harshness too. It has to be said that we didn’t started this tour to prove anything to anyone, we simply started it because we loved mountain so much and we accepted the challenge of Dalmatian largest mountain. We had control over the situation at any given moment and we made a decision to quit if we found the conditions to be too harsh. As we were descending I felt sadness because we have to leave this remarkable mountain after just 2 days. The sadness was greater knowing we had a strength to finish it, both mental and physical one. But I was aware that this tour was not meant to be torture but bliss. One of the things comforting me during our descent was a weather forecast for a next few days that we were supposed to spend doing this tour. It’s supposed to be rainy and really, for the next five days whole Dalmatia was bathed in winter rain. If we have stayed in the mountain we would be wet all the time.
So as we made our way down from mountain to the sea we promised to return again but we didn’t manage to do it up to now. As I was looking through old camera albums I stumbled upon this quest and today I started to think about doing this tour all over again. Under same conditions but much better equipped. You see, time passed by but love for mountains was always present, and I feel it’s time to revive old challenges again.