The Route

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The idea of attempting the Via Dinarica orginated from Googling to this page on Summit Post after ruling out a continuation of the Via Alpina across Austria, having already hiked about 1000km of the French and Swiss Alpine sections on previous trips in 2012 and 2014.

The other point of interest was that it was exactly 30 years since I'd last travelled through this part of the world when I'd solo Inter-Railed from Vienna to Athens through a fairly intimidating Yugoslavia back in 1985.

Via Dinarica page on Summit Post 
I liked the idea that the route was billed as "a virtual project of a long-distance trail". This sounded suitably vague and challenging, and possibly a bit of an adventure - and hopefully nothing like hiking in Western Europe.

I clearly didn't have time to complete the entire route from Slovenia through Croatia to Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania in 2 weeks, so decided on starting halfway at Sarajevo. 

My original plan of hiking directly from Sarajevo was ruled out after discussions with Samer Hajric at Green Visions Trekking Company.  Samer was super-helpful with bouncing around ideas, and for establishing an idea of what to expect with the "Accursed" Prokletije Mountains in northern Albania. Given the serious ongoing landmine situation in Bosnia, I was advised not to start from Sarajevo, but instead to jump on a bus to Sutjeska National Park near the border with Montenegro.

So, after much planning and tweaking, my route ended up being more or less Stages 77 to 108, as advertised on Summit Post.

The hike was 330km in 11 days from Sutjeska National Park in Bosnia & Herzegovina across Montenegro to Valbona in northern Albania, and took in several significant summits including Maglic 2386m (highest point in Bosnia), Bobotov Kuk 2523m (highest mountain entirely within Montenegro), Crna Glava 2139m, Kom Kucki 2487m and Maja Jerzerces 2694m (highest point in the Albanian Alps).

Day 1 - Suha to Trnovačko Lake (19th June)

Day 1 actually started the evening before on 18th June with an Easyjet flight from Glasgow to London Stansted, followed by an overnight flight to Istanbul with Pegasus Airlines, and an early morning flight to Sarajevo, arriving around 10:30am.

Samer Hajric from Green Visions met me off the flight and treated me to a cappuccino and a quick discussion of plans before dropping me at Istočno Sarajevo bus station to catch the so-called Balkans Express for a 2-hour minibus ride to Tjentište / Sutjeska National Park.  I managed to explain to the bus driver that I wanted to jump out at a bend in the road called Suha which would give me access to a track to Trnovačko Lake and Maglić (highest peak in Bosnia).

Once the bus pulled away, I was struck by the silence and the sense of being alone in a wild mountain landscape.  The hike up to Trnovačko Lake was straightforward enough, and I pitched my tent around the far side of the lake just before the trail started climbing into the forest for Maglić.  That would wait until tomorrow.

The good weather broke in the night for thunder & lightning, and torrential rain, so I awoke the next morning to low cloud and damp dismal conditions, which set the tone for the next couple of days.

Google Earth image for Day 1
Suha, Sutjeska National Park
The starting point at Suha
First night's camping at Trnovačko Lake

Day 2 - Maglić & Piva Canyon (20th June)

30.3km with approx. 1770 metres of ascent

Day 2 dawned damp and grim-looking, with Maglić obscured by heavy low cloud.

Dawn at Trnovačko Lake - no sign of Maglić
I was up and away by 6:20am, and at the summit of Maglić by 8:30am with no view of anything apart from the metal red, blue & white old Yugoslav flag, and painted trig pillar.

Summit of Maglić 2386m
I had originally planned to head south from Maglić 2386m to take in the slightly higher and more remote summit of Veliki Vitao 2397m, but given the poor weather, that was no longer an option.

Had the weather been any good, then this is the fantastic view I would have seen looking down on Trnovačko Jezero.

Trnovačko Jezero
However I saw nothing but thick grey mist.

When I reached a 3-way junction marked on a rock, I knew I didn't want to go to Maglić or Trnovačko Jezero, since I'd just been to both of them, so my only other choice was "Voda" which means 'water' in Serbian. I didn't know which water it was talking about, but assumed the trail must go somewhere, and most likely down to Piva Lake eventually.

3-way track junction for Maglić, Trnovačko Jezero and Voda (water/spring) - direction Piva Lake
I therefore had no choice but to descend the steep rough trail to Mratinje and Piva Lake in cold persistent rain.

Steep rough descent to Piva Lake
When I got close to Mratinje, I found this fantastic little shelter that allowed me to get out of the rain for a few minutes.

Shelter near Mratinje
After this shelter was 4.5km of downhill tarmac to Lake Piva, then another 4km of road to the most enormous dam that was quite dizzy-making to cross. At 220 metres high, the Mratinje Dam is one of the highest in Europe, and as I found out later (according to Wikipedia) featured in the 1978 file Force 10 from Navarone along with a very youthful Harrison Ford, although I'm not convinced it looks anything like the same dam.

Mratinje Dam

Anyhow, once I'd crossed the dam and hunted for the trail on the other side, I realised it headed up a tree-covered cliff with pretty serious fall potential. This proved quite a stressful hour so, clinging on to dog-rose and alder bushes, with no actual trail to speak of, other than the occasional red and white paint marks on trees.

Thankfully the angle eased at last, and the trail became easier beneath the pylons until it topped out onto an expansive plateau with rolling farm tracks. There wasn't much chance of finding water anywhere, but I filled a bottle from a rainwater tank beside a farm.

It was getting late, and I'd been cold and wet all day, and was keen to stop soon.  There was no suitable place for a tent as I walked along a hard stony forest track, but then I spotted a ruined building with intact roof.  It was far from ideal, but the real selling point was that it appeared completely dry inside.  There were no doors or windows, and on closer inspection I found the floor was covered with broken glass and dried cow-shit.  I thought for a moment "I can't sleep here" but looked outside at the relentless rain and realised I didn't have a option.

I took a piece of wood and scraped back the dried cow-shit and glass until I had a clear space to pitch the inner tent, then hung up my wet clothes although there was no chance they would dry out given how cold and damp it was.  For the second night in a row, I had a handful of salted nuts for my evening meal.

Luxury accommodation, Montenegro-style

Day 3 - Sušica Canyon (21st June)

Day 3 started off cold, damp and rainy. Much like Day 2.  

Ruined building shelter for the night
I was now "off the map" as far as my planning was concerned, but was fairly sure that if I headed south and east, I would end up at Nedajno to get access to the Sušica Canyon.  After a few hours wandering along misty minor roads, I did arrive at Nedajno, and to my surprise saw a house with a Nikšićko Pivo beer sign, selling food and drink.
Café in Nedajno
I certainly wasn't going to look this gift horse in the mouth, since it was the first eating establishment I'd seen in 3 days. However there didn't appear to be anyone around.  I checked the potato field round the back, and suddenly a lady appeared.  I couldn't understand what she was telling me, but eventually worked out that I should head round the back into the kitchen and hang my wet stuff up over the stove.  Meanwhile I dug out my Serbian phrase-book and managed to ask for bread, cheese and tea.

хлеб , сир и чај
The other funny thing that happened was that as soon as the lady realised I was English, she phoned her daughter and handed me the phone. I thought her daughter might be in the village and about to pop round for a cup of tea, but it transpired she was in Pluzine, which is about 10 miles away, so I just asked her how the weather was, and if she thought it would improve for tomorrow. She told me I would be fine to climb Bobotov Kuk tomorrow, which I found reassuring.
Potato field at Nedajno

Leaving Nedajno
Leaving Nedajno, I felt much refreshed from sitting in the warmth and having my first proper bite to eat for 3 days.  I had imagined rough hiking trail would follow next into Sušica Canyon, so was surprised to find a brand new tarmac road, albeit strewn with fallen rocks from the unprotected cliff faces.

Road into Sušica Canyon

Wooded trail in Sušica Canyon

At the base of the canyon the trail levelled out, then slowly climbed through forest, before a steeper section to Škrčko Jezero and the Skrka Mountain Hut. I had no idea if the Skrka hut would be manned, or sell any provisions, or would even be open.  So I had more or less prepared myself for another night of camping.  However when the hut came into view, I could see smoke rising from the chimney and a horse outside, so I figured somebody must be around.

Skrka Mountain Hut
Horse keeping guard
Another night of luxury accommodation
Cold and basic inside the Skrka Hut
Spartan interior of Skrka Hut
There was guardian for the hut, but he didn't speak a word of English and promptly disappeared.  The main door didn't close properly, or at all, so it was bitterly cold inside.  I slept with all my clothes on, inside my sleeping bag, and with a blanket, and was still cold.

There was nothing to eat at the hut, so for the 3rd night in a row my evening meal consisted of a handful of nuts I'd bought in Glasgow before I left.

It was cloudy over Bobotov Kuk, but I was hoping the weather would improve tomorrow.

Day 4 - Bobotov Kuk (22nd June)

Bobotov Kuk 2523m is the highest mountain in the Durmitor and the highest mountain entirely within Montenegro.

I left the Skrka Hut just after 7am, and was soon hiking up snow in a wild mountain landscape.  The snow patch below was quite tricky to cross, with bad fall potential if you got it wrong.

Tricky snow crossing
View from col looking back to Škrčko Jezero lake
Durmitor - wild landscape 

Impressive folded rock

Approaching the summit of Bobotov Kuk
Looking back down on Škrčko Jezero - the Skrka Hut a tiny red speck on the left of the lake
The landscape was all pretty wild and impressive, and I saw nobody around until I popped over onto the summit of Bobotov Kuk and met 2 Germans: Jurgen and Steffi.  Two good sporting names.

It was nice to stop for a chat given that I'd not met anyone else on the trail for the first 4 days.

Funnily enough, I would bump into them again a week later in Albania.
Jurgen and Steffi at the summit of Bobotov Kuk.  I would meet them again a week later in Albania.
Summit of Bobotov Kuk
Steep way down

A few snow patches on the descent to Žabljak
Looking back at Bobotov Kuk from the descent
Wild flowers on the descent from Bobotov Kuk
Crna Jezero (Black Lake)
Looking back to Durmitor from road to Žabljak 
Given this was quite a short stage, I spent a good hour or so hanging around at the idyllic Crna Jezero (Black Lake), before hiking out the short distance to Žabljak.

I checked in to the Hikers Den Hostel, or at least to the house immediately next door, and had the strange experience of being surrounded by English-speaking Westerners, and a nice shiny clean supermarket just across the road.

The hostel owners Alex and Gina were both friendly and helpful, and once they heard about my plan they both warned against trying to cross the Prokletije Mountains into Albania.

Alex told me in a slow deep Montenegrin drawl: "You will die. You will die for sure".

"Nobody crosses those mountains", he continued.

And even if I did reach Albania: "They will shoot you as a spy, or a drugs smuggler".

I nodded ruefully to demonstrate that only a fool would ignore their advice.

They also told me that "nobody crosses the Sinjajevina", which is where I was planning on hiking the following day.  Apparently I would get hopelessly lost, and probably die from dehydration.

For sure it was about 70km from Žabljak to Mojkovac with no facilities, and almost certainly no running water, and probably no very obvious trail, but I was confident that the pre-loaded tracks and maps on my Garmin eTrex 20 would take the stress and worry out of the navigation.

Sinjajevina - 70km of wilderness from Zabljak to Mojkovac
So, I went out in the evening for a good meal with a sociable crowd of backpackers from the hostel knowing that tomorrow I would be leaving these comforts behind.

Day 5 - Sinjajevina (23rd June)

link to

The prospect of hiking 70km across the Sinjajevina with no facilities or water was slightly daunting. I left the Hikers Den Hostel in Zabljak at around 7am, since that's when the supermarket opened.  I quickly bought a few bits and bobs, and then began the endless hike along fairly flat and very quiet roads towards Zminica Lake.  I stopped at the lake for a few minutes for food and drink.  Soon after the road became forest track, and then turned into open grassy hillside.

The trail then petered out to nothing apart from the occasional paint mark on a rock on rough grassy tussocky hillside.  The trail rose up to a summit at around 1860m which provided a great vantage point.  After dropping off this hill, there were a number of trails going off in different directions, which was slightly confusing.  I also spotted a few Katuns or farm dwellings which appeared to have water tanks fed from the metal roof and guttering.

I realised this might be my only chance of finding any water today, so managed to get inside the picket fence to one of the boarded up houses, and turned the tap on the tank.  Thick red rusty sludge trickled out, which was slightly disappointing.  I then tried the other tank with less hope, and perfect clear rain water gushed out. So I was saved!

I continued cross-country until I hit a better track that led to Lake Zabojsko.  I had thought that this lake might make a good camping spot to break the Sinjajevina halfway.  But when I got there, I decided to carry on for 3 reasons: 1) I couldn't see any easy way to get down to the lake, 2) I was getting savaged by mosquitoes just stopping for a few seconds to consider options, and 3) it was still relatively early so I thought I might as well carry on and make more ground.

So I managed to plod on for another 9km, across increasingly rough and pathless hillside, before I suddenly decided I'd had enough and might as well stop and put up the tent.  I'd done nearly 44km, so I was well over halfway, and should easily be able to reach Mojkovac tomorrow morning.

Hostel Hikers Den, Zabljak
Long and winding road across Sinjajevina (looking back to Durmitor)
The road to Njegovuda
Zminica Lake
Summit of Veliki Kurozeb 1886m in middle of Sinjajevina - looking back towards Durmitor

Detail of Via Dinarica signpost at summit of Veliki Kurozeb 1886m
Wild flowers on Sinjajevina
Lake Zabojsko - no easy access
End of the day - tent up