Exploring Sutjeska

The team up at the summit

“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…”
― C.S. LewisThe Four Loves

Loading into the van at the Baščaršija tram station is always the first exciting part of Green Visions hikes. When I enter the van, I get to see the people who I will be hiking with for, in this case, the next two days. It’s always interesting to see the different languages, experiences, opinions about traveling in the Balkans, etc. The mountains are absolutely stunning, don’t get me wrong, but one of my favorite parts about these hikes that I have been doing with the company is the ability that I have to converse with the people that I am hiking with. It never gets old and each hike brings new and exciting people into my life who I often learn from. Peeling little bits of knowledge from all the different people allows me to slowly obtain a better understanding of international similarities and differences.

The van to Sutjeska National Park held me, Faruk (the guide who led us on the Umoljani hike), Ged and Kay from New Zealand, Bruce from Washington state, and our driver Haris, born and raised in Sarajevo. We started the long drive to Sutjeska National Park and after a little bit of reading and some short, uncomfortable naps, we had arrived. We dropped our overnight things at the hotel where we would be staying that night (as this is a two day trip), and got organized before we hopped in the van again and had another short ride until we reached our first trail head. The weather wasn’t looking too promising so we decided to have an early lunch under a shelter while we planned out the rest of the day. After lunch we descended down to Donje Bare, which roughly translated into English means something like “lower pond/lake”. It was raining while we hiked down so we didn’t stay for long, but sitting on the shore of Donge Bare are the ruins of one of Tito’s old hunting lodges, as well as a much more modern cabin where hikers and backpackers can come and stay the night. As we hiked back up to the van, the weather began to slowly get more pleasant and we decided to at least give the second half of our day a chance.

Looking down near the top of Uglješin peak

We headed towards Gornje Bare (upper pond/lake) through some high grasses which were probably over a meter tall, and ended up in this beautiful valley under Uglesin peak. As it had not started raining again and the weather was still looking alright, we decided to get as close to this peak as possible before it rained again. These summits get pretty dangerous because there isn’t necessarily a set trail that brings you all the way to the top, and are mostly composed of long, wet (if raining) grass that can cause people to slip easily. Nonetheless, we stretched our calves and started the ascent. After a couple false peaks and short breaks we made it to the top and the view was breathtaking. From Uglješin peak we could see Maglic, the highest mountain in Bosnia, over in the distance. After a couple pictures and some summit treats we headed back down to the valley. The way down proved to be a little more difficult than the way up, as a couple people slipped and ended up on their tush. No one was injured but everyone needs to be careful about how they distribute their weight when they’re hiking down such steep slopes. We hiked back through the valley to the van and concluded our first day of hiking.

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On the second day we were joined by two younger Danish travelers and had another van ride to the base of Maglić, which sits right on the border between Bosnia and Montenegro. It is sometimes possible to hike to the summit, but unfortunately it was storming up there when we arrived at the base so it no longer was an option. Our second option was to hike along the side of the mountain to the beautiful Trnovacko Lake which sits in the valley between the Maglić and Volujak mountains. We descended into the valley and then back up the other side before we got to the lake. The trail brought us through long, marsh grasses at the bottom of the valley and then up through beautiful forests that reminded me of the hiking that I have done in the pacific northwest of the USA. On our way to the lake we crossed the border into Montenegro. I’ve been jumping from country to country quite a bit while over here in the Balkans and luckily this time there wasn’t any border patrol or any sort of wait to get our passports checked. Just us and the trail and a small sign letting us know we had crossed the border. Surprisingly informal. Once we arrived at the lake we had lunch and conversed with two park rangers that are living in a cabin next to the lake for the summer. They treated us all with a taste of their homemade rakija. After packing up we headed back along the same trail from which we came and packed up before getting in the vans before heading back to Sarajevo.

Sutjeska National Park hides some of the most beautiful nature I have seen in my life, and I have hiked many of the major natural parks in the United States. I hope we can continue to grow the eco-tourism company here in the Balkans so these beautiful mountains become more accessible to the common citizen and anyone who wants to get out of the city and take a break. Once again, a beautiful hike among wonderful people. If you have the time, I would definitely recommend this trip.

Walking is good for solving problems — it’s like the feet are little psychiatrists.
~ Terri Guillemets

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