(Julian Alps Traverse) Up to the Vrsic pass

The Julian Alps: A guide to the trek

Walking guides - see all our background pages


Introduction

The Julian Alps have been in Alpine Exploratory's programme since the beginning in 2005. In fact the first trip we ever organised was to the Julian Alps! We have a special feeling for the area. Since our first explorations, we have added new routes and continued to enjoy walking new sections of path, linking up new huts.

The Julian Alps are distinguished by a dense network of paths on good ground, plus an equally dense network of mountain huts. We approach the range from the point of view of the trekker, making tours of the mountains and moving from hut to hut. This is slightly different from an equally valid approach, to walk up to a hut, climb a peak in the morning and walk down.

The routes that we offer are - we think - good surveys of the area, with daily distances in a manageable range. We love to advise clients on our trekking holidays about other options for side exploration. Please ask us!


The lie of the land

The Julian Alps sit at the far Eastern end of the Alpine chain. These beige and light grey coloured mountains - limestone - rise to a high point of 2,864m at Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia.

We have two bases in the Julian Alps, being the main walking centres Bohinj and Kranjska Gora. The settlements making up Bohinj are chiefly Ribcev Laz and Stara Fužina, on or near the Eastern shore of Lake Bohinj in the South. In the North is Kranjska Gora, one of Slovenia's key ski resorts. The traditional way of life is much in evidence, with old barns next to the roadside, tiled with shingle. The local trade was iron smelting and more recently farming.

The Triglav National Park (Triglavski Narodni Park) was established in 1981 after several previous incarnations. It covers over 84,000 hectares, most of the Julian Alps.

The topography of the Julian Alps is one of high peaks and karst plateaux formed from limestone and its typically exciting natural features. Karst is the name given to upland limestone country with its characteristic holes, gorges and caves. Water is consequently often hard to find in the mountains.

On lower slopes, below around 1,600m, forests are predominant. In many areas they are positively unavoidable - except that in any section of forest there is always a refreshing meadow to come across. Trees are a natural mixture of larch, spruce, beech and pine.

For our clients familiar with the Lake District in the UK, think of the Julian Alps as similar in extent... but over twice the height to the highest summit (Triglav of course) and with mountain huts are regular intervals. The ascents to some peaks take more than one day, so huts provide the solution!


Best bits

The Bohinj basin is a highlight. We remember a cloud inversion one day that covered the lake: spectacular from above at Dom na Komni. All of our routes run above Lake Bohinj for a while.

The paths that skirt the base of Triglav on the South side - the North face holds enormous cliffs - give long views to Vogel which is the notable peak South of Lake Bohinj. To the North range the Karavanke mountains and the many ridges of Eastern Austria.

Photos from trips: Julian Alps


Is it for me?

The characteristic rocky terrain makes the Julian Alps a relatively specialised destination, harder to recommend to all groups. Against this, the densely-packed huts help break up the distances. Coffee breaks can be frequent! On our hut-to-Hut and Traverse routes, a head for heights is needed.

We hope that trekkers used to the longer daily distances and easier terrain more common on Alpine treks, will adapt quickly to the Julian Alps where the lifestyle is really the other way around!




Traversing high above the Trenta valley, Slovenia
Traversing high above the Trenta valley, Slovenia



Can I manage it?
We keep our daily distances manageable in the Julian Alps, letting walkers explore side trails and pace their arrival at the next hut. Our Forest Hut Tour is our easiest route, suitable for trekkers used to the Tour du Mont Blanc or other general Alpine or UK hillwalking. Our Hut-to-Hut and Traverse routes go higher up the slopes and are more specialised, similar in technical difficulty to the Walker's Haute Route or Alta Via 1 in that rocky situations can occur at regular intervals along the trail.

What's it like underfoot?
On higher slopes the single-track paths are uniformly rocky, meaning underfoot will be jagged rocks and sometimes scree. Lower down, the forest paths are hard-packed and rooty, generally giving good walking. Added to the mix are wide tracks on lower slopes, and country lanes in the valleys.

Triglav
Triglav (2,864m) is the highest point in the Julian Alps and also in Slovenia. Slovenes regard it as a duty to climb Triglav at least once in a lifetime!

Our Hut-to-Hut route passes below the summit of Triglav at a point 400m below, the mountain hut Dom Planika. We advise clients in their info packs on the rough outline of the ascent. This is known as the easiest of roughly 4 main ways up Triglav, the Southern side of the mountain being gentler than the Northern. Nevertheless, we regard this summit climb as outside the scope of our self-guided holidays, and thus our normal detailed route description doesn't include the summit push.. just an outline for those who wish to investigate further. The difficulty includes loose ground aided by metal pegs and chains, plus a knife-edge summmit ridge.

We recognise that Triglav's summit is within the remit of the International Mountain Leader award, which is the scope to which we limit ourselves when leading your guided holidays. On a guided Hut-to-Hut trip, the option exists to take in Triglav's summit for those members of the group who wish and subject to agreement with your group and leader. We design our Julian Alps days deliberately to be a little shorter in distance than our other routes, to allow for such side exploration... not just on Triglav but on the many peaks that the route passes near.

While we treat the Julian Alps as a range to be trekked through, we feel ourselves the draw of Triglav... a walker's summit albeit a hard one, and a country high-point... and we're glad to advise how you might incorporate the summit into your trek.




Climbing through fields to Vrsic, Slovenia
Climbing through fields to Vrsic, Slovenia



Are the routes obvious?
The paths in the Julian Alps are aided by very frequent waymarking, by which we mean paint flashes in the classic Alpine white-red-white stripes, and red dots on rocks. However, this only tells the walker that they are on a path - not which path it is! Most junctions have some form of direction signpost, or hut or pass names painted in red on boulders. Signposts are an attractive metal design in red with white lettering.

However, it is essential for all parties in the Julian Alps to have at least one competent navigator with a map and compass, for those situations where the route is not marked at a turning or where the clouds have closed in. Our routecards, notes and maps give you all you need to complete the trek under your own steam.

During each summer season, snow falls on typically two or three or more occasions. It tends to go away equally quickly and tends not to be deep at the altitude of our Julian Alps routes, but for the time it remains it can make navigation even more challenging. Under a cover of snow, ground features are hidden and reliance on map and compass skills is key.

Is the walking technically difficult?
Our Julian Alps routes are walks as opposed to climbs or via ferrata routes. There is no glacier walking and no rock climbing.

There are however some sections where the path crosses rocky and steep ground, plus sections with metal cables as handrails over normal Alpine walking terrain. Some stages cross open, unforgiving terrain without easy escape routes: full days of mountain walking calling for self-reliance especially in wet weather with bad visibility.

Unseasonal weather
The typical summer's day in the Alps brings hot sun, perhaps with occasional rain or afternoon storms, but in any case paths clear of snow. However, fresh snowfalls occur each summer on a handful of occasions. Most often, these leave a coating of an inch or two on higher passes only, and they disappear in a day or two. However, sometimes the snow stays for longer periods and is deeper. While the Julian Alps should be approached as a summer Alpine area, with Summer snow unlikely, it is wise to know that snow can fall even in summer.




A scree path ascends to the Hribarice plateau
A scree path ascends to the Hribarice plateau



When to go?
Our Julian Alps season runs from mid-July to mid-September.

This short season is imposed by the weather: the chance of late-Spring snow patches remaining into early July across the higher passes, and the chance of the weather deteriorating into late September. Because we can't predict the weather for the coming summer, we have to set these dates in advance.

Our earlier seasons in Slovenia, roughly 2005 to 2009, ran earlier in July and later in September; over the years we have revised these steadily 'inwards'.


Where to stay

The Julian Alps is a region notable for its many mountain huts. A typical edifice is a double-storied 'house' (dom) with a pitched roof. Shingle tiles - wooden - cover the outside walls; shutters sit either side of the windows. Tables will be arrayed on the patio outside, busy at lunchtimes and into the afternoon with walkers pausing for drinks and food. Inside, the tiled stove.. always the tiled stove! This is a feature of Austrian and German areas, as well as Slovenian; it sits in a corner or even in the middle of the dining room. Seats.. again like Austria.. tend to be around big tables which it is common to share with other groups. The theme is pragmatic, egalitarian and sociable.

Especially in higher areas of the Julian Alps, the huts are smaller buildings. Beds will tend towards dormitories, instead of the mix of dorms and private 2- or 4-person bunk rooms as in the bigger huts. (We will advise on the sleeping arrangements according to your particular schedule.) Showers are available in lower and bigger huts, less often in higher and smaller huts. Always the basics of life are supported, and this includes a simple menu of large portions, and plenty of beer, coffee and soft drinks.

In the valleys, we have grown to know family-run hotels in Bohinj and Kranjska Gora. The roughly transferable rating would be 3* or 4* and comfort is high, with a good breakfast included and often dinner available in-house. Both centres have a buzz and offer restaurants as well as the hotels.

As tourist centres, the villages also offer private guest rooms - akin to informal B&Bs - and hostels and camp grounds. These are booked through the local tourist information centres. In a nicely low-key and again pragmatic way, Bohinj and Kranjska Gora are well-organised and appealing bases for Slovenian holiday-makers.


The Julian Alps in context

The Julian Alps relative to treks in the UK
UK hill-walkers might enjoy the Julian Alps as a super-charged Lake District. Think of Scafell Pike's upper slopes from Great End; the highest points of Slovenia have similarities in rocky ground and ins-and-outs of terrain. The Julian Alps rise to 2,800m instead of 900m but the feeling is reasonably comparable! To the trekking element, the Coast to Coast has longer days in terms of distance, than our Julian Alps treks; purposefully we leave time to explore paths to the side.

The Julian Alps relative to the TMB and the Walker's Haute Route
The Julian Alps adds an interesting Alpine counter-point to the classic duo of the Tour du Mont Blanc and Walker's Haute Route. For starters, the area is less extensive and our holidays are 3, 4 or 5 days long instead of a fortnight. Longer trips are possible with clever choice of routes so as not to repeat paths, or need to drop to a valley and re-ascend the full height to the far side. In terrain, the Julian Alps at their hardest are like the Haute Route, in presenting steep drops to left, right or both at once. This is classic, hard, Alpine trekking. The level of difficulty is a step up from the TMB, except for our Forest Hut Tour route which is at a similar level of terrain.

This is our comparison based on our own research: each trek has different possible configurations, each giving a different feel to the route. Please ask us any time for more details; with details of your walking experience we can suggest which trek you might enjoy most.


Explore the Julian Alps with Alpine Exploratory

Alpine Exploratory offers three self-guided options in the Julian Alps, plus two guided trips. We're also pleased to book shorter or longer sub-sections of the routes according to your available dates... and a weekend trip can work with care. Please contact us to discuss options.

Our self-guided holidays give you what you need to complete the route under your own steam. We book your accommodation in a mix of huts and hotels and we give you our detailed routecards, the local maps, and lots of notes. Importantly we will advise on the ideal schedule and accommodation to suit your approach to the Julian Alps.

Our guided trips are similar but give you the benefit of an Alpine Exploratory leader to show the way.


Guided and self-guided holidays - see our full range


Research 2017

Simon Stevens at Alpine Exploratory Simon Stevens
Simon will lead Alpine Exploratory's 2017 Julian Alps research, in July



Trips 2017

Alpine Exploratory offers the following holidays based on our Julian Alps research:

Julian Alps Hut-to-Hut
Julian Alps Hut-to-Hut (Guided)
Julian Alps Traverse
Julian Alps Traverse (Guided)
Julian Alps Forest Hut Tour



City breaks after trekking

Our Julian Alps holidays come with notes on the following cities, in your info pack:

Ljubljana in Slovenia
Venice in Italy

City breaks after trekking





Map showing the route of Alpine Exploratory's Julian Alps Hut-to-Hut walking holiday




Map showing the route of Alpine Exploratory's Julian Alps Traverse walking holiday




Map showing the route of Alpine Exploratory's Julian Alps Forest Hut Tour walking holiday







Alpine Exploratory
Alpine Exploratory is a system of knowledge on the best mountain trekking in our areas, giving clients superb holidays based on this exploration.
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