Monday, May 27, 2019

Beautiful Bosnia

Every mountain we climb has a story, this one began with Sergei the Bosnian-speaking National Park guide saying “the mountain is not safe to climb right now.” 
The translations continued with  “...the cables (meaning via ferrata-type hand rails for safety) are buried under the snow and I will go with you to the cables but I won’t risk my life so I won’t go any higher.” 
Maglić is the highest mountain in Bosnia & Herzegovina at 7,828 feet and she sits on the border with Montenegro to the east within the scenic Sutjeska National Park.  We knew climbing it in May would involve steep snow slopes and we came prepared with crampons and gear to give us the best chance to reach the summit, which was after all one of our main reasons for visiting this country in the first place.  Arranging for a guide many weeks in advance was another measure we took so we could have somebody to help with route-finding and to generally increase our safety and chances for success. 
So when we heard Sergei say the mountain isn’t safe and he didn’t want to go, we had a decision to make.  It was a fairly quick and easy one for us actually, especially after learning that this man (despite his strong, rugged and hardened-looking appearance) was actually a “tourist park ranger” and not a true mountain guide. Through our translator friend at the hotel, we thanked Sergei for his time and told him we had climbing experience and that we would head up Maglić on our own. 

Fortunately back at home before the trip I had downloaded detailed topo and satellite maps of the mountain and the climbing routes. With my new Gaia GPS app on my phone, we successfully navigated 12 miles of dirt roads, found the correct trailhead and from there the two of us headed on foot towards the snowy flanks of Maglić! 

The weather was perfect, clear blue skies, sunshine, pleasant 40 - 50 degree temps and no wind. We were quite fortunate to have clear skies in order to find the route visually from afar rather than rely solely on maps and GPS.  This was particularly  true when trying to navigate our way up the imposing rock fortress like wall of more than 1,000 feet. We needed to get up this somehow in order reach the ridge, and I knew there was a way, but without a guide it would be much more challenging.  Luckily we ran into a group of climbers from Macedonia and Serbia who had a guide familiar with the way up to the ridge.  We chatted for a bit, he pointed out the way and then we went ahead since they were a large group so we were able to move faster with just the two of us. 

As we climbed higher we reached the point where our would-be guide Sergei was talking about with the cables being buried under the snow. We clearly understood the reason for bolting the cables in thatparticular spot.  ...there was a seriously steep slope where a slip would result in plunge over a cliff of several hundred feet down to the rocks below.  
After studying our options we decided that the safest way across was climbing on the rocks above the slope to get as far as we could and then wedging ourselves into the bergshrund to traverse the rest of the distance.  We repeated this process again for several other similar crossings and did some straightforward climbing up over rock and snow until we reached the top of the ridge.  After four hours and over 
2,500 vertical feet we reached the summit and were standing on the highest point in the country of Bosnia & Herzegovina!

Stark Most: Old Bridge in Mostar destroyed in 1990’s civil war and later rebuilt. 
Blagaj Tekija: 15th Century Dervish Monastery

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