Mountaineering and Alpinism

Slovenian climbers are among the best in the world. Photo: STB

Throughout the year, Slovenia’s mountain world offers splendour for the spirit, and an abundance of activities; its seven thousand kilometres of marked and protected trails and 165 mountain lodges attract hikers, climbers and other nature lovers. The whole country is a network of trails and footpaths of varying difficulty.

There is something for everyone who loves nature: high, snow-capped peaks, green valleys, steep or gently sloping paths, populated or isolated places, surrounded by vineyards or mighty rock walls. Unspoilt nature, a rich heritage and abundant diversity, provide a splendid backdrop for wandering around Slovenia.

Getting out into nature, particularly in the mountains, is a favourite national pastime. The countless mountain trails make mountaineering a very popular sport. At the plentiful huts and cottages along these paths, travellers can find a roof over their head and enjoy a hearty meal.

The Slovenes have always been very passionate mountaineers, and mountains have always been connected with a network of well-maintained paths and staffed mountain huts. There is little danger of getting lost, and even less of finishing a hiking trip in Slovenia hungry or thirsty.

The greater part of Slovenia is taken up by three Alpine mountain ranges.

Studor. Photo: Jakše - Jeršič

The biggest and highest are the Julian Alps in the northwest. To the north of central Slovenia rise the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, while a good part of the northern border of Slovenia runs along the ridge of the Karavanke. All these belong to the southern limestone Alps, except the Pohorje in north-east Slovenia, which is the last outcrop of the Central Alps, and the last granite hills in Slovenia.

Because of the exceptional beauty of the mountains and their own sense of belonging, Slovenes feel a great bond with them – the highest peak, Mt Triglav, which rises to 2864 m, is also a national symbol. The mountain is surrounded by Triglav National Park, an area of 84,805 hectares and one of the most extensive nature reserves in Europe. The Soča and Sava rivers have their sources in Triglav Park, as well as the Seven Triglav Lakes, and lakes Bohinj and Bled. Bohinj is Slovenia’s largest lake; surrounded by unspoiled mountains it is a great starting point for exploring them. Bled is a well-known tourist paradise, with thermal springs, recreational opportunities, casinos and a golf course.

Slovenian Alpine Museum in Mojstrana

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A rich collection of items with diverse historical stories, rich photographic and archive material, and a comprehensive professional booklet give the visitor the chance to grasp the popularity and importance of the mountaineering activity in the Slovenian territory. More › 

Diversity of flora and fauna

Zois' Bellflower (Campanula zoysii). Around 3000 highland plants (ferns and seed-bearing plants) grow in Slovenia, and approximately 70 of them are endemic. Photo: Ciril Mlinar

The Slovenian mountains cannot compare in altitude with their cousins, the giants of the Central Alps. But altitude is not their most appealing charm – in fact, their attraction lies in the fact that they do not reach extreme heights, and even if you are climbing a high peak, you will not be surrounded by lifeless wilderness, but by a world of flourishing life. The whistle of a marmot, or the discovery of a tiny flower hidden among the rocks might surprise you. Soon you find that the most ancient inhabitants of these parts of Slovenia are the chamois and ibex. And with a little luck you might also see a golden eagle cruising in the blue skies. Slovenia’s mountain world also attracted the attention of European botanists visiting the Julian Alps at the end of the 18th century. The flora is mostly alpine, but due to vicinity to the Mediterranean region, it is intertwined with neighbouring floral regions.

The Slovenian mountains are richly forested on their lower slopes, while at higher altitudes there are extensive areas of grassland, larch, and great swathes of dwarf pine, all adorned by unique alpine flowers. The inhabitants have used alpine meadows for centuries to pasture their herds at high altitude. During the summer, they migrated from the valleys to the plentiful mountain meadows. This became an important element of the folklore and gave a specific ethnographic look to the landscape. It also gave rise to special delicacies, such as soured milk, cottage cheese and various cheeses.

As the height increases, more and more rocks are revealed, green gives way to grey, but without loosing its gentleness. Local climatic conditions have caused the disappearance of the last remnants of the glaciers, although there are still some large snowfields. The northern sides of mountains are usually steeper, with rock faces which often give the summits an air of inaccessibility and wilderness. A wilderness one does not easily forget.

Top climbers

Given the diversity of the mountains and way of life in Slovenia, it is not surprising that Slovenian climbers are among the best in the world. The mountains at home, where they can acquire and develop the necessary skills and experience, generously stimulate their supreme achievements. There are plenty of modern sports or adventure activities to do here – rafting, canyoning, free climbing, hang-gliding, paragliding, kayaking and canoeing, or other activities for more daring adventurers.

Mountain huts

Tamar in Triglav National Park. Photo: UKOM archive

There is an abundance of well-supplied huts, as well as some shelters and bivouacs without provisions. Most of the mountain huts have retained an old-world atmosphere, and have not become Alpine hotels. The majority of huts are open and staffed only during the summer season, when reservations are recommended, but some offer lodging all year round. Mountain huts provide beds, food, drink and information. House rules differ from hut to hut and warden to warden. But one of the most important rules of all is to take care of the environment.

Safety in the mountains

The basis for safety in the mountains is an accurate evaluation of your physical condition, and proper equipment. Above 2,000 metres, high-altitude equipment is obligatory – this consists of good quality mountaineering boots, warm clothing, waterproof jacket, cap, gloves, spare clothes, and alpenstocks. In a mountaineer’s backpack there should always be room for a torch, matches, a first aid kit, penknife, map, compass, food and drink, and a bag to take refuse away. If you go climbing, special climbing equipment is needed.

The greatest danger is from sudden changes of weather. Storms can occur suddenly, bringing cold, lightning, hail, falling rocks, fog, and wet terrain. It is not unusual for a snowstorm to occur in the middle of the summer. It is always best to check the weather forecast twice before setting out. But the climate in the Slovenian mountains is such that a mountaineer should always have protection against rain and cold, as well as high temperatures. The best is to start out early in the morning, taking enough water and a hat. Except for some snakes that live mainly in the Julian Alps, there are no dangerous animals.