Days 21 – 22: Paklenica National Park

We start the day with a climb to the top of Veliki Stolac, the mountain just behind the hut. It’s another amazing view of the sea and the surrounding peaks.

We follow the Velebit Hiking Trail the rest of the day. It’s pretty well marked but still a bit overgrown in parts. Around lunch time we reach another hut called Tatekova. I’m surprised to see people there. Usually we go a few days without seeing anyone else on the trail. It’s a group of three guys who live on one of the islands, they’re taking a few days off to hang out in the mountains. One of the guys speaks great English and he’s super chatty and tells me all sorts of interesting things about the area. I learn that the abandoned villages we walk through used to be used as summer homes for people who lived on the coast 60 to 70 years ago. They’d spend the summer months up in the mountains and have sheep and cattle up there, then go back to the coast for the rest of the year. I’m not sure if it was a generational thing or because of the war, but now the houses aren’t used anymore and are left here to crumble. He also tell me about a place we will pass in a few miles on the trail called Kamena Galerija (stone gallery). It’s a side trail that’s a labyrinth of rocks. Back in the 80’s he and an artist guy (who happened to build the hut we’re at) installed a trail through the rocks with cables and ladders.

We fill up our water, have a snack, and get back to the trail. We stop to hike through the stone gallery. It’s really cool, all sorts of crazy rock formations and arches and it’s fun to rock climb a bit.

Chuck Norris???

The afternoon is hot again and mostly along an exposed ridgeline. But it’s so beautiful out here I can’t complain. I stop at a small church in an abandoned village and get water from their well then head up the steep trail into Paklenica National Park.

The trail is gorgeous and I’m so happy to be in a pine forest again, the smell makes me miss home a bit. I reach the top of the pass and meet up with Express and the Struge mountain hut. She’s super fast, so she’s always waiting for me up ahead. I’m thankful she’s so patient with me! At the hut we meet our first American! It’s a guy named Tortoise and he hiked the PCT the year before us. He’s out hiking with a Croatian guy, they’re trying to create a new Croatian long distance trail similar to the PCT. We chat a bit and swap stories about the trails here then walk another 20 minutes to a well and camp nearby with gorgeous views of the mountains.

I sleep so soundly and am treated to a perfect hiking trail. It’s so well marked and maintained and follows the spine of the mountains. Endless views and curving up and over mountain passes. I love it! I come across a warning sign for land mines off the trail. I’d heard we’d come across this, but for some reason didn’t expect it in the park. We climb up and over a couple mountains then leave the park and are back on forest roads.

Along the road we see another bear and more warnings for land mines. We make sure not to leave the road. The afternoon is all road walking and it’s mostly sharp rocks and gravel. Poor Express is really hurting—the rocks are demolishing the soles of her feet. We unfortunately take a few wrong turns and add a couple miles to our route. We’re pushing hard to get some miles in because we’re finally getting close to town and we’re running out of food and hungry. We’re startled in the evening when some people start yelling at us from across a meadow. We can’t understand what they’re yelling but we eventually reach them. It’s a teenage girl and a man with a rifle. They’re out there hunting bears. It’s getting late and they tell us there’s a spot to camp just down the road. We walk a few more kilometers and camp on the grass near a highway. We’re pooped, we hiked almost 30 miles today. We enjoy PB&J sandwiches made with fresh raspberries we picked in the afternoon and pass out immediately.

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