I first saw the North face of Triglav in a book, ‘The Big Walls’ by Reinhold Messner, when I was about 19 years old. The mountain and the face have fascinated me ever since.
Dave is a mountaineering / skiing instructor and has traveled the world climbing mountains, skiing and rock climbing from America to Thailand” Triglav, at an elevation of 2,863 meters (9,395.2 ft) is the highest mountain in Slovenia and the highest peak in the Julian Alps. In the book, it gave an account of the first ascent with a large colour photo of the mighty North face. It quoted Ludwig Sinek as saying “…few climbs have left such a lasting impression on me as this one. Of the three biggest faces in the Eastern Alps, the Triglav Wall seems to me to be the most difficult”. The grade given for this route is only IV+ (UK grade of around Hard Severe), so with a rock wall as tall as El Cap but with a far more reasonable grade, it seemed like a very good idea to book some flights to go and check it out.
You’re not Slovenian until you have climbed Triglav
Our plane touched down in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana. We hired a car and made the short drive to the picturesque town of Bled where we would stay for our attempt on the face. Bled is a tourist town, and understandably so – it’s beautiful. The town is situated on a huge, crystal-clear lake, with steep limestone cliffs at its edges and castles rising from the rolling forests. It really is a fairy tale of a place. It’s also cheaper than other European destinations. We were paying just 17 euros a night for our B & B; so it’s a perfect base from which to start your adventure.
On our first day I drove with my climbing partner, Robyn, to the town of Mojstrana. From here, a 13km magnificent dirt track takes you cutting through the forests, following a wild river all the way to the car park used to climb Triglav from the North. You only have to walk 400 metres from the car park before you are bowled over by your first glimpse of the North face. Towering up from the trees, 1400 meters high and over 4 km wide, it knocks your socks clean off. There’s a well-positioned hut that sits in full view of the face and which serves food and drinks on a sunny terrace looking out at the mountain. A large sign nearby shows all the major climbing routes up the face and it’s well worth a look to get a clear idea of where you’re heading.
For us, this was a reconnaissance day as we were tired from the previous day’s travel, so we decided to memorise the walk in for when it would be dark the following day. The path from the hut is well marked and is known as the Prag Route. There’s an enormous piton that has been hammered into a large boulder by the side of trail, and it’s from here that the picture of the North face in Reinhold Messner’s book had been taken, so we stopped for a photo before heading home.
The following day the face looked even more impressive in the eerie stillness of dawn. I set off up the first pitch. Robyn and I had decided to do the easiest classic route on the face, the ‘Slovene Route’. We had no idea how long it would take us, how hard the route finding would be or what the quality of the rock and fixed gear would be like – there were a lot of unknowns.
The climbing turned out to be very easy but loose in places; which is to be expected on rock faces of this size. What quickly became apparent was the distance to the summit above us wasn’t getting any smaller. We were moving together on ground graded VD and were galloping up the rock. I would check the topo, chuffed with our speed, to find that we had only climbed the first small section. Through corners, walls, slabs, overhangs and chimneys we went. We arrived onto the Zlatorog Ledges, about half-way up the face before midday. We sat, took stock of our situation and had some food, then decided call it a day and head down along the Prag path.
The next day the plan was to climb the German Route that goes the entire way up the face and reaches the summit of Triglav at 2864m, biviing out on the mountain. The first 6 pitches are on beautiful rock, and at the top of pitch 16 you arrive on the German Tower with the visitors’ book stashed away for you to sign and write something silly in. The ledge there is spacious, it gives amazing views across the face and a vantage point to look at what you have climbed so far. I had been warned that the route finding on the upper section of the German Route was tricky. This was definitely the case. I’ve done many big routes in the past and I had to call on all my experience to find the correct passage through the maze above. Vast slabs, interconnected with walls and corners all trying to send you off course, but at least the climbing was easy.
Another 300 metres of climbing went by, until we arrived on the Lass exit terrace. From here the German Route goes left and the Long German Route goes right. At this point, you can see a hole in the rock where the sunlight beams through known as the ‘Window’. We discussed our options and decided that left was better than the terrifyingly loose looking right option, in reflection an easy call. At the Lass exit, it’s around 6 more pitches and some scrambling before the North face spits you out on top of the Slovene Tower. Reaching this point, it was the most breathtaking place to be in the world. This was our bivi spot. Relatively flat, with a good hard stone base, it was perfect for a comfy night’s sleep. The sky above was crystal clear and the shooting stars were spectacular.
There are four main ridges to the summit. The North ridge is unprotected and loose, but follows on from the Long German Route. The others have fixed cables and staples drilled into the rock to make access to the summit easier to walkers and climbers. Consider any of the fixed routes to the summit ‘Via Ferratas’ rather than walking paths if you are an inexperienced climber.
Some guys we had met in Bled had said “you’re not Slovenian until you have climbed Triglav”, and on that clear and beautiful morning you could see why. There were hoards of Slovenians on their way up the mountain. What a view they had in store!
We descended via the Tominsek path as it was different to the Prag path that I had done before and this didn’t disappoint either. Twists, turns, ladders, drops, down climbing and exposed traverses. Just that path alone in the UK would be a three star scramble.
Slovenia is a beautiful country and it has the important bonus of being cheaper than a lot of other alpine regions in Europe. The peaks don’t go above 3000 meters and Triglav is the highest in Slovenia so if you’re planning on bagging your first 4,000er, this isn’t the place for you. If however you’re looking for stunning walking trails and adventure climbing, then this is a great place to go. A word of caution though, don’t be fooled by the grades. You need to be very experienced at route finding and have a few grades in hand to keep the pace up on the longer lines. There are huts at the top of the North face so you don’t have to bivi, but go prepared, the weather can change quickly (like in any mountain environment). This is a fantastic face, and has obvious appeal to lower grade climbers. Just make sure you have the necessary experience for your chosen challenge.
The North face of Triglav can be climbed in summer or winter, however, the face is massive and knowledge of its complexities is vital for a successful ascent. The face has hundreds of routes and as with any face of its size it has a fair amount of loose rock.
The classic route to start on, which we did, is the German Route – a hard severe that has 1200 meters of climbing. Get up early if you intend to do this in a day – up and down. The route gives 16 pitches of good climbing and can be exited at the Zlatorog Ledges. The Zlatorog Ledges is infact a scramble in itself, lasting around 5 km (I wouldn’t recommend it!). If you choose to go off here then the following information is vital, I know this from experience!
After 16 pitches you can escape by…..
Keep traversing left on the Zlatorog Ledges moving up on the highest ledges but don’t rush to do this. Once in line with the square block (very distinctive on the skyline) make a long traverse of the huge amphitheater. Once at the square block go past it and move down 30 meters. Move around to the right (facing out) into a narrow gully. Make one abseil here. Continue going up and down the gullies with another abseil and finally a 50 meter abseil to get back to the Prag path – all loose and exciting throughout.
Or carry on up the rest of the route…..
There are four Via Ferrata routes that head up and make the summit. All are fun, exciting and given 3 stars. There are tonnes of harder routes and some of these will need multiple days on the face.
Guide Book: Popular Climbing Routes in Slovenia by Tine Mihelic and Rudi Zaman (ISBN 978-961-261-340-2)
When to go:
May – September. If climbing the North face the snow lingers in the gullies and it can be wise to carry an ice axe in early season.
How to get there:
You can fly to Ljubljana from most UK airports and it is a short, straightforward drive from here to Bled.
Where to Stay:
Bled is a great town to be based in but it is undoubtedly tourist heavy. If that doesn’t bother you, then it’s a good option at just 30 minute’s drive to the Triglav car park. Alternatively, there are towns closer to the peak itself…..Booking.com makes life easy.
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