Our kayaking trip in Lake Bohinj was successful for two reason. First of all, it was just a phenomenal day out on the water in one of the most breathtaking locations I’ve ever been to. Secondly, it solidified the area as a jumping off point for a big day hike I had been wanting to take in the Julian Alps.
Surrounded by peaks on three sides, Lake Bohinj has enough trekking options to keep you busy for weeks, if not months. But, with just one day available for hiking, I consulted the Bohinj Visitor Center to ensure we picked a route and peak that would guarantee us some great panoramic rewards for our efforts.
The woman at the center was extremely helpful and pointed us in the direction of Vogel and its surrounding peaks, which are part of a ski resort during the winter. I was completely on board with this suggestion, but couldn’t understand why she kept stressing the importance of taking the cable car to the ski resorts base.
“No, we want to hike from bottom to top,” I insisted, even after she explained there would be plenty of strenuous distance left, even when starting from the ski resort’s base. She shrugged and explained I was adding on at least two extra hours of uphill, but sent me on my way with a map and an advance “I told you so.”
We set out early the next day with Leedor and Michelle, two new friends from our hostel in Bled. At the bottom of the Vogel cable car we found the path that wraps up and around the mountain for service vehicles and those crazy enough to walk.
Of course, the woman at the visitor center was right, and it was complete madness to walk up the steep, loose gravel path when there was a perfectly good option to avoid it. With 90+ temperatures the whole day, we were panting, wheezing, and of course slipping, the whole way up, but I must say, we would have never had photo opportunities like the one below if we had taken the easy way.
After about two hours of climbing, and some minor panic that we might miss the exact path that would take us to the lodge at the top of the cable car to refill our empty water bottles, we stumbled upon a group of buildings that serve as a waypoint for hikers and skiers complete with an observation deck for Lake Bohinj and the highest peaks of the Julian Alps across the valley.
It was at this point that I no longer lamented our decision to climb from the bottom. Although we were exhausted, sweaty and thirsty, we had started at the lake that now looked so tiny and far away. I could appreciate the view and the distance a lot more knowing I had earned it.
After our halfway stop, Michelle and Leedor headed back down the mountain via cable car (I can’t imagine sliding down that gravel path would be a good choice for anyone) so they could check out a few more things in the Bled area before they left. Determined to reach a peak, Chris and I refilled our water bottles and continued onward and upward.
There are lots of options as far as peaks go once you reach the Vogel resort base. When we realized the Vogel peak would be three hours out and three hours back from the base, we decided the closer, but similarly elevated Šija would be a better goal. Our trail wound under a chairlift that many hikers took even further up the mountain. We walked through dry terrain with low bushes that can survive the harsh winter conditions found at these elevations, but unfortunately cannot provide any shade from the relentless summer sun.
About halfway between the base and the peak we ran across some goats who seemed as eager to escape the sun and heat as we were. The herd of apparently domestic goats found shelter on, around and under a chairlift landing station and provided some comic relief and much-needed reason for us to stop for a few minutes before continuing to the steepest part of the mountain.
The final stretch of the trail proved to be the most difficult of it all. We worked our way up rocky switchbacks and finally scrambled up the last few hundred feet to reach the grassy summit of Šija. There, we collapsed panting on the grass, much to the disgust of the German couple who already sat there with a picnic. I wanted to explain we had been hiking for the past four and a half hours to get to this point, rather than taking the cable car and chairlift up until the last mile or two of trail, but, of course, nobody asked.
As always, all of the hard work was instantly worth it. Not only could we see the part of the range we had been climbing more clearly, but now, there was a whole new part of the mountain range before us, much more green and inviting than the peaks we had already seen. The soft green grass on the top of our own mountain provided a perfect resting point for lunch and just enjoying our fantastic surroundings.
We took a sufficient amount of time to enjoy and recharge at the top, but the midday sun wasn’t being kind to either of us (especially Chris, if you couldn’t tell by his turban), so we headed back down, using the prospect of a cold beer and good snack at the lodge as a motivator.
I’ll be honest. We may not have been as particular about how we got down the mountain as we were about how we would get up. The chairlift looked like a fun way to skip over one of the hottest and most open parts of the trail on the way back, and after a celebratory drink at the lodge, we took a five minute cable car ride down that covered the same distance as our two-hour hike up in order to avoid skidding back down the gravel mountain trail.
Although we were by far the most sweaty, sunburned and just overall pathetic looking people in the cable car, we had down what we had set out to do. We climbed an Alp from bottom to top – even if nobody asked.