Pure Water, Rock & Courage in Triglav National Park, Slovenia
The mountain town of Bovec is one of the most active outdoor adventure destinations in Slovenia. With mountain walking trails, biking trails, monster rolling, white water afting and a variety of other water based activities, there is little of the outdoors that you can’t climb, paddle or walk in the Triglav National Park in the Eastern corner of the Julian Alps. In a single day we walked to the source of the Soca River before donning krabs and harnesses to do some rock climbing in the Trenta Valley. And I found the two very different experiences had something unexpected in common…
Where does water come from?
It’s not something you often wonder is it? But I am wondering this right now as I tentatively put one foot in front of the other on a narrow path that crawls around a rocky hillside. Below me the drop is steep. And sharp. There is only one option; to get our footing right and stay on the jagged ledge. Holding tight to the metal wire put there to steady the unsteady, like me, I haul myself up. I glance at Hannah in front; the flashing lights on her trainers indicating where she has just put her feet. The boys are already at the end point. A cave filled with water. And a bright aqua flow that gushes forth from the hillside.
The Soca River is one of two arteries that bring life to Slovenia in the form of clean water. From where I stand this one looks more than clean; it looks mystic. Gurgling blue and white as it bounces out of its cave and down the mountain, it catches the light in a brief moment before slipping away. It is unstoppable. And seemingly unending; although of course it finishes at the sea. Just over the mountain lies the source of Slovenia’s other main river, the Sava. But things flow differently there. Despite similar origins these rivers diverge, like kids forging their own identities and life journeys. While the Soca runs to the Adriatic, the Sava heads to the Black Sea.
The start of the Soca and the beginning of it all
We follow the Soca through the wild Triglav National Park for three hours. Triglav Narodni Park may be the only Slovenian National Park but it’s a real treasure and one of the earliest of European National Parks, being a protected area since 1924. We gaze up at the U shaped valley carved by a glacier. We see where the mountain sheep pastures of the high Trenta village once sustained whole families, before times became hard and they left the winters entirely to solitary Park Rangers. We squint against the sun to try and see the highest mountain in Slovenia, Triglav, at 2864 metres. We wander through forests of dense beech, spruce, larch and pine. Truly this country really is deep green; in fact in the EU only Finland and Sweden have a higher percentage of forests than Slovenia. We skip around arrows of sunlight landing on unknown targets in the undergrowth.
From high bridges we glimpse the speckled freshwater marble trout, darting and diving in the glacial river temperatures. We finish up three hours after we began, at the National Park Visitor Centre in Trenta where we retreat from the fierce summer heat and explore the museum. And by then, I know, without a doubt where water comes from.
Where does courage come from?
It’s not a question I often ask. But a few hours later I find myself a few miles down the road, at the bottom of a slab of limestone wondering about the source of courage. At the same time I am watching my daughter climb to the clouds. The rock is a baby in comparison to the peaks behind and around it. It is barely more than a stone that once fell and settled on the grassy hillside. But still it is big and she is small, and moving so slowly she almost blends in with the patterns. Only her Barbie pink trousers and long harness highlight her progress.
How come kids make rock climbing look easy?
Her instructor, an experienced rock climbing instructor from Bovec’s Outdoor Freaks shop and agency, shouts a mixture encouragement and instruction and she obeys, calmly asking for clarification when she needs it. We watch, some of us voicing our admiration and support, others holding our breath. A couple of climbers practising on the next rock glance over to see what the noise is and a donkey wanders over to take a look. Our seven year old daughter is climbing a Julian Alp, I want to shout. Ok, it’s not Triglav. But it is still far removed from our experiences on an indoor climbing wall or on Lakeland rock. Hannah summits and bumps down with the help of the harness. And then Cameron, the climber of the family ropes up. After his sister’s performance he thinks it is going to be easy. He soon finds it isn’t. His brave and agile sister has given him a false sense of the challenge. He makes it to the top but with a certain amount of stalling and more than a little effort. Watch his summit in this video.
Both come from deep within
I ask Hannah how she found her experience. “Fine,” she shrugs. The same as climbing to the source of the Soca? “A bit harder.” At seven years old Hannah has potentially as much courage as the Soca has water. But then, courage and water essentially come from the same place don’t they? From deep within. From a dark and hidden space that you can’t access without committing yourself. From a place you can’t get to without setting out on and completing a journey. I hope that adult life doesn’t drain her supply of courage.
I put on the harness and try to access mine. Believe me, it is easier to stop the Soca running through my fingers. I have even more admiration for my daughter then I had before.
Triglav National Park (Triglav Narodni Park) lies in North Western Slovenia near the borders with Austria and Italy. The National Park Centre is in Na Logu in the Trenta Valley and is open almost year round, not November or December. There is a small charge for entry to the museum and exhibitions. The Visitor Centre can organise guided tours of the Visitors Centre or on the Park trails. In season there is a programme of guided walks, led by knowledgeable guides, including a weekly walk on the Soca Trail which includes a visit to the source of the river. The walk is not difficult and children and families are welcome, provided you are in good physical condition. It lasts between 2 and 4 hours depending upon the pace and may involve some short stretches on rocky ledges and narrow paths but our seven year old handled it with ease (apart from the are we there yet grumbling). Check out the Park website for more details.
There are many outdoor activity providers who can organise climbing or other activities at venues in and around the Triglav National Park. Outdoor Freaks took us for a single climbing session in a natural climbing area in the Trenta Valley. There are plenty of routes to suit all levels of experience and they can find venues and adjust routes to vary the technical difficulty for mixed ability groups and to provide an appropriate level of challenge to suit your level of skills and experience. You can choose between single-climbing adventures or join climbing schools which run over several days to teach you basic skills and techniques for safe climbing. Check out the Outdoor Freaks website for more details.
Disclosure Note: Thanks to Outdoor Freaks in Bovec, Tina and David at the Bovec Tourist Office and Tine Murn of Spirit of Slovenia for hosting us in Bovec to enable us to bring you this story. As ever, the experience, views and opinions expressed remain entirely our own.