11.07.2015

Taking the Long Way Around - A Hiking Adventure on the Way to the Montenegrin Coast


Majstori is a charming village in Montenegro. From here, hiking paths go off in all directiosn and offer the adventurer a chance for peaceful reflection in nature.I am realizing that while I included a brief write up on our three day walk in Montenegro in my previous post, the story would not be complete without going into detail about our last day of the trek.

Months have passed and I’m just getting around to writing about this but luckily I still have some emails sent shortly afterwards while the details were still fresh in our minds. 

Miha and his wife Nina were our hosts in Kotor and helped us get started on our adventure. We started our trek two days prior in Kotor and day one was spent walking from Kotor to Njeguis via the Ladder of Kotor. Day two took us from Njegusi, up to Jezerski Peak (Jezerski Vrh) in Lovcen National Park, and then down to the resort town of Ivanova Korita (IK)where we spent night two.

The plan was to leave IK the morning of day three, hike to Kosmac Fortress not far from the sea, and take a bus or taxi to the coast. Before hearing the story, a few points will help give you a better understanding of the area and what we faced.


  • IK is on the inland side of the mountain range. The other side, which we would eventually cross over to, offers views out to the Adriatic Sea. We knew at some point, we’d hit the Traversal, a long-distance trail that would take us to the Kosmac area. Mike mentions Lake Skadar, which is on the inland side of the range and that is an important landmark.
  • We were lacking a proper map, as one does not seem to exist. Despite living in the area and being avid outdoor folks, Miha and Nina were not able to find a map – all they had were some rough maps in a hiking book and we had a copy of one of them. We also had a large-scale map with some of the hiking trails marked but very little additional detail so while not completely empty handed in terms of maps it would have been nice to have something more.

  • Despite lack of maps, we weren’t overly concerned. This was a popular part of Montenegro and the country has a trail network marked with red and white dots. Villages and towns were scattered about so it wasn’t the wilderness and vast expanses we are used to in the Northern Rockies.  
Now on to the story…Below is what I recalled to Miha and Mike in an email, and I have included reflections from Mike and Miha copied from their corresponding emails...
 

The first part went well and we started down the 751 Trail from IK. There was good signage to follow and within several kilometers we ended up in Majstori, a mostly deserted village but with an intact church and a place or two that are perhaps summer homes. Really a nice spot. 

There we came to a trail intersection. In one direction, the sign pointed to the marathon route (Miha had told us there was recently a marathon from Kotor into the mountains) and had a red and green striped trail marker. We saw these markers in IK but never figured out if they were temporary markings for the marathon or what. We went in the opposite direction, as we wanted to end up near the Kosmac fortress.  Mike might remember more about why we made this choice but we both agreed that it was the choice to make. 

Mike recalled in his reply email…

In Majstari there was a sign for the Podmaine monastery and the trail to Budva. This was the way the marathon was routed and was clearly headed down towards the sea. There was no mention of any of the places we were trying to get to or the Kosmac area so the thinking was that the Traversal branched off here and was the red dot marked trail heading along the crest to the southeast, in the meadows. It was faint, but marked, and also had numbered new red and white signposts. There were no place names or distances, though.

The trail started off nicely (great rocky terrain that had a high alpine feel despite being at a lower elevation - I really liked it) with red and white dots marking the way and a directional sign but signage/dots quickly faded away and were replaced with cairns. Route finding wasn't a problem at first and took us through some nice birch forests.

After a while, we realized that we were way off track as we walked and walked and walked and the coast did not come into view.  Eventually, we ended up on a road and it was there we started heading back in the right direction and eventually to a trail. If we had taken the road in the opposite direction on the road, we would have eventually ended up in Cetinje (Or a few kilometers from it). From this point on, it seemed like the trail didn't see much traffic. Eventually, we ended up in Brajici, not far from Kosmac. 
Our first look at the coast


Mike recalled more details in his email…


The route we followed before hitting the little dirt road was logical and someone put some time into putting cairns along it, maybe the plan is to make into a "real" trail at some point. That would explain the new metal poles with markers, which started the route off. We had also seen the Lake Skader area so knew we had remained on the inland side of the ridge. As luck would have it our large-scale map had the little road on it that we though we had hit - if we went downhill we thought we would wind up near Cetinje at Poljana. Alternatively, if we went up it, it might connect to the Traversal at the ridge. We chose to chance it, encouraged by very occasional red dots on the sides of the road. It took us a couple of hours and sent us back to the west and over the crest with many a twist and turn, but by a minor miracle it actually DID connect to the traversal in a huge meadow which even had a signpost confirming our assumptions. The signpost also had times...3 hours more to the Kosmac area on the main highway. At this point it was around 17h. We were in the deep forest and winding around quite a bit with no worn track at all, so were completely dependent on finding the markers as we went. We didn't pop out of the forest until only 45 minutes from the road, and could see the sea.   
Finally! Back on the Traversal
It looks like instead of heading "straight" for the coast, we went the long way - around to the east before heading west again and THEN towards the coast. Once in Brajici a crazy ride on a local bus brought us to Budva and the sea at last. It was 9 pm and we were glad for a bed and not a night out in the woods! And through it all, we came across more thorny bushes adding to the scratches on our legs. Montenegrin trails are rugged!

Miha had this local insight on our adventure...
 
About this 751 trail ... I actually think you did great job finding it, I really do! As you said and I know, this part of trail is only done by maybe 50 people per year (or less) and the locals who were supposed to maintain it say it is almost impossible to find it. I think most people who don't have as much mountain experiences as you do would get totally lost or would stay with that water bottle on the broken stick forever! Local mountaineers are getting donations from EU for different projects and one of them was making and marking this trail. Since they didn't visit other areas of the world, they didn't know how to do it and how trails should be maintained. I really hope they will make a real trail one day since the area is beautiful and wild and you can hike it all year round. 


Mike sums it up…


Interestingly, in spite of our long detour our actual hiking time was only a little over 1 hour longer than the official posted time we saw on the trail signs in Brajici, so I would guess the chunk of the trail we bypassed when "lost" was extremely rough and maybe hard to follow, similar the section we did do after reconnecting.  An adventure for sure! Which I can't usually say about "hiking"!


So there you have it. As Mike says, it was indeed an adventure. It was one of only a handful of times I was faced with the prospect of spending the night out in the woods without a tent and proper overnight gear but luck was on our side. If we were forced to spend the night out, we had extra clothes and food, and the temperate Montenegro weather with little chance of rain would have made it tolerable. 


Overall, it was a stellar three-day trek. Montenegro is a great country for the outdoor adventurer, and I dream of the day I will go back. If you have been there or eventually do make it over, please share tales of your adventures in the comments section of this post.