A year ago, as I was embarking on an Irish dream adventure (eachtra aisling Éireannach) I was already beginning to make plans for my next adventure, which was to include Alpine trekking and other activities. Now that I’ve returned from my amazing trip it’s time to share my experiences here in my blog.
It started out rather simply: another member of a hiking club to which I belong proposed a 9-day inn-to-inn trek in the Italian Dolomites as an Away Trip. This quickly expanded with the addition of a second trek, 6 days in Slovenia’s Julian Alps, immediately following. Eventually I also added other sightseeing adventures both before and after the treks, and before I knew it my trip had become an entire month!
I want to describe some of the preparation, since that aspect essentially shaped the entire 2015 spring/summer hiking season. For the treks we would be carrying backpacks with items needed for 4-6 days: rain and cold weather gear, safety items, change of clothes, sleep sheet, towel, personal items, regular hiking gear (for me this meant poles, GPS, and camera), snacks, and water for the day. This load was somewhere between a typical day trip and a backpack trip. We were expecting steep terrain, lots of ascents and descents, and of course there would be no rest days. Last fall I purchased a 36-liter capacity pack for the trip. The training preparation that shaped my hiking season included the following:
- Training hikes with my pack loaded with various weights
- Listing and weighing potential items to take along, and creating a packing list
- Some of the training hikes were longer than I typically hike, e.g. several 16-20+ mile hikes
- I focused on hiking at elevation, i.e., in the Lake Tahoe area
- Toward the end of my training I went walking/hiking with a loaded pack up to 4 consecutive days at a time and repeated weekly
The idea was to train for strength/endurance, elevation, carrying weight, and hiking on consecutive days. I certainly increased my overall weekly hiking/walking mileage. And I lost weight, though I really wasn’t trying to. In fact, I lost about 8 pounds total. The morning before I left I weighed in at 97.2 pounds, wondering if I was going to need to add some kind of padding around my hips so that I could actually buckle my pack securely and not have it moving around loosely on my back! Because of the weight loss I gave myself permission to eat as much as I pleased during the entire trip, and I was happy to return home having gained back 2 of the pounds I lost while training.
Training with pack weight was a learning experience. When I started, I had only a notion that I wanted my eventual pack weight to be under 15% of my body weight, even including water. I didn’t know yet whether that would be reasonable, from a packing point of view, or feasible, from a training point of view. So I started training with about 10 pounds of what I called gratuitous weight: whatever was convenient, like a heavy fleece jacket and extra bottles of water, not what I would actually carry with me on the trek. I kept adding more items to the training pack, until one day I embarked on a hike in the Sierras with an 18-pound load. That day’s hike was much more difficult than the mileage (11 miles) and elevation gain (moderate) warranted. And of course, for every pound I lost, I mentally subtracted a couple of ounces from my maximum allowable pack weight. Eventually I settled on a goal of 12 pounds base pack weight, i.e., not counting water (but including empty bottles).
Preparing for actual packing was also a project. I had designated a staging area at home, where I organized piles of items in several categories. I weighed just about every individual item I might want to take, generally including multiple alternatives, using a very accurate kitchen scale. All of the data was entered into an Excel spreadsheet that would later include my official packing list. In fact, my first trial packing was done in the Excel spreadsheet! It came out to be 14 pounds base weight. But because I already had alternatives in the spreadsheet it was far easier than I thought it would be to repack, omitting items here and there and substituting lighter alternatives. For example, I had purchased new rain gear but substituted my old gear plus a lightweight poncho, saving some 5 ounces in the process. After just one pass in the spreadsheet I got to 12 pounds. Then I packed the pack according to the list, and it did weigh exactly 12 pounds. When packing with strict weight in mind, you need to be thoughtful about what is needed – and equally ruthless about not adding anything superfluous!
A final comment about packing: I was packing for two treks, one with a refresh package midway, as well as other non-hiking activities that would require different clothing and gear/supplies. I didn’t know how convenient or inconvenient it would be to do laundry before/after the treks. And I would be rearranging my luggage several times during the journey. So it turned out to be quite helpful to have explicit lists that I could print out and take with me, both for the actual treks and for the allocation in my luggage (i.e., which items would be packed in each piece of luggage) for the outbound trip. I was able to sort this out when I had time and felt calm, and then consult the list when I got into the excitement of the trip and the need to repack efficiently. (Imagine 3 women in a hotel room intended for 2 people, with all of us rearranging our luggage simultaneously – I wish I had a time-lapse video of that careful dance!)
By adding sightseeing destinations both before and after the treks I ended up with scheduling jigsaw puzzles at both the beginning and the end of the trip. Since trek dates were fixed, I needed to get the dates and durations correct for the other sightseeing. I decided to spend a couple of days first in Cinque Terre, Italy, then make my way to Cortina d’Ampezzo for the Dolomites trek. After the Julian Alps trek I would be transported to Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia. I wanted to visit Plitvice National Park in Croatia, and I decided to continue south through Croatia via Split to Dubrovnik, which would be my departure city for the homeward trip. Sorting out train and bus schedules and hotels was a significant project but was greatly aided by the amount of information available on-line. In every case I found suitable accommodations convenient to the train or bus station I would be using as I traveled between cities.
A geographic overview of my trip is best illustrated by a map. The red “pin” denotes Ljubljana, which I selected as kind of a geographically central location to set up the map view. I’ve added yellow stars at the following key locations, from west to east:
- Cinque Terre, Italy
- Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy (home base for the Dolomites trek)
- Bohinj, Slovenia (home base for the Julian Alps trek)
- Zagreb, Croatia
- Plitvice National Park, Croatia
Here are a few highlights:
- The Dolomites are just as beautiful and rugged as the pictures I’d seen beforehand
- My training paid off – I was well-prepared for the distances and terrain
- It was hot in Cinque Terre, easily in the low to mid 90’s, and that made an interesting contrast with packing the recommended lightweight down jacket in the pack for the trek
- Although there wasn’t continuously sunny weather in the mountains, there were only two really wet days: one each in the Dolomites and in the Julian Alps, plus another in Dubrovik. On several other days there was rain after we were safely indoors at our overnight accommodations and before we started out again in the morning
- Although we were assured that it doesn’t snow in September along the Dolomites trek route, there was overnight snowfall at our highest rifugio location
- Particularly at the Italian rifugios the food was excellent
- I celebrated a birthday, complete with a surprise cake topped by a blazing Roman candle!
- Everywhere I visited I found something – usually several things – interesting and beautiful
- I met or interacted with many friendly and helpful people
As usual, I carried a GPS to track my walking/hiking route, distance, and elevation, as well as a camera. I had plenty of memory for my camera and rotated among several batteries, so I could always have a fresh battery available even if I couldn’t charge up every night. I took more than 4700 pictures and, as I write this overview, I actually haven’t reviewed most of them yet! I also haven’t added up all of the mileages and elevation gains/losses, though a typical day seemed to be around 8 miles with 2000 feet of climbing. I’ll keep track as I write up posts.
I thought I’d include an index of the posts associated with my trip; I’ll fill in url links later.
- Aug 28 Cinque Terre, day 1 <url goes here>
- Aug 29 Cinque Terre, day 2 <url goes here>
- Aug 30 Cinque Terre to Firenze <url goes here>
- Aug 31 Firenze to Cortina <url goes here>
- Sep 1 Cortina <url goes here>
- Sep 2 Dolomites, day 1 <url goes here>
- Sep 3 Dolomites, day 2 <url goes here>
- Sep 4 Dolomites, day 3 <url goes here>
- Sep 5 Dolomites, day 4 <url goes here>
- Sep 6 Dolomites, day 5 <url goes here>
- Sep 7 Dolomites, day 6 <url goes here>
- Sep 8 Dolomites, day 7 <url goes here>
- Sep 9 Dolomites, day 8 <url goes here>
- Sep 10 Dolomites, day 9 <url goes here>
- Sep 11 Cortina to Ljubljana <url goes here>
- Sep 12 Ljubljana to Bohinj <url goes here>
- Sep 13 Julian Alps, day 1 <url goes here>
- Sep 14 Julian Alps, day 2 <url goes here>
- Sep 15 Julian Alps, day 3 <url goes here>
- Sep 16 Julian Alps, day 4 <url goes here>
- Sep 17 Julian Alps, day 5 <url goes here>
- Sep 18 Julian Alps, day 6 <url goes here>
- Sep 19 Bohinj to Zagreb <url goes here>
- Sep 20 Zagreb to Plitvice <url goes here>
- Sep 21 Plitvice to Split <url goes here>
- Sep 22 Split <url goes here>
- Sep 23 Split to Dubrovnik <url goes here>
- Sep 24 Dubrovnik <url goes here>
- Sep 25 Journey home and summary <url goes here>