Running away from the city life and Poland’s moderate summer, we headed to Bosnia for a few summer weeks. Dagna, our friend Ayesha, one-year old Golden Retriever called Cupi and I. All with individual preferences in mind, we tried to combine our abilities, wishes and the time we had. In just about 20 days we managed to squeeze in some hiking, rock climbing, swimming, sunbathing (since the dog insisted) and many enjoyable and relaxing moments.
Reminiscing about that idyllic time, there’s one place that brings back my particular reflection. Prenj mountain. I often think of the time when, as a child, I travelled with my parents from the north-east corner of Bosnia through Sarajevo towards the sea, not noticing anything else but the imposing Neretva River winding along the road. I didn’t appreciate the mountains around. To me it was just Bosnia and with my sister I impatiently waited at the back seat to see the blue Adriatic Sea and the Croatian coast, paradise on earth, where houses had facades. And why didn’t my parents draw my attention to the rocky giant above the town of Jablanica? Maybe they also didn’t see. Or just didn’t want me to know?
That summer, driving the same road, I slowed down, parked the car, got out and took pleasure in just being at the foot of Prenj. I stared at it for some time, without thoughts, feelings and expectations. I needed time and experience to grow up and fully notice and appreciate what I saw.
There’re a couple of unpaved roads leading to the mountain from all four directions of the world. The most popular approach seems to be the one by the asphalt road from the south leading to the mountain hut Ruište. We wanted to reach Prenj from the side of Konjic and the plan was to get by car as close as possible to the mountain hut Jezerce. It seemed the easiest to get there through the valley of Bijela River (south from Konjic, starting from Bjela village). All would probably have gone well if it hadn’t been a working day. The road through the valley turned out to be marked as a weapon testing area on working days (how ridiculous is that..?!). We got to the end of the car road and were told that the testing was in progress and we couldn’t pass. People we met there claimed to represent a weapon factory and were rather annoyed with our presence thus unpleasant. Once we heard mind-blowing shots and explosions, it was clear it was time to evacuate.
Frustrated with what we saw at the gate of the area which, as we later found out, should deserve a title of a National Park, we decided to get to Prenj the next day and found a safe ground by the relaxing Boračko lake. While chilling out in late afternoon sun and soaking positive energy, we figured out another approach that we should try. The road to Crno Polje (Crnopoljski klanac), off the asphalt road between the lake and Konjic, seemed to be the last chance to get closer to the northern side of the mountain by car.
We wondered how smart it was to climb about 13 km of uphill gravel road with our small and rather weak car, since the first few hundred meters were quite demanding. The rule “locals know best” worked out well here and we found an answer at the nearest kafana (coffee bar, edit: in summer 2017 this place was already shut), right at the turn from the main road. A couple of hikers from Konjic who just came back with this road convinced us to try once again. To make the story short, the gravel road appeared to be quite alright as we went further. There’re a few turns with well-marked direction of Crno Polje (another direction is Rujiste, much further spot where Prenj’s hiking paths start). It took us quite a while to get to the end of the road- a little parking place called Crno Polje where our car stayed peacefully for next five days.
Our route on Prenj
Crno Polje – Jezerce mountain hut
(about 3h with heavy bags)
Finally! The time has come to put on slightly overpacked backpacks, fix the poles, lace hiking boots and start the march. Prenj didn’t wait too long to put its cards on the table and show its roughness and beauty. The path leading to mountain hut Jezerce passed through the forest, mountain pines, karst, up and downhills – a great introduction into what was about to follow for next few days.
We made it to the mountain hut right before the storm started. The hut was just recently finished and is open for hikers all year round. Jezerce is located in the middle of enchanting nature, surrounded by mountains from all directions and, most important, it neighbors with one of the few water sources on Prenj that never dry out. The spring lies around 100 m behind the hut by a small lake. The wooden inside of the hut is quite simple, there’s a simple wood oven where a meal can be cooked. A little attic on the second floor can fit several people for a night. The basic rule is to leave the hut as you found it, which also means collecting wood if you used some.
Jezerce – Zelena Glava (2103 m) – Otiš (2097 m) – Vrutak – Jezerce (3,5 h)
Despite Zelena Glava and Otiš vicinity, the peaks can’t be seen directly from the hut so it’s hard to figure out how the path leads unless you look at the map. However, it’s one of the most popular trails in this part of Prenj so it’s hard to get lost. The shortest path leads through the slope of the Kopilica peak for about one hour till the crossroads. At some point of the climb Jezerce lake can be spotted, but the main highlights are views on Zubci and Osobac peaks.
From the crossroads it’s only 30 minutes to the peak of Zelena Glava though it’s mostly technical climbing and scrambling. Our dog Cupi was quite reluctant about this part of the way – if she had known she had to make it back the same way, surely she’d have given up. However, her wish to reach the peak was stronger and the whole team made it for lunch at the very top of the massive of Prenj, enjoying the sunbeams and soft wind.
One more rocky legend of Prenj, Otiš, juts out just opposite to Zelena Glava, maybe a 100 m away in a straight line. Not 100 m for us though, as we covered that distance in over 20 minutes. We first had to climb down to a pass between two peaks where we came from, then climb up Otiš. We couldn’t allow ourselves a worse treatment than on Zelena Glava, now it was time for a dessert.
Hiking down from Zelena Glava and Otiš, at the crossroads mentioned before, we took the path leading straight down towards the valley of Tisovica and passing by Vrutak mountain hut. We wanted to check if it was possible to sleep there as it’d have been more convenient to start climbing Lupoglav from there. Unfortunately, the hut was locked and according to the info on the map it’s possible to get the key from mountaineering association in Konjic.
The lock at the entrance meant that the return to Jezerce was inevitable. But before taking the way back, we thought we should look for water source in the proximity of Vrutak, where we could camp on the next day, before the attempting Lupoglav. First and the closest source should be found just next to Vrutak hut, but we couldn’t locate it. The next spring on the map was supposed to come out on the way to Tisovica valley. We followed that direction and just some meters below Vrutak we found the path blocked by wood logs and marked with red signs “WATCH OUT, MINES”. The situation was confusing, as it seemed impossible that the main path is completely locked off Tisovica valley, which is the most popular way to approach Vrutak hut. After quite a long while, we finally understood that there was an alternative safe trail to the upper right side from main path.
Puzzled by the whole situation, we didn’t continue long enough to make it to the spring. We returned to Jezerce in less than 1.5 hour and postponed the ascent up Lupoglav by a day. The hike from Jezerce to Lupoglav and back seemed a little too long, we aimed to camp a bit closer to the peak with a belief that there must be at least one more water source in that direction.
Jezerce – Vrutak – Tisovica (2-2,5 h)
Sunny and warm morning encouraged all members of the team to wash the parts of the body that really needed it with the cold stream water. Fresh and steady, we moved towards Vrutak hut by the shortest trail, the one which we used last afternoon. However we made it again in a similar pace, the path seemed much nicer and shorter in this direction.
We squeezed in the backpacks our tent, the gas stove and food for two days with a plan to continue towards Lupoglav the other day. However, the success of the plan still depended on a drinking water source in Tisovica valley. The spring marked on the map as Lonče was hidden at the opening of the valley on the left side, where the terrain flattens. The spring comes out of the rock and is quite clearly marked, but it’s easy to miss unless you do pay attention.
Having made sure that the water was there, we got rid of all substantial problems related to the nearest future. We had a whole afternoon off for a walk and rest in Tisovica valley and contemplated a new perspective on Zelena Glava and Otiš.
As the day got close to the end, a comfy place for the tent had to be found. From the big crossroads in Tisovica, decorated with different hiking trail markings and a wild goat scull, we set off in the direction of Lupoglav. 20 minutes of climb and we were there, at a small island of soft grass, surrounded by karts and space. We ate dinner, with no words and thoughts, spilling the last rays of the sun. we dined, with few words and thoughts, seeing off the last sun beams. Cupi instinctively lay down by our tent and seemed to be thinking “It’s time to the start, tomorrow it’s going to be a hard day”.
Tisovica – Lupoglav – Tisovica – Vrutak – Jezerce
(all the livelong day)
We woke up before the sunset, packed and left towards the slope of Kantar massive. Our cooled bodies warmed up as we moved forward. The sun gradually began to light up the peak we finally had to meet.
Taking a look at the map every now and then, we followed the trail that was at times not so obvious comparing to the ones we took on Prenj. Still, the bigger problem turned out to be the sun that started burning our necks and foreheads. We hiked for about four hours, finding little shade on the way and allowing ourselves to make just short breaks, naively expecting to feel the breeze once at the top. The view from Lupoglav was indeed a unique one but the lack of shade became really weary, especially when we started running out of water.
Slightly dazed, but with a long way back to Jezerce on our mind, we got ourselves together and picked up the pace. The constant lack of shade became so strenuous that we started squatting in the shade of small bushes to take refuge from the heat from cloudless sky even for a moment. Cupi also lay down and rested more that usually, what later turned up to be a fatal sign. We felt like we had been walking for ages when we finally got to Lonče spring, where we lavishly freshened up and took a short but decent rest under dense branches of tree.
More or less regenerated, we embarked on the last part of our way to Jezerce hut. Cupi dragged its paws, each of us walked in silence. We reached Jezerce right in time, for the sun setting down and lightening the spectacular peak of Zubci with its last sunrays.
Jezece – Osobac – Jezerce – Crno Polje
(about 6 hours)
Waking up on this clear morning, we could feel that the food supplies as well as strength came close to the end. It meant we were going back to the car, then to the civilisation. Ayesha and Cupi, exhausted by the previous day (to be exact, the latter was completely destroyed, while Ayesha was just so kind to stay and take care of her), waited in the hut, recovering for the way back, while Dagna and I went for the one last hike, to the neighbouring peak of Osobac.
What’s particular about Osobac is that the route that leads to the top is terribly badly marked. The trail is mainly used by the locals who know it by heart and don’t need any trail marks. We lost the trail many times because of unprecisely and poorly located signs. From Jezerce, we went down to Lasni do and from there we took the direction to the left. At the foothill of Osobac the complications started as we missed the turn to the left, up the bouldery slope. Back on the track, we got lost again several times on the steep grassy slope intertwined by rocky terraces, traversing from left to right and climbing the boulders. All that in order to eventually make it to the top and put a signature in a climber’s diary, next to the other brave and stubborn hikers who, just like us, didn’t give
Having given Osobac much more time and attention than we expected it deserved, we had to climb down in a rush from steep slopes to pick up the rest of the team at Jezerce and set off towards Crno Polje. Intensifying wind came to announce that the sunny weather could easily turned into a storm. On the top of that, it turned out that Cupi could not make a single step and was unable to walk to the car. Apart from leaving the dog there, the other solution was just to squeeze it into the backpack.
We walked like that quite happily in the wind and with accumulating clouds above us, until it started to rain, then hail with large egg-sized ice and finally strike thunders very near us. Soaking wet, scared and trembling with cold, we luckily made it.
Food and water
As it usually is while going to the in wilderness, you need to carry all necessary food. At the mountain hut Jezerce there’re always some supplies for the miserable ones who got stuck there in hunger and bad weather, but since that system works solely thanks to good will of local hikers, it’s nice to leave spare food that you won’t use, especially if you helped yourself with some.
We heard that Jezerce has one of most trustworthy water source. To the contrary, we could’t find other springs marked on the map (besides the spring Lonče) or we found out they dried out because of too little rain.
The map of Prenj
We were using a touristic/hiking map of Prenj by Zehrudin Isaković and as far as I am concerned, that’s the only one officially published map of the area. It helped us in many ways in orientation on the mountain, moreover it has some other useful info (also in English) on the roads leading to Prenj, mountain huts, weather conditions, fauna and flora etc. The map can be purchased in the office of Mountaineering association of FBiH/BiH in Sarajevo (see website). If Sarajevo is not on your way, it’s good to contact the author directly and ask about possibility of getting it somewhere else or (maybe) shipping.
One of a few disturbing factors while on Prenj. While hiking you will often find the signs “PAZI MINE” (watch out, mines), and if you hadn’t taken the trail a thousand of times, it’s hard to be sure about your own safety. Local hikers whom we talked to said they couldn’t care less and just laughed. On the other hand, Prenj is not completely demined and there is always a minimal chance that an inactive mine can be found near the path. Therefore, we advise to be careful and stick to marked or at least well trodden paths.