Climbing Sljeme

Zagreb Travel Blog

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Sljeme in the distance behind Zagreb. It doesn't look that high...
What's a Sljeme? It's the high peak of Medvednica Mountain overlooking Zagreb from the north. This is another well taken care of national park, popular with the locals on weekends. The heavily wooded mountain is topped by a huge communication tower, a couple "mountain houses" serving hearty food, and a small ski park.

There used to be a cable car system that ran most of the way to the top, but sadly it closed for replacement a couple months ago. The brightly colored 60's vintage cars have a Disneyland look to them. Being from California, a 3500 foot mountain seemed more like a hill, so I decided to climb it on foot.

Like everything in Croatia, the infrastructure is well maintained, but there are no kinds of signs or maps posted. You ride a downtown tram to the last station at the edge of the city, and it drops you in a grassy field.
"a little pedestrian tunnel..."
I was the only rider on a Monday morning so had to figure out the route on my own. Zvonka had said "walk about 10 minutes north and you'll see a pedestrian tunnel that leads to the park" After some trial and error I found the "pedestrian tunnel" which turned out to be an enormous, dimly lit structure curving into the darkness. It reminded me of the entrance to NORAD headquarters.

Emerging from the tunnel, there were a series of unmarked paths leading into the dense forest. I picked the one with the most marked trees and headed into the dim light of the forest floor. After about 2 hours of steady climbing I could see the communication tower at the peak, still far in the distance and high above. In the closed canopy forest you have no sense of location or direction, you just see trees in every direction (you can tell I'm from southern California where we don't have trees.
The tunnel, dimly lit, water dripping from the ceiling forming mini stalactites...
..)  Another hour of climbing, without seeing another soul, I reached a peak, but it wasn't Sljeme.  I could still see the tower in the distance.  Luckily I found a spring with water bubbling up out of the hillside (I'd only brought water for a 2-hour climb) and later what translated as a "refuge hut", I guess for hikers trapped on the mountain during winter storms. After more exploring and a total of 5 hours of climbing, still no Sljeme.

I finally ran into an old man creeping down the path on a bent stick cane, and after some questioning in bad Croatian "Gdje je Sljeme??" , he laughed and pointed his cane "ovdje Sljeme!" - here is Sljeme! Sure enough, he led me around the next corner and there was the cleared grass of a ski slope.
The old gondola cars, now closed : (
He pointed at a clump of grass and said "follow grass up". A short hike up the ski run, and there was the tower, looming over views of the city to the south and countryside to the north.

There were about 5 other people on the peak and I ate with them at one of the mountain houses. The Croatians I had met on the trip had all questioned me about whether I had tried ćevapčići- sort of a spiced kabob pieces adopted as a popular dish in the north during occupation by the Turks and the Ottoman empire. Served with fried potatoes and ajvar (sweet red pepper paste) it was really good, especially in the cold mountain air after a hurried 10km climb.

It was getting late, time to get back off the mountain and back for my early flight the next morning. The restaurant owner indicated that the last bus was leaving soon "down there" so I hurried off.
Path through the dark forest


As usual, after much searching, on some blind curve part way down the hill was a tiny sign that said Autobus. No idea when or if it would come, I waited. After about an hour, a car pulled up, the driver got out and stood at the bus stop with me.  After another 20 minutes two Austrians came along and joined us. Finally the guy from the car said something to the Austrians and they laughed. The old Austrian guy said to me "Autobus ist kaput!" the bus is broken. "This is the bus driver, he came up in his own car to rescue anyone stuck on the mountain.

He gave us a ride back the 10 kilometers to the tram station and refused any payment. This is what I found throughout Croatia - Things don't work really well, but people help each other out and they work around it.
Still climbing...


Back at the tram, we made it about a mile and (not surprisingly) there was a truck stuck on the tracks "all trams are stopped".  Everyone patiently got off and walked as a group 5 kilometers back to the bus station, younger people helping the older ones carry packages and groceries...  I got back home from my "morning hike" in the dark as everyone was finishing dinner.
sybil says:
what lovely and helpful people you have met!
Posted on: Oct 14, 2007
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Sljeme in the distance behind Zagr…
Sljeme in the distance behind Zag…
a little pedestrian tunnel...
"a little pedestrian tunnel..."
The tunnel, dimly lit, water dripp…
The tunnel, dimly lit, water drip…
The old gondola cars, now closed :…
The old gondola cars, now closed …
Path through the dark forest
Path through the dark forest
Still climbing...
Still climbing...
View back to the Zagreb Highlands
View back to the Zagreb Highlands
Forested slope on the trail ahead
Forested slope on the trail ahead
The peak finally appears through a…
The peak finally appears through …
Thinking Ill never emerge from th…
Thinking I'll never emerge from t…
Mountain flowers
Mountain flowers
A huge beetle on the path, looks l…
A huge beetle on the path, looks …
AFTER picking it up I noticed the …
AFTER picking it up I noticed the…
Spring spurting from a limestone f…
Spring spurting from a limestone …
Communications tower at the summit
Communications tower at the summit
Ski lift in summer
Ski lift in summer
...the other side of the mountain
...the other side of the mountain
A lunch of ćevapčići in the mou…
A lunch of ćevapčići in the mo…
Back home, mom has made a goodbye …
Back home, mom has made a goodbye…
Zagreb
photo by: EmEm