Marko Posavec Photography

Dinara – The Queen of Croatian Mountains

Note: The total size of images in this post is over 28 MB. If you’re on a slow connection, you might want to reconsider.

Dinara is the highest mountain in Croatia. Its highest peak, Sinjal or eponymous Dinara, stands at 1.831 meters above sea level. This is not the highest peak of the entire massif, though, but that one is in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina (called Troglav). Ever heard of the Dinaric Alps, or Dinarides? It’s the longest mountain chain in the Balkans, stretching from Slovenia all the way down to Albania, and this is where it got its name.

It’s common for mountainous borders to be drawn along the highest ridge. This is not the case with Dinara, though; all major peaks other than Sinjal are on the Bosnian side. The mountain itself is about 20 kilometers long and up to 10 kilometers wide, stretching in the NW – SE direction. Dinara is imposing and beautiful, but I’ll stop here – Aleksandar Gospić wrote an excellent article about it over at SummitPost, go ahead and read it.

I took this trip about 16 months after my previous visit to Dinara. I didn’t make it to the top last time, though, as it was raining cats and dogs. Those who did venture up to the summit found themselves in strong wind and heavy snow – on the first day of June. A. and I quit about halfway to the summit, figuring that the mountain will be there another time in better conditions.

A whole bus of climbers, members of Bilo Hiking Society, left Koprivnica Friday evening. Arriving in the city of Knin before dawn, we split into two groups. I joined the one that took a longer route from Badanj peak, while the others started their ascent in Glavaš. We took a van to cut the walking time by 3 hours.

The story starts at the foot of Badanj. It’s 7 AM, cloudy with light rain drizzle and moderate bora wind. (You might want to find out more about the bora as it’s a rather fascinating weather phenomenon). We leave the van and pack up.

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The temperature itself isn’t that low, but bora feels really cold. Badanj looms in the background, that’s our first target.

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The beginning of a short climb to Badanj. It’s a shame I didn’t get to photograph its north face which looks like a layered cake or something.

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View towards the distant coastline. The weather there is different – when the bora rages, mountain chains such as Dinara and Velebit are covered with clouds (the bora wind cap). There are two kinds of bora, depending on the conditions of its formation – light bora with clear skies and dark bora with clouds and rain or snow.

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At that time, we were on the very edge of the bora wind cap. Further away towards the Adriatic Sea, the skies were mostly clear.

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The rest of the ridge is shrouded in clouds. That’s where we’re headed and we don’t mind, as long as it doesn’t rain too hard. But there’s no way back now, the bus is on the other side of the mountain.

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Somewhere in these clouds lies Sinjal, the highest peak. Below them, the second group is starting their ascent from Glavaš. Lake Peruča, the second largest artificial lake in Croatia, can be seen down below. The mountain across it is Svilaja, our target the next day.

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The green pasture from which we started our ascent.

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The clouds are getting closer and it looks like it’s going to rain.

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And so we arrive on Badanj (1.281 meters a.s.l.) as it’s starting to rain.

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The rain didn’t last long, fortunately. We left Badanj and walked through the grassy meadows to this nicely colored forest.

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This is where the mountain hut Brezovac is built. Rebuilt, that is, as it was destroyed during the Croatian War for Independence.

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Moss-covered rocks nicely decorate the forest. By this time the rain had almost completely ceased.

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This place is probably even more beautiful when the autumn colors kick in.

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Autumn is on its way, though. Beech leaves in the water.

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The bora was relatively calm during this first part of the walk, as we were in a valley and sheltered by forest. However, once we climbed through that forest and reached the highland meadows, it quickly started building up strength.

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The landscape here is vast and desolate with wide open grassy meadows, scattered trees and rocks.

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Here’s a rock that resembles a turtle.

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Markings aren’t even necessary here as the path is clear for as long as you can see.

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Another animal-resembling rock, this time a ram.

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More interesting rocks. You can see a trail mark all the way down in the lower right corner.

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We continue our hike as the bora is getting ever stronger. We’re now in the wind zone, our guide says.

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It’s pretty. The trail takes us onwards.

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Now the bora is getting its game on.

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Layered limestone of Dinara is really interesting, but we’re getting higher and closer to the wind cap. Not long from now, the clouds will severely reduce visibility.

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Looking back from a rock by the trail.

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A window into the distance. This whiteness is not snow, but distant sunlight reflecting off bright karst rocks.

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Just below the cloud layer.

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Impressive cliffs surround the trail as we’re slowly approaching the summit ridge.

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Taking another look back. It’s now past 10 AM, we’ve been walking for more than three hours. There are still two hours to go.

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The trail itself is easy to walk and requires no rock-climbing skills.

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One more look at the landscape before we’re enveloped by the bora cap.

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Trail marks are clear and appear to be freshly painted.

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From now on, the view is gone. We’re entering the clouds of the bora wind cap, and the wind itself gets stronger with every step.

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The markings stand out even in low visibility conditions.

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I could imagine a science fiction film set here.

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It’s a thin line between life and death. We’re now an hour away from the summit.

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The winds and storms that rage up here are hardly imaginable. Still, these trees have found a place where they can grow.

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This is it – the summit ridge, less than 15 minutes away from the highest peak of Croatia. Wind gusts here were so powerful that we had to get on all fours from time to time and resume walking when the blow was through.

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And finally – Sinjal (or Dinara), 1.831 meters above sea level. It’s around noon. Our first visit here.

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But it won’t be the last visit, hopefully. I want to stand here and enjoy the view in good weather someday.

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The bora up there was really something so we didn’t stay long. We met the other group just below the summit and then quickly descended to escape the clouds.

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The view is opening up again. We’re on the other side of the mountain now so we can see Lake Peruča and Svilaja more clearly. Those two peaks to the right are our target for the following day.

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In some places, the incredible geology of Dinara makes it appear as if the mountain is built out of small limestone bricks.

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As we’re moving away from the highest ridges, we’re stepping into sunlight. The bora is still strong, but it’s much easier to bear now.

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Strangely decorated acorns of Austrian oak (Quercus cerris) with their hairy cups.

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After walking for more than three hours from Sinjal we’re almost at the foot of the mountain. The small village of Glavaš is down below, while the imposing next section of Dinara massif stands out on the left. We’ll have a much better view of it tomorrow from across the Lake Peruča.

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Cloud shadows and warm Sun escort us on the final leg of our Dinara hike. Five hours up and almost four hours down, a nice long walk.

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Sunday – Svilaja

We spent the night in a lovely mountain hut Orlove stine (The Eagle Rocks) on Svilaja mountain. Svilaja is a mountain range about 300 meters lower than Dinara, running parallel to it on the other side of Cetina River valley and Lake Peruča. We’re starting the ascent after 8 AM – there’s no rush as A. and I have visited Svilaja last year and we won’t mind if we don’t get to the top. The others took off earlier, but as it will turn out, we’ll make it to the summit before them. The first part of the trail follows the gravel road.

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A remarkable view of Dinara on the other side of the valley. The bora is weakening, but the clouds are still there.

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The shaggy ink cap mushrooms (Coprinus comatus).

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A morning scene from Svilaja. The mountain used to have much more abundant vegetation, but major parts of it burned down in a series of forest fires.

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Our young companion Tamara found a four-leaf clover. We left it there to bring good luck to other hikers.

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Compared to yesterday, the weather is perfect. The bora is still blowing, but not very strong and much easier to tolerate in the sun.

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A ladybird. Obviously.

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It’s an easy walk to the top of Svilaja, about two hours from Orlove stine. Here we are, 1.508 meters above sea level.

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Her majesty, Dinara, about 30 kilometers north. The bora has further weakened and the cloud cap is dissipating. That’s where we stood yesterday.

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The truly impressive southwestern massif of Dinara.

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The tallest Croatian part of it, with Sinjal, lies to the left.

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Tamara is happy and doesn’t mind the cold bora.

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Soon the other hikers start to arrive. The view is amazing, cameras are clicking away.

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The flag of Bilo Hiking Society is proudly raised.

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Descending over the gentle grassy slopes.

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Hikers are nothing but small colored dots here.

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A flower.

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Beautifully clear blue skies. This is also one of the effects of the bora. Once it stops blowing, visibility can get perfect and it is not uncommon to even spot Italy from Croatian coastal mountains at sunset – about 300 kilometers away, across the Adriatic Sea (an example).

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Then a ferocious beast crawled up from the cracks in the rocks…

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… carrying a dismembered spider in its jaws! And while we’re talking about reptiles, I’m still waiting for my first encounter with the infamous horned viper. I’ve done quite a bit of walking in its territory – the karst – but still no luck. Or plenty of luck, for that matter.

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Goodbye Svilaja. Leaving the ridge and coming down, back to the gravel road.

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By this time the bora is almost gone. Clouds have dispersed over Dinara, revealing Troglav (Threehead), the highest peak of the massif (1.913 m, but on the Bosnian side). It’s to the left, below a small gray cloud.

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One for the historical records in front of the Orlove stine mountain hut.

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We’re in the bus, heading back towards Knin. Drive along Lake Peruča with Dinara in the background is… well, see for yourself.

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This is the Sinjal massif that we climbed yesterday.

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I really, really want to come back here and spend a few days shooting around.

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We stopped in Knin to visit the Topoljski buk waterfall, where the River Krčić rushes down a 40-meter cliff and falls straight into a small lake that is the source of the River Krka.

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And as if the waterfall itself wasn’t enough, sunlight presented it with a rainbow ornament.

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A secondary bow was also visible.

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The waterfall is usually smaller than this, but it’s been a wet year so water is abundant.

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And that’s it. It’s been a truly remarkable weekend, spent in the best possible way in one of the many fascinating places in Croatia. I am definitely looking forward to going there again – probably not next year, but eventually… So many places to discover, so little time.