PRE-S: Hey regular readers – I’m back! I know it’s been a while, but writing on the trail from my phone didn’t work very well for me. I’m now processing and writing up some of my story of the hike and holiday on the Via Dinarica. Come along for the ride if you’d like!
The first thing you have to do when you plan a section hike is decide which section to hike. I, like many backpackers before me, chose to section hike because I wanted to taste the magic of thru-hiking without giving months of my life to the trail. However, although section hiking solves some challenges (like, you don’t need to leave your everyday life for months on end to do it) it also introduces new ones (like, how will I get to and from the trail?)
As I started to research how I could maximise my time on the Via Dinarica, three categories of variables began to influence my choice of which section to hike: purpose, practicalities, and precautions.
For me, purpose was the first and most important consideration in choosing which section to hike. It seems fairly pointless to choose a trail, or a section of a trail, on the basis of its convenience or safety, if it doesn’t serve the purpose of the hiker – whether that is exploration, training, challenge, healing, rest or fun.
I was hiking for pleasure. I also knew I needed time and space to process and heal, and that I wanted a challenge and an adventure, so I knew what I was looking for in a trail:
- spectacular beauty (and views!)
- time alone
- minimal road hiking
The Via Dinarica website has descriptions of each of the sections of the trail, accompanied by pictures. Between these descriptions, the comments previous hikers have left, a Via Dinarica Facebook group and the blogs of previous thru-hikers (especially Reiske and EVADinarica) I was able to get a pretty good idea of which sections might meet these criteria.
I am generally of the belief that I can find a way to make the logistics of an experience work if I believe the experience is worth it. Nonetheless, if you’re an inexperienced hiker, hiking alone, in to a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language, arriving by plane, without access to a car, on a newly established trail, about which there is limited information available, then choosing which section of a trail to hike requires some consideration of practicalities like the following:
- accessibility of the area – Is this section of the trail anywhere near a plane or train station, and how much do tickets there cost?
- accessibility of the trail itself – Can I get from the airport or trail station to the trail? How?
- pre-supply – Will there be anywhere to buy the things I need before I start that I can’t bring from home (like camping gas) or buy at home (like relevant maps)?
- re-supply – Will I need to resupply along the way? Will I be able to?
- accommodation – Where will I sleep? Is that kind of accommodation available on this section at this time of year?
- transport out of the mountains – How will I get from the trail to transport when I’m done?
- flexibility – If I’m quicker or slower than I estimate will this section allow me to change my plans, and if not, can I handle that?
- affordability – How much will getting to, then hiking, this section cost me, and can I afford that?
- visas, currency, language… – Are the logistical arrangements I will need to make for this section of the trail possible and warranted for the amount of time I’m going to spend hiking?
Practicalities were definitely a deciding factor of where I ended up hiking – I knew I needed to start and finish somewhere within reach of an airport with affordable flights in a town with bus connections.
Nonetheless, I wasn’t able to answer all of these questions before I chose which section to hike, or even before I left. There just isn’t enough information available online yet about the Via Dinarica. Personally I found this more exhilarating than overwhelming. I figured out enough to make a rough plan for how to get to the mountains, allowed some buffer in my itinerary, and as for the rest – well, it’s all part of the adventure!
It’s inherent in the nature of adventure that you cannot guarantee your safety. This, frankly, is no excuse for stupidity.
The decision of which section to hike should always take into account whether or not the hiker is willing and able to take the precautions that section demands at that time of year.
For me that meant checking whether my (in)experience and gear could meet the demands of the sections I was looking at with regards to:
- weather (and altitude)
- how technical the mountains are
- distance between water sources
- wild animals (bears and snakes in particular!)
- availability of maps and information
- my safety as a solo female hiker
- “bail” points and rest day options
To be completely honest, I had to figure out some of this as I went along, making decisions accordingly. However, I was able to ensure before I left that what I was planning was neither wildly unrealistic relative to my abilities, nor naively reckless relative to the current conditions.
Which Section To Hike? My Choices
Having taken purpose, practicalities and precautions into account, I chose two sections to hike on the basis that they were beautiful, interesting, and seemed like they would be accessible at about the right points for the time we had.
For my solo hike, I decided to fly into Zadar, bus to Senj, bus to Oltari, and then walk from Oltari to Sveto brdo, doing stages 11 to 18 of the Via Dinarica, where they overlap with the VPP (Velebitski Planinarski Put or Velebit Hiking Trail) and the Premužić Trail. I had 11 days to work with between my two travel days, so I planned for about 8 days of not-too-ambitious hiking through Northern Velebit National Park and Paklenica National Park, 1 day of travel to the mountains, 1 rest day and 1 buffer day.
For my joint hike with Aaron, I planned for us to hike from Masna Luka to Pazarić, covering sections 30-33 of the Via Dinarica, then diverting towards Sarajevo. We met in Dubrovnik. I allowed us 2 travel days to get to Masna Luka, 7.5 days of hiking, 1 rest day and 1.5 days to get from Pazarić back to Dubrovnik.
Before I had even left UK soil, I had already changed my plans. I moved my “buffer day” to the beginning of my solo itinerary and booked an extra night in Zadar, giving me a day to buy camping stove gas, a Croatian SIM card, food and other supplies, and to finish everything I hadn’t managed to finish before I left.
That’s OK. After all, my goal was not to write down an arbitrary plan on paper and then stick to it religiously. My goal was to choose which section to hike wisely, and then get out into the mountains and handle what happened next.
Photo Creds: Mine, from the trail, on a not very fancy camera. It’s just THAT beautiful.