When we showed up in Montenegro, a country that literally translates as “Black Mountain”, we were determined to spend some time exploring the peaks and crags around the place. Hanging out by the sea in Kotor was awesome, but the mountains of Durmitor National Park were calling…
Alesha and I packed up our things and headed north, aiming for the spectacular Durmitor National Park. Home to the largest mountain in the country, the biggest canyon and Europe and a bunch of epic rafting, we knew there was going to be lots of opportunities for some adventure.
The local bus twisted and wound its way through sensational scenery, dissecting the country from sea to summits. A few hours later we arrived in Zabljak and headed straight to our guesthouse, Underwoods.
The owner’s son came and sat down with us to run over a bit of information about Durmitor National Park. He and his sister spoke decent English, while the parents only knew the odd word. Still we felt 100% at home.
After getting the details of various treks and activities in the area we were itching to get into nature. The weather was perfect and we didn’t need any more motivation to drop our backpacks off and make a beeline for the national park.
It was getting on in the afternoon, and we decided to take a bit of a hike to visit some of the beautiful lakes that Durmitor National Park is known for.
After we paid our entrance fee (3 Euro for one day or 6 Euro for 3 days, the option we went for) we trekked towards the jewel of the park, the Black Lake. This impeccable body of water is backed by gorgeous peaks and lush pine forest. Without exaggerating, it was honestly one of the most sensational sights we saw in all of the Balkans.
While the day was still going we took a short hike towards some other smaller lakes. The walk through the pine forest was serene. There’s nothing quite like being in the middle of nature to soothe the soul.
The other two lakes were worth the hike, but didn’t have the “wow” factor that the Black Lake boasted. Once we had snapped our photos we headed back to enjoy sunset before retiring for the night.
Failed Attempts In Durmitor National Park
We woke up the next day with huge plans to climb Bobotov Kuk, the tallest mountain in Montenegro. At 2522m tall, it’s sizeable without being unattainable for most people with a decent amount of fitness.
Unfortunately the weather was below freezing and thick clouds had set in over the town.
Alesha and I kept high hopes and decided to push on despite the weather. We stocked up on supplies at the local bakery and supermarket and headed into the park well before it opened.
As we neared the Black Lake we looked up and it actually started snowing. This was in August, a time of year when the weather should be perfect. Layering up as best we could, we kept moving towards the trailhead.
Soon we started to gain altitude, but we didn’t make it very far before the heavens opened up and we were caught in a torrential downpour. We huddled under a tree hoping that it would pass. The path quickly turned into a creek and we were shivering in the cold, drenched to the bone.
Visibility was limited to only a few metres past the trees, and we realised that it would not only be uncomfortable but also foolish to venture deeper into the mountains without proper equipment.
Somewhat deflated, we decided to head back to the guesthouse and get some work done. Bobotov Kuk, we’ll be back!
Discovering Durmitor’s Ice Cave
The next day we tried again, with the weather still looking pretty miserable but a lot drier this time around. We chatted to a few trekkers who said that it had snowed on top of Bobotov Kuk the day before and that the trail was pretty muddy.
Alesha and I made a quick decision to abandon our hopes of climbing Montenegro’s tallest mountain unless the weather cleared up by the time we reached the trail.
Clouds and mist still bathed the pine forest and we trudged through the mud gaining altitude. Openings in the trees only offered views of thick fog. We could only imagine the beauty that lay out in the Durmitor National Park surrounding us.
At this point we came up with the idea of heading to another intriguing attraction inside the national park: The Ice Cave.
We had no idea what the Ice Cave would be like, but we thought it would be interesting. So checking the topographical map on our phone we figured it would be a few more hours to reach the cave.
We left the pine forest and ended up navigating through some jagged boulders and peaks along flatter section of the mountains. The clouds finally started to lift and we were granted glorious views of the area.
Before tackling the steepest part of the climb to the Ice Cave we came across a shepherd’s house crammed with a bunch of hikers from Czech Republic. They had waited out the rain and snow high in the mountains and were attempting to dry their items over a fire.
We chatted, exchanged information about the trail and set off again, leaving the Czech hikers to huddle by their fire and sip on wine and vodka. A young couple asked if they could join us to the Ice Cave, as their hopes of summiting Bobotov Kuk had diminished with the weather. We were happy to have the company.
The path rose steeply from the shepherd’s cabin and we clung to the side of the mountain, gingerly stepping over loose shale. The clouds continued to lift, raising our spirits with it.
At the top of the pass we crossed a ridge and then moved into the next glacial bowl. The terrain stayed rough and we ended up boulder hopping the last section of the hike.
Eventually some paint on the rocks directed us through the final stretch and we arrived at the mysterious Ice Cave in Durmitor National Park.
The entrance to the cave was steep and slightly treacherous due to the wet mud and snow that lined the edge of the bank. Some climbing rope had been bolted to one side and we used that to lower ourselves to the bottom.
The Ice Cave, to be honest, was not as impressive as we had hoped. Stalagmites of broken ice stretched around the medium-sized cavern, covered in dirt and rising about a metre or so from the ground. Once we had snapped our photos we climbed back out.
We had made good time to the Ice Cave and followed the same trail back towards Zabljak. Luckily for us the skies began to clear and we could finally capture a glimpse of the epic views we missed out on the way up.
Precipitous mountains stretched high all around us. Shrubs and trees gripped to the edge of cliffs. The rising mist had left a illuminating glow on all the flora around us. It was incredible.
It only took a few hours to make it back to town, and after a delicious bite to eat and some beers we called it a night. The next day was going to be a big one!
Canyoning In Montenegro
No trip to Durmitor National Park would be complete without doing some white-water rafting, or if you’re feeling really adventurous, some canyoning!
After chatting to our guesthouse owner it became apparent that the river level was quite low and the rapids were tame. Still a fun day out, but nothing to get the heart pumping. So we turned our sights on canyoning.
We have been canyoning in Vietnam, as well as in El Salvador, and it’s an activity that we can never get enough of! Basically canyoning it is navigating your way through a river gorge, abseiling down cliffs and jumping off of waterfalls. Adventure? Oh yea!
There are quite a few companies to go canyoning in Montenegro with, and it can all be a bit overwhelming trying to choose one. Based on previous experience we decided to book it through Tinggly, which are known for only using reputable companies around the world. We weren’t disappointed.
We couldn’t believe the weather when we woke up – not a cloud in the sky! What a perfect day to go jumping through a icy cold river!
When our guide picked us up from the guesthouse, any fears and trepidation we had quickly dissipated. Marko, who is also the owner of the tour company Montenegro Canyoning, is not only an experienced canyoning guide, but he is a national hero!
Marko was the first Montenegrin person to summit Mount Everest. We’ll just let that sink in for a bit. We couldn’t be in safer hands!
Marko drove us from Zabljak to the beginning of the Nevido Canyon, where we would begin our adventure.
We put on wetsuits, boots, a harness and a thick plastic ass protector and started to navigate our way through the deep canyon. As soon as we put our feet in the water we were thankful for the suits – the water was freezing!
Marko expertly led us through the crevices in the gorge, helping us find a safe passage through. Despite the cold water our excitement was enormous. The serene beauty of the Nevido Canyon was overwhelming. We’ve been in a lot of canyons over the years, and this one was honestly captivating.
Eventually we reached our first cliff jump – a small boulder only 2m high – and launched without hesitation. As we moved on the rocks would get higher and the jumps would become more precarious and exact.
Having been in the Nevido Canyon more times than he could count, Marko knew every square centimetre of the place. He was always part of the first expedition into it after winter so he could track new hazards. We learnt to trust his instructions when he pointed at specific locations to jump from and to.
The adventure ended with an exciting 14m leap into a large pool. Without thinking I took the jump while Alesha filmed from below. It was great to get the adrenalin pumping again.
When we had reached the last easily-accessible part of the Nevido Canyon it was time to exit via a steep traverse back to the road. Hiking through the forest in our wetsuits was a curious way to finish our compelling day of canyoning.
Having a strong love of all things adventurous, canyoning in Montenegro was definitely a true highlight of our time in Europe. To get an idea of how amazing the day was you just need to watch the video above.
We easily could have spent another few days navigating the mountains of Durmitor National Park, especially as we didn’t get to summit Bobotov Kuk or reach Tara’s Canyon, the deepest canyon in Europe. I guess that means we’ll just have to come back!
For such a small country Montenegro really does pack a punch. From seas to summits, this is a place that really does seem to have it all. And finishing our short time in the nation by being in the heart of the mountains, surrounded by glorious lakes and magnificent valleys, was just the icing on the cake.
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