After being stricken with altitude sickness and spectacularly failing to climb Mount Fuji in Japan, I was a woman defeated. Despite knowing that turning back was the right thing to do, I couldn’t shake the feeling of failure. So it became my personal mission – almost a grudge, even – to finally find and summit the perfect mountain. When I arrived in Žabljak, Montenegro, the gateway to Durmitor National Park, I at first had no idea I’d be summiting my first mountain the following day. I had simply been told by a fellow traveler in Kosovo that the landscape in Durmitor was unreal, and that Hikers Den was a great hostel to stay at. After meeting some fellow travelers at the hostel who wanted to hike Bobotov Kuk, the highest peak in Durmitor National Park, I was a woman with a mission: I was gonna make this mountain my bitch.
The Low-Down on Bobotov Kuk
Bobotov Kuk is actually a fairly good mountain for beginners to climb. With an elevation of 8,278 feet (2,525 meters), it’s high enough to give you an amazing view and sense of accomplishment, yet low enough that altitude sickness is not a huge threat. Altitude sickness typically begins to afflict climbers after 8,000 feet (2,438 meters). At less than 300 feet over this threshold, Bobotov Kuk does not present a particular danger for altitude sickness. That is not to say you won’t feel the effects of limited oxygen at altitude, just that it is less likely to present significant health risks.
Another thing that makes Bobotov Kuk a good mountain for beginning climbers is that you start off at a relatively high altitude to begin with. Žabljak is the highest town in the entire Balkans, at 4,777 feet (1,456 meters). That means you gain a total of 3,501 feet of altitude (1,069 meters) over the course of the hike. For someone in moderate physical condition, this should not place any particular strain on your body’s limits – though that’s not to say it won’t be tough.
Getting to Bobotov Kuk Without a Car
This is all assuming you’re already in Žabljak. If you’re not in Žabljak, you’ll need to get there first. Take a direct bus from Kotor or Podgorica, each of which will take approximately 3 hours. If you’re coming from another smaller town in Montenegro, or from over the border in Serbia, Bosnia, or Kosovo, you will want to find a bus that stops at Nikšić and arrange onward transit to Žabljak from there.
To get to Bobotov Kuk from central Žabljak, the best way is to hire a taxi to take you to and from the trailhead at Sedlo. Alex from Hikers Den was able to arrange a roundtrip transfer for our group, which cost 4 euros per person. It is also possible to start in Sedlo by taxi and finish the hike by walking to all the way back to Žabljak, passing by the beautiful Crno Jezero (Black Lake).
Theoretically, it is also possible to start from Žabljak and hike all the way to Bobotov Kuk and return the same way, though I imagine this would take all day. If you stay at Hikers Den, Alex will map out all these possible routes for you and offer advice on the best way to go. If you stay elsewhere, you can ask your host or seek out information at the Durmitor National Park Visitor Center.
Safety and Difficulty of Bobotov Kuk
While Bobotov Kuk is not that high, it is technically demanding, though certainly not impossible for novice hikers with decent stamina, myself included. You should not attempt it in poor weather unless you are an experienced hiker. The main risk in climbing Bobotov Kuk is rolling an ankle. The ascent is quite rocky. In fact, one portion of the hike is just a straight uphill scrabble up a wall of loose rocks and boulders – not my idea of fun, but the subsequent views were so worth it. Hiking boots here would have been perfect, but unfortunately I didn’t have any with me and brought along my crappy trail running shoes instead. It worked, but my ankles paid for it the next day.
The last stretch of the ascent involves balancing on precarious rocky ledges using ropes to maintain your balance. While this may sound stressful, take it slow and steady and you’ll be fine. Also, early on, there can be muddy portions if there’s been recent rain – a definite possibility, especially in September when I was making the climb. Walk slowly and purposefully so as not to slip in any puddles, as I most clearly did. Evidence above.
For incredibly fit people, the trek from Sedlo to the peak and back to Sedlo should take 5-6 hours. My group took about 6.5 or 7 hours, though to be honest, that was mostly me — my cardio health is so whack. If you plan to hike from Sedlo to Bobotov Kuk and hike/walk back to Žabljak, I’d give yourself a healthy cushion of about 8 hours.
Try to find a hiking buddy by staying at a hostel or guesthouse with many other people around if you are traveling solo. It’s possible to hike solo, but I felt much more comfortable knowing I had people who knew I was out there and checking in on me periodically.
What to Bring for Hiking Bobotov Kuk
You don’t need any technical equipment for Bobotov Kuk. I highly recommend hiking boots — I did not wear hiking boots, just trail shoes, and my ankles were definitely worse for wear for it. Alex at Hiker’s Den has some hiking boots you can borrow if you’re lucky enough to have your size there, but I recently invested in some Ahnus and OMG, it’s the start of something beautiful.
Here’s some products I recommend for hikes like this, of moderate difficulty level:
As an anxious traveler, I always pack a mini “just-in-case” section of my daypack for hikes including Pedialyte (I know it’s like, for babies with diarrhea – sry – but it restores electrolytes and cures hangovers all in one, amazing), a Lifestraw or Steripen (more expensive but more useful – I love mine!), a headlamp with fresh batteries, and a safety whistle. You can get all that for under $50 and it may save your life one day. Oh, and lots and lots of nuts and snacks like bread and cold cuts.
Make sure you dress warm! It’ll be cool when you start, though it can get a bit hot from time to time, especially as you work up your heart rate and start sweating. Wear breathable clothing and layer for maximum comfort. I kept taking on and off my layers like a crazy person. Just make sure you’re prepared for how cool it can be at the summit of Bobotov Kuk! Once you’re at the top, you can enjoy a view of three different countries, all from one vantage point: Montenegro, Serbia, and Bosnia. Where else can you do that?
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