It’s 14:00h when we break out of the trees. We are down to the last stretch of the Kriskih Podih summit in Triglav National Park. The sun is at it highest point and is burning on my skin, it must be at least 30 degrees. Even the slight mountain breeze feels warm. I look around and see a few colorful spots above me, way up on the trail. It’s a narrow path over a steep rockslide and I can hear the hollow sound of rocks tumbling down above me; removed from their spot by the tired feet of eager hikers.
On the horizon I see pitchblack clouds accumulating above the capricious ridges and I can feel the low rumble of approaching thunder in my stomach. Nova is lying at my feet; she immediately went to lay down in the cool grass as soon as I stopped to take in the panoramic view over the Zadnjica valley. She is panting excessively and her face expression tells me she is exhausted and overheated.
We are down to our last water, I don’t have my rainjacket and the first watersource is at least one hour climb in either scorching heat or heavy rainfall away. And I must come to the dissapointing conclusion that we aren’t equipped for either.
Quite the predicament you’ve managed to get yourself into, I think to myself. We ascended over 1400hm to get to this point and I would hate to go back without reaching the actual summit now. However, at this point I am concerned that my earlier series of poor decisions will seriously jeopardize Nova’s wellbeing.
Hiking with a dog sometimes means putting their well being over your own ambitions. So with a heavy heart and feeling ever so stupid, I made the only good call that day; I decided to take the loss and go back down. Let me break down to you how five poor decisions cost me the summit that day.
Complacency negated years of experience and best practices that day. But sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.
Mistake 1: Travel and hike on the same day.
This hike would’ve been my last in the area, I was planning on driving north afterwards. Which meant that I had to break up my camp in the morning and that always takes way more time than I anticipate somehow. All my gear was absolutely soaked that morning and because the sun was still behind the mountains, I had to try and dry it to the best of my abilities myself. Add a little breakfast, refilling your waterstock and getting everything back in the car afterwards and an hour will have flown by before you know it.
Mistake 2: Start too late.
You know you are too late to the party when the only people you see are going down instead of going up. Mistake 1 automatically resulted in mistake 2; I started my hike way too late. I locked the car behind me at 09:30, roughly 1.5h later than I had in mind. Not ideal for the trail I was about to do. Not only was it quite warm already now, the chance of getting caught in an alpine thunderstorm rises significantly in the afternoon.
Mistake 3: Not enough water.
Nova and I have been hiking in warm countries for several months now. This obviously always poses a slight challenge, with Nova’s fur resembling the thick wool of a Norwegian mountain goat and all. She was built to roam the glacial tundra’s in Alaska, not the exotic beaches of Spain.
But with a little preparation and anticipation from my side, we have been able to hike yearround throughout all of Europe. The most important enabler in that definitely being water; I always try to pick our hikes based on the availability of water and then I still carry extra for her. However, up untill this day there was always plenty of water around so I never had to use my own supply for her.
So this time I, knowingly, failed both those self – set rules; I just assumed there’d be water around. Mistake 2 also served as a catalyst for this error in judgement and accelerated it into a much bigger problem. Right from the start we were absolutely dying and there was no water whatsoever for Nova to cool off in. This posed a big problem; her whole ability to join me on these strenuous summerhikes solely depends on the availability of water. Doing this demanding kind of trail without any water around might cause her to overheat really quickly.
Mistake 4: Didn’t check the forecast right before departure.
I have made it a habit to check and recheck the forecast almost to the point of obsession. The weather in the mountains can be unpredictable and a sunny forecast can turn into a severe thunderstorm warning overnight. I know this and yet I didn’t live by it this time. We’d been having so many beautiful days in a row that, again, I just assumed that today wouldn’t be any different. So I checked it the night before and left it at that. Which led me to mistake number 5.
Mistake 5: No rainjacket.
I have made this mistake several times before but apparently I never learn. I lucked out that day because the storm never reached us. But if it had, it could have gotten very uncomfortable very fast.
Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. Going down I was going over everything that had contributed to me missing out on the spectacular views from the Kriških podih summit. I figured complacency had negated years of experience and best practices that day. So consider these best practices a reminder of the importance of being aware of the ramifications of our choices. Especially in the mountains.
Assumptions breed poor experiences or worse. Don’t make assumptions regarding water, weather or cell service. Do your research and prepare for the worst case scenario.
Be generous with the amount of time the hike will take you. Trail guides often give an estimation but they don’t account for fitness, weather or stopping to take 890 pictures of your dog.
Get an early start. This way you’ll avoid the crowds, midday heat and reduce the chance of getting caught in an afternoon thunderstorm.
Check the forecast
Be aware that mountainareas may have their own weathersystems that are very hard to predict. So even when it’s warm and sunny when you leave, bring a rainjacket and some warm layers.
Pack your bag the night before and make sure you don’t have any other time consuming commitments right before you leave.
Don’t be stupid like me and bring extra water for your dog. Always. Even when you expect the trail to offer plenty of water or if it rains excessively. Just bring it.