The Day of the Russian Chapel

Kranjska Gora / 30 August 2019

Our walking notes had given us 2 options for our 2 days in Kranjska Gora, both circular routes that brought us back to the Miklic. We had decided to go with Option 2, the supposedly easier route for our first hike – I think we were influenced by the description in the notes, which said, “The second walk follows a tempting and easy-going forest track…”, as opposed to the description for Option 1, (which involved a walk to a lower waterfall and a higher second waterfall), which had a line that said, “The ongoing trail [to the second waterfall] now ascends very steeply on rockier terrain: after 100m further up, exercise caution as there is a short crossing across a steep slope via wet slippery rocks…” (bold font NOT added by me). I had also looked up reviews of the Option 1 walk – there was unanimous agreement that the trail to the second waterfall was slippery and challenging. I found a photo of the trail on Trip Advisor that left me with sweaty palms…

Seriously??

But for today, we were doing the Russian Chapel hike – and I’ll worry about that second waterfall tomorrow.

We were up early. The plan was to have breakfast at 6.30AM then set out by 7AM. So, there we were, at the Miklic’s dining room at 6.30AM…and no breakfast. The lady mopping the floor looked rather startled to see us; she recovered enough to tell us to sit down, sped up the mopping, then started putting breakfast things out. It was obvious to us by then that no one sets out that early, and that we were perhaps being ‘kan cheong spiders‘…probably could’ve had another hour of sleep. [Note: ‘kan cheong spider’ – a uniquely Singaporean phrase which is used to describe someone who is impatient, edgy and hasty. Someone who is very eager to get things done faster than it can be completed. Other uses in a sentence – ‘dun be so kan cheong’.]

At breakfast we met Tina Miklic – she and her brother, Gregor (aka George) run the inn. Our walking notes said that we should tell someone at the hotel which route we were taking – Tina looked slightly amused when we told her, and assured us we’d be fine. She did say though, that it might rain in the afternoon – with our early start we hoped we’d be back before it did. We all were well equipped with rain gear, but not terribly keen to test the gear right on Day 1.

And so, we were off. S was our map reader for today – the map, and the relevant pages of our walking notes, safely in a transparent, water-proof holder. The start of our route took us near the restaurant at which we’d had dinner yesterday. As we made our first wrong turn, 10 minutes into the walk, and still in the back lanes of Kranjska Gora, I wondered how many more we’d make before the day was done.

As we crossed an open field, we remembered to stop for a ‘start of the day we-fie’ – just for the record. At about 1.5KM into the walk, we came to Lake Jasna – it was stunning, clear water surrounded by mountains, and on one side of the lake, not-yet open bars and ice cream shops. We had to remind ourselves not to linger too long here, we were barely into our walk.

Part of Lake Jasna, at the start of Day 1

For a good part of the first two hours, we walked next to the Pisnica river, in parts it was not more than a stream, in others much wider and more river-like…the water was crystal clear, I’d never seen anything like it. The walk so far had been…a walk; it was relatively flat ground, mostly stones and gravel. I’d decided to use the hiking poles anyway, and they definitely helped with reducing effort. The backpack too was a good fit, and I hadn’t yet started feeling any aches and pains. It was, however, getting hot, and promised to get hotter; despite just wearing one layer, we all were beginning to perspire – and the water stops were getting more frequent. Note to self : no need to carry the fleece or down jacket in the backpack tomorrow.

One of many stops – before Wrong Turn #2

Wrong turn #2 came about 3 hours into the walk, where the instructions relating to a dry riverbed, and where to cross it got us all a bit confused. This meant a bit of backtracking but fortunately not too much – though it was over loose rocks, which needed some care.

The scenery after this was really breathtaking – beautiful meadows, little alpine huts, and mountains all around us, the rugged grey peaks cutting through the clouds. For a few minutes, we put aside any thoughts about ‘not lingering’ and just enjoyed the stunning views.

The path led gently uphill, till we came to another very clear stream. The instructions directed us to a nearby bridge but the stream didn’t look deep so we decided to take the more direct route across. GC, stepping on rocks, managed to get across with her feet dry – I was about halfway across when I felt the very welcome icy cold water seep into my shoes…it was surprisingly refreshing. Even more surprising was how quickly the socks and shoes were completely dry in the next half an hour or so.

On our way to crossing the stream. Spot the water…it was so clear, it is hardly discernible in this pic.

It was about now that the walk became a hike, as our instructions and the signposts pointed us up a steep and slightly muddy slope. We were all a bit hungry by now and stopped for a quick muesli bar before tackling the slope. As we huffed and puffed our way uphill, a couple of hikers went past us – rather effortlessly. I had stopped to catch my breath and so had plenty of time to ‘look and learn’ – they were walking pretty upright, leaning forward only slightly, taking very small steps, sticking their hiking poles into the soft ground quite forcefully with each step…maybe that was key. So, that’s what I did, combined with that forced exhalation (which Nelson, Matthew and Rinxin in Bhutan had said would help)- and it worked! It suddenly wasn’t so much effort anymore making my way up that steep slope. [Hiking Lesson #1].

Before it got really steep – and when I could still take pics 🙂

We eventually got to the Russian Chapel about 4.5 hours after we’d started out. According to the instructions we should have taken 3 hours to get here. What got us laughing was that the Chapel was right next to a road, with a carpark filled with tour buses off to one side – we guessed that if we had taken a cab, it wouldn’t have taken more than 20 minutes to get here from the Miklic. Hiking Lesson #2 – it’s the journey and not the destination?

The Chapel and the road by which it was built were both rather photogenic – the road with its hairpin bends (50 in all, with each bend numbered, and the altitude recorded – the chapel was at Bend 8, altitude 1129 metres), and the picturesque chapel built in 1916, by Russian POWs in memory of 300 of their comrades who died in an avalanche as they built the road.

Bend #8 of the road from Kranjska Jora to Trent. There are 50 bends in total, each bend is numbered and the altitude carved into the granite side-wall.

We stopped for our picnic lunch in the grounds near the chapel. I was starving and finished most of the ham, cheese and rocket sandwich that the hotel had packed. The Milka chocolate in our lunch pack was delish too.

The Russian Chapel

Lunch done, it was time for the hike back. For a start we were supposed to follow the road downhill for 500 metres till we got to a restaurant; we walked on the road for some distance – it felt close to 500 metres, but it probably wasn’t. With no proper road shoulder to walk on, and no restaurant in view, we decided to get back on the trail the way we’d come up. Downhill was far more difficult – for me at least – and I was super grateful for the hiking poles, which saved me from what might’ve been several unfunny tumbles.

Before long, we were back at the stream which we’d waded across earlier. We took the bridge this time, and stayed dry.

We were at the 6-hour mark by now and were all ‘slightly’ tired – our photo stops had definitely entered the ‘lingering’ category, with S at one point sitting down in the grass ostensibly to get a low angle, but probably also to rest. We eventually got to the dry river bed where we’d made Wrong Turn #2 earlier – and S discovered that she no longer had the walking instructions/map with her…it probably had fallen out of her pocket when she sat down for the low angle shot. So, leaving her backpack with GC and me, she retraced her steps (which probably explained why she had more steps than either GC or I that day) – fortunately, the notes were found and we were once again on our way.

The not-sitting-in-the-grass view
S heading back after a successful map rescue mission
On our way back

It was 3-way sigh of relief when we got back to Lake Jasna, just over 7 hours from our morning stop. There were a lot more people about now, with the cafes and ice cream places doing brisk business. We dumped our packs on the grass, and relaxed there for a bit before setting off on the last leg back to the Miklic, stopping to take an ‘end-of-the-day’ we-fie at the same place in which we took the morning shot. Surprisingly, we looked none the worse for wear.

We got back to our hotel just over 8 hours (and 32,149 steps) after we’d started out. The walking notes had said that today’s hike was 16.8KM and would take 5 hours and 40 minutes. According to Fitbit, I’d walked 21KM – knowing this probably added to my exhaustion.

It was a very early dinner (at about 6PM), after a shower and change, at the Miklic – no one felt any need to walk into Kranjska Gora for a meal. The food, and service, at the Miklic were both brilliant – a very Cheers feel to it…’where everybody knows your name’ – well, not our names but those of the locals dining there.

A small part of dinner

That first day, I found myself struggling to keep awake past 8PM. We called it a night by 9PM – tomorrow we tackle the waterfall(s).

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