First snow of the season is always the most exciting one. Everything is the same, but somehow different. There is more freshness in the air which you feel with every breath, the silence and just crackling sounds of fresh snow under your feet. There is something special about those white flakes covering the landscape, sometimes it’s almost magical. Snow invites us to go out and get moving, build a snowman, have a snowball fight and create snow angels. For our first snow experience of this winter we decided to drive 100 kilometres away from Pula, to the highest mountain on the Istria peninsula, Učka. There is another significance to the mountain, it separates Istria county from the rest of Croatia.
How to prepare for winter conditions?
City of Pula, at the very south of Istria, has a very mild and warm climate, even in the winter time. Therefore, it’s quite a temperature change to go to the snowy mountains. As soon as we stepped out of the car, at Poklon mountain pass rest area, at 917 meters above sea level, it was clear, we needed more layers. When planning a winter activity, layering is of most importance. One big fat jacket will keep you warm when the cold first strikes. However, when you start moving, it’ll make you overheat and sweat. More layers also keep you warm, and you have an option of slowly taking them off, regulating your body temperature, when it starts getting warmer. All you need is a good base layer, which will take the sweat away from your body, keep you dry and warm. Thicker mid layer, like a fleece, light down jacket or similar, for extra warmth. And the outer shell jacket that is water- and wind-proof. Waterproof pants are also a good idea, but if you don’t have any, snow gaiters combined with waterproof hiking boots, can help prevent getting your feet and legs wet. On the clothing list there should be some gloves, warm hat and scarf, spare socks, just in case.
Your backpack should contain a thermos bottle with a warm drink, some snacks, first aid kit with a rescue blanket, some dry reserve clothes, sunglasses, telescopic walking poles and you are set to go. One last must have, is a phone or/and a camera, because the view from the top is absolutely stunning. Our backpacks usually include also cat and dog food, as our pets, Boni and Terry come along. Exciting day for both of them. Boni always feels energetic and playful on the snow, and Terry will see snow for the very first time.
The trail up the mountain
The trail to the top starts just behind the mountain hut Poklon. Path is well marked, with red/white dots on the trees, so, navigating the route is simple even without the guide. It’s suited for hiking beginners too. In dry conditions it takes, an average hiker, about 1 hour 20 minutes to pass the length of the trail, which is about 3.5 kilometres of uphill walking, with an elevation gain of 450 meters. It took us little over 2 hours as we were letting the dog play in the snow, arguing and wrestling with the cat that she belongs in the backpack, as it’s too cold for little kitties to stay longer in the cold (she wanted to walk by herself). And we like to enjoy the view along the way, and take pictures and videos of course, even though it was foggy.
The trail crosses the mountain road 3 times. In case, you don’t feel like hiking, you can also drive up to the top. When driving up in snow conditions, be advised to use caution and have snow chains on board. There isn’t much traffic on that road, so, for the winter service, it isn’t a priority to clean immediately. Our advice is, when snowing, leave your car where it’s safe and street cleaned, and hike, so you don’t get stuck. The view is much better like that anyway. On the whole trail up, the mountain is on your right side, and on your left, catching a view between the trees, is the Kvarner bay. The tree branches have frozen overnight, and as the wind started to blow, the forest was filled with the mild sounds of ice cracking, and pieces of it falling to the ground. Natural wind chimes.
If you enjoyed the views on the way up, you will be amazed when you reach the top. On a clear day the panorama is breathtaking. You just have to disregard the huge TV antennas and the military radar disrupting the beauty. The last part of the trail is on the main road. You follow the road all the way to the small parking area, and then beyond, just few more steps to the top. The peak rises to 1396 meters, but, if you want an even better view, you have to climb the 5-meter tower on the top. There, from 1401 meters, you have the ultimate 360 degrees view. On the east side there is the Kvarner bay with the city of Rijeka, mountains of Gorski Kotar, Velebit mountain range, the islands of Krk, Cres and Lošinj. All the way south you can see the ending of the Istria peninsula and the Cape Kamenjak. To the west, hilly inland of the Istria and parts of Italy. North, the Alps stretching as far the eye can see. A perfect Alpe-Adria experience.
The way back
On this day, it was foggy, so we didn’t have a view, and we couldn’t climb the tower as the stairs were chained with ice. That’s OK, we’ve been there before. It was time to start our descent. For the way down we chose a different path. We decided to go the first part on the main road. As it turned out, it wasn’t the best choice. Our feet were feeling too much stress from walking on the hard asphalt, so we decided to continue our descent again on the forest path by the first road crossing. Our feet were grateful for the soft snow. Just a few slips and slides later, we were back by the car.
At the end, we fed our pets, and enjoyed a warm cup of tea in the car. The only thing better than tea would’ve been a nice warm meal and pancakes in the mountain hut, but, due to Covid-19, this time it was closed. It was a lovely day in the nature, but, it was time to drive back to Pula.