Croatia has a long climbing tradition and was among the first seven nations in the world that had founded a national climbing organization. The Croatian Climbing Society (HPD) was founded in 1874 and, at the beginning, climbing in Croatia was directed more towards scientific research concerning the natural features of the mountains, and less towards the conquest of peaks. Many leading university professors and scientists were members of the society in the last century and in spite of this long tradition, the mountains are still the least known part of Croatia. The mountains of the Republic of Croatia mainly belong to the Dinaric range.The mountains in Dalmatia are higher and more deserted than in other parts. They represent a true challenge for climbers, both the inexperienced and experienced ones.
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The mountains of Dalmatia
The mountains of Dalmatia include Sv. Ilija (Zmijino brdo - Snake hill) on Pelješac, Biokovo, Dinara, Troglav, Kamešnica, Svilaja, Promina, Kozjak, Mosor, Poljička planina and Omiška Dinara. The basic feature of the mountains in this region is the fact that they belong to the Dinarides. In Dalmatia, the Dinarides fork into a number of parallel chains. The highest is the one that constitutes the natural boundary with Bosnia and Herzegovina and consists of Dinara, Troglav and Kamešnica. A second line runs through Dalmatinska Zagora in which the highest are Promina, Mosea and Svilaja. From the climbing perspective, the most interesting and demanding are the mountains in the coastal chain; Biokovo, Kozjak, Mosor and Omiska Dinara.
The most important feature of these mountains is that the highest mountain regions here do not have the form of a ridge but of a high plateau (up to about 1700 meters), with a very complicated relief, with many gorges and peaks, caverns and spurs. The edges of the plateaux often finish in huge vertical cliffs that plunge into deep, flat karst fields. As a rule the cliffs tend to be found on the south slopes, an exception being Troglav, which has cliffs on the northern slopes. What makes the strongest impression in the Dalmatian mountains is the awesome barrenness of the endless stone wastes on the plateaux. This is the realm of the Dalmatian karst, which has no parallel in Europe, perhaps not in the world.
The climate is very severe here. In summer the sun roasts the stone, and in winter the extremely dry north wind dries up the very last trace of moisture in the soil. This is highly unfavorable to the development of vegetation, and a sparse flora means there is little in the way of animal life, apart from snakes, including the venomous viper and adder.
Mountains of the Croatian islands
What singles Croatian mountains out from almost all others in European countries is the abundance of mountains on islands. All of the islands are mountainous, and are actually themselves mountains, belonging to the Dinaric chain. Their material (limestone of the Cretaceous period) and direction (north west to south east) are identical.
The shape of the island mountains is conditioned by their origins and the forces that have created the karst relief on them. Unlike the mountains of the mainland, their foothills have been shaped by the action of the sea. The best such example is the coast of Dugi otok, with its vertical cliffs that rear right up from the sea for over 100 meters. These rocks are suitable for coastal mountain climbing, which is not yet very popular in Croatia. Nowhere in Croatia is the climate as mild as in the islands. The average temperature in January is never below zero which means that the summer climbing season lasts all the year round. The main troubles that the climber will have are in the summer heats and the lack of water. The heat is mitigated by the mistral wind off the sea. A result of the Mediterranean climate is the growth of an interesting and rich vegetation (approximately 1000 species). The hot dry summers and strong sunshine are not very favorable to forests. Most of the islands are covered with maquis, degraded forests of low shrub. Only on the southern islands is there some real forest.
In the climbing world, the islands have not yet obtained their rightful place in Croatian tourism. Exceptions are mountains on the islands of Lošinj, Pag, Rab and Brač.
More information about the caves is being prepared. If you would like to find out more, contact the respective tourist board or CROATIAN SPELEOLOGICAL FEDERATION
- Modra špilja (Blue Cave) in island Biševo (Dalmatia)
- Zelena špilja (Green Cave) near island Vis (Dalmatia)
- Šipun near Cavtat (Dalmatia)
Mountain Rescue Service
If you plan to explore the hard accessible mountain regions of Croatia, the Mountain Rescue Service (GSS - initials in Croatian) offers help in case of emergency. The GSS offers its service for free to those in need, and the members ask and expect full cooperation from everyone involved. The GSS can be notified via the nearest information point or by contacting a police station (tel: 92).
Mountain Rescue Service Commission of Croatia
Kozarčeva 22, 10000 Zagreb, President: Damir Lacković
tel/fax: +385 1 4824 142, tel: +385 1 4823 624
Important note: If you are unable to contact the GSS at once, call the police.
Croatian mountains are marked according to standards: a red circle with a white dot in the center. Sometimes, very thin trees are marked with two parallel red lines and a white line between them. The mountaineering clubs look after the maintenance of the markings, usually those clubs that have their lodge or hut in the mountain. The exception is the Velebit mountain path, which is looked after by Planinarski Savez Hrvatske (PSH), the Mountain Climbing Federation of Croatia.
Mountains far from the climbing clubs, and especially those in which there are no huts, are sparsely marked. It should be added that occasionally careless trippers or shepherds damage or destroy signs at crossways and cut down the trees in mountain regions and so remove the markings.
Hrvatski planinarski savez (Croatian climbing federation)
Kozarčeva 22, 10000 Zagreb
tel: 01 4823 624, tel/fax: (01) 4824 142
Planinarski savez Zagreb (Zagreb climbing federation)
Ribnjak 2, 10000 Zagreb
Tel.: (01) 4818 551
Journal of Croatian mountaineering association (pages only in Croatian)