Grebaje Valley

A view of the jagged spires towering over the Grebaje Valley.

After our strenuous loop trek through the Prokletije mountains, we spent a few days relaxing at an eko-katun (mountain lodge) in the Grebaje Valley, just on the other side of the mountain spine that we had trekked below the day prior. The Grebaje Valley is absolutely jaw-dropping spectacular, with massive jagged spires rocketing out of the valley. These are amongst the most dramatic and abrupt mountains I’ve seen, on par with the Dolomites or Julian Alps.

Prokletije, Montenegro, Karanfili, hiking, Grebaje

Hiking in front of the wildly jagged Karanfili massif high above the Grebaje Valley in the Prokletije mountains of southern Montenegro.

Although we were intending to relax, we just had to go on a hike up Talijanka (aka Popadija), a 2057m peak with an epic panoramic vista of the most jagged part of the Prokletije range. The upper half the hike ascends a high ridge line with precipitous cliffs that drop nearly vertically down to the bottom of the Grebaje Valley far below, offering dramatic views of the impossibly rugged Karanfili massif across the valley.

Europe,Montenegro,Prokletije
Meadow Sunset : Prints Available

Sunset in the Prokletije mountains.

Grebaje Valley,Karanfili,Montenegro,Prokletije, panorama
Karanfili Panorama : Prints Available

Panoramic sunset view of the rugged spires of Karanfili towering over the Grebaje Valley.

Europe,Grebaje Valley,Montenegro,Prokletije,wildflowers
Grebaje Flowers : Prints Available

A meadow of wildflowers surrounded by jagged spires in the Grebaje Valley.

I could have spent weeks in the Grebaje Valley, but alas we had to keep on traveling on!

The Cursed Mountains

Vusanje, Ropojana, Gusinje, Prokletije, Bjeshket e Nemuna

The village of Vusanje in the spectacular Ropojana Valley, Montenegro.

Forming a natural border between Montenegro and Albania is a jagged spine of mountains called the Prokletije in Montenegran and the Bjeshkët e Namuna in Albanian. Both names translate to “cursed mountains”, likely due to their foreboding vertical spires, deep winter snows, and inhospitable ruggedness. These are the biggest and burliest mountains in the Balkans, but despite their grandeur remain relatively unknown and surprisingly undeveloped. In late July we spent 5 days trekking a loop route through the heart of the range, mostly camping and sometimes staying in Albanian villages along the route.

After jumping through a series of bureaucratic hoops at the police station in the nearby town of Plav in order to document our proposed border crossing into Albania, we started hiking from the village of Vusanje, near the town of Gusinje in a far southern corner of Montenegro.

cave, hiking, Prokletije, Bjeshket e Nemuna

View from a cave entrance high in the Prokletije.

The “cursed mountains” lived up to their name in one respect, which was the oftentimes oppressive heat during the day. This big cave entrance provided a brief respite, with a chilly breeze blowing out from its depths. During the hike up here we met a Serbian caver who has explored this cave numerous times in the past and was back again with a group of friends to explore and chart even further.

Albania,Maja Jezerce,Bjeshkët e Namuna, Prokletije
Maja Jezerce Sunrise : Prints Available

Maja Jezerce (2694 m / 8839 ft.) is the highest mountain in Albania.

For our first night we camped up on Qafa e Prosllopit, a high pass right at the border between Montenegro and Albania. After an evening spent huddling in the tent with lightning and thunder booming around, my inner masochist convinced us to wake up in the middle of the night to hike up Zla Kolata before sunrise.

At 2534 m, Zla Kolata (aka Kollata e Keqe) is technically the tallest mountain in Montenegro; 12 meters taller than Bobotov Kuk, which is generally considered to be Montenegro’s tallest peak. Why does Bobotov get all the love, when it’s not even the highest? First of all, Bobotov Kuk is indeed the tallest Montenegrin peak that is completely within Montenegro territory; Zla Kolata is right on the border so shares its summit with Albania. But once we hiked up Zla Kolata, I realized perhaps the real unspoken reason why Zla Kolata gets no fame: while Bobotov Kuk is a beautiful, striking peak and the crown jewel of the beloved Durmitor National Park, Zla Kolata is actually just a fairly nondescript summit overshadowed by a plethora taller and more spectacular neighboring mountains just over the border in Albania. So it just wouldn’t be fitting for Montenegrins to pride themselves on such an unremarkable “bump” surrounded by taller giants!

Albania,Bjeshkët e Namuna,Prokletije,Valbona, panorama, sunrise
Sunrise Above Valbona : Prints Available

Sunrise light shines into the Valbona valley and the Bjeshkët e Namuna (Prokletije) mountains, as seen from Podi e Kollates (2556 m).  

Despite the obscurity of Zla Kolata itself, it’s part of a high plateau that offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains as well as a jaw-dropping overlook into the 1600+ meter (5,000+ feet) deep Valbona valley, where we would be hiking down to later this day. Continue reading “The Cursed Mountains”

Durmitor Loop

Bobotov Kuk,Dinaric Alps,Durmitor National Park,Montenegro,wildflowers
Wildflowers and Bobotov Kuk : Prints Available

The setting sun illuminates a field of wildflowers on a high mountain pass, with Bobotov Kuk towering behind.

Durmitor National Park is certainly the most famous and beloved mountain range in Montenegro. The mountains here aren’t the biggest or baddest ever, but they have an undeniably wonderful and unique character, like a combination of the rugged might of the Alps with the wild solitude of the Colorado Rockies. They seem to have a dash of everything I love most in mountains — jagged spires, sculpted peaks, vast green meadows, fields of wildflowers, misty forests, emerald lakes, and the freedom to explore it all in relative solitude. We spent four amazing days last week trekking through the heart of these fantastic mountains.

Bobotov Kuk,Dinaric Alps,Durmitor National Park,Montenegro, Bandijerna, panorama
Bobotov Kuk Panorama : Prints Available

Panoramic view of Bobotov Kuk (2522 m / 8274 ft) and the Durmitor range, as seen from the summit of Bandijerna.

This was actually my second time visiting Durmitor; I was here by myself back in June of 2004. At that time it was the off season, the mountains were still covered in snowpack, and I was the only tourist in Zabljak, the little town situated at the base of the Durmitor mountains. There was only one restaurant open then, where I ate every evening with some Serbian army guys I met. It rained six days straight and when it finally stopped I used all my pent up energy to walk from town to the summit of Bobotov Kuk (the highest peak) and back in one day, with snowpack and all. Those army guys said it was impossible and didn’t believe me until I showed them the summit photos on my camera!

Eleven years later, in the height of summer season, the town of Zabljak is hopping. There’s people everywhere, lots of restaurants and bars, probably twice as many houses around here, and a general vibrant vibe that was completely absent during my previous visit. But despite the bustle in town, once we hiked past the popular Crno Jezero lake near the park entrance, the crowds quickly thinned. By the time we reached our first campsite we hadn’t seen anybody for hours. This range is small but there’s still plenty of opportunity to get away.

Lots more photos below! Continue reading “Durmitor Loop”

Maglic

Trnovacko,Magli?, Montenegro, Bosnia, Dinaric Alps, Maglic
Sunset at Trnovacko Jezero : Prints Available

Sunset light on Maglic and nearby mountains, as seen at Trnovacko Lake, in Montenegro just across the border from Bosnia.

For the first mountain adventure of our Bosnia/Montenegro trip, Claudia and I went backpacking for two nights at Trnovacko Lake along the border of Bosnia and Montenegro. The lake itself is located on the Montenegro side of the border, but is only accessible via Sutjeska National Park on the Bosnian side. Sure enough, while we were camped there a warden came by to check our passports, which is kind of a novel thing to have happen while backpacking!

Bosnia,Dinaric Alps,Montenegro,Trnovacko
Trnovacko Misty Morning : Prints Available

A foggy morning at Trnovacko Jezero.

Trnovacko Jezero, hiker, Montenegro, Bosnia,Dinaric Alps

A hiker enjoys the view above Trnovacko Jezero, in Montenegro not far from the border of Bosnia.

The heart-shaped, emerald-colored Trnovacko Lake provides a great base camp for hiking up Maglic (pronounced Mag-leech), the highest mountain of Bosnia — which we did, of course. From the summit we had a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and canyons, including the neighboring Durmitor mountains to the south (our next destination).

Continue reading “Maglic”

To the Balkans!

Europe,Kotor,Montenegro
Kotor Evening : Prints Available

Evening over the town of Kotor and the Boka Kotorska, a fjord off the Adriatic Sea, Montenegro.

Tomorrow we fly to Sarajevo for a month of traveling through Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Croatia! I have visited this beautiful region before back in 2004, and have longed to return ever since. Our rough plan is to rent a car in Sarajevo and head south into Montenegro where we will hike and backpack in various mountain ranges down through the rugged chain of the Dinaric Alps. Perhaps we will also have a chance to raft down the Tara River, a turquoise river that cuts through the deepest canyon in Europe. Eventually we’ll work our way back up along the coast and through Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, before heading up to Germany for my sister-in-law’s wedding!

I’ll probably update the blog while I’m away, but in the meantime check out my photos from my previous travels in Montenegro and Croatia back in 2004.

Rockin Fourth in Ouray

4th of July,Colorado,Ouray,San Juan Mountains,fireworks
Fourth of July in Ouray : Prints Available

The town of Ouray, Colorado rockin on the Fourth of July.  Ouray is one of the most unique places in the world to watch fireworks; each boom echoes around the mountains.  The sounds of the echoes are just as awesome as the fireworks themselves!

I hope all my fellow American readers had a great 4th of July! Ouray was as rockin as ever — almost literally after the parade when Maj. Rasmussen, a fighter pilot from Ouray, roared through the valley in his F-16 on full afterburners. Incredible! Turn up the volume and check out this video of it:

Beer, water fights, beer, barbeques, more beer, and then we sweated out all that beer with a wine hike up to our favorite terrace over Ouray to watch the fireworks. What a day!!!

“Moving Mountains” 2016 Calendar Published in Germany

Weingarten 2016 calendar
“Reinhold Messner, Moving Mountains” 2016 calendar featuring photos by Jack Brauer.

I was pleased today to receive a package of calendars compliments of Weingarten, a major German calendar publishing company. They have published a 2016 calendar in Europe featuring 12 of my photos alongside inspirational quotes by the famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner.

Maybe someday in the not-too-distant future I will even be able to read those quotes on my own without my wife’s translation help! But they sound nice, and I’m stoked that my photos were chosen to accompany the words of such a legendary mountain man. The printing quality of the large-format calendar is impressive, with an elegant design and an attractive glossy finish over the photos. Danke schön, Weingarten!

Seek Outside Exposure: The Ultimate Panel Loader Backpack for Backpacking Photographers

Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado
Seek Outside Unaweep-Exposure panel loader backpack up by Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

I have a knack for spotting good backpacks. Just by looking at pictures I can usually tell if a backpack is going to be a good heavy hauler or not. So when I stumbled upon Seek Outside’s website and studied the pictures of their backpacks, I was practically salivating — they just looked good. Really good. And they’re based in western Colorado, an extra bonus.

So I emailed them asking if they’d consider custom making a panel loader for me. I’ve written about panel loader backpacks before and why they are the best type of backpacks for hiking photographers. Panel loader backpacks have a big zipper that wraps around the backpack, enabling easy access to the main compartment. A photographer can place his or her padded camera case inside and have quick access to it, rather than having to dig down through the top like most backpacking backpacks. And unlike most photography-specific backpacks which fail miserably for serious hikers in the ergonomics department, a backpack from a real outdoors company will almost always perform much better on long hikes and backpack treks.

Well, I heard back from Seek Outside and was delighted to discover that not only are they based in Ouray, the same town I live in, but I also already knew the owner Kevin Timm! Why I didn’t realize all this before I cannot say; I must have been hiding under a rock (which is kind what living in Ouray is like, come to think about it!) I was also delighted to hear that Kevin had already been thinking about producing a panel loader and was eager to hear some of my input. The end result is the Seek Outside Unaweep-Exposure panel loader backpack, a lightweight heavy-hauler and quite possibly the ultimate backpack for the backpacking photographer! Read on to find out why I am so enamored with this backpack. Continue reading “Seek Outside Exposure: The Ultimate Panel Loader Backpack for Backpacking Photographers”

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