At a press conference held at the Gospodična mountain hut, representatives of the Alpine Association of Slovenia (PZS) presented the important work done by almost 900 trail markers, who each year put in approximately 37,000 hours of voluntary work. The number of people heading into the mountains is increasing every year, while extreme weather events are also increasingly frequent, all of which means more work for trail markers. In conjunction with the PZS, Zavarovalnica Triglav has announced the winner of Best Mountain Trail 2022. This year’s title, along with funds for upkeep and repairs, has gone to the very difficult Hanza Trail to Prisojnik.
People have gone into the mountains since time immemorial, creating trails and also marking them as the occasion arose. The oldest mountain trails in Slovenia were actually the paths used by herders to drive their cattle, sheep and goats to the high mountain pastures. The desire to experience nature prompted the creation of mountain trails, which needed to be marked. An additional incentive to build and mark mountain trails in Slovenia came from a nationally conscious desire to give the mountains a fittingly Slovene appearance, given that the first marks and signposts were placed by German-speaking foreigners.
“Trail marking has been part of our activity since the founding of the SPD, the predecessor of the Alpine Association of Slovenia. At the very first assembly of the SPD, a trail marking committee was created alongside the main committee. The SPD marked 97 trails in its first year of activity. The original waymarks consisting of different coloured lines and cairns were replaced 100 years ago by a uniform trail marking system proposed by the cartographer Alojz Knafelc, the head of the SPD’s trail marking committee, which is still in use today,” explains PZS president Jože Rovan.
A Knafelc blaze or waymark consists of a red circle with a white dot at its centre. It has a diameter of between 8 and 10 cm, while the ratio of red to white to red (tracing an imaginary line across the blaze) is 1:2:1. With its pure, uncluttered design, the blaze is an ideal waymark that is simultaneously original, familiar, functional, visible and recognisable. It is undoubtedly the most recognisable symbol of Slovenia’s mountain enthusiasts and has been leading us safely along mountain trails for a whole century. This year we will be commemorating the father of our waymark on various occasions.
Trail marking activity under the aegis of the PZS consists of a technical service responsible for marking and maintaining mountain trails, recording mountain trails, teaching and training personnel and inspecting mountain trails.
Each trail marker looks after 11 kilometres of trails“There are currently 884 trail markers and trail marker instructors in all three categories registered with the PZS, which means that each of them looks after more than eleven kilometres of mountain trails.
Registered trail markers belonging to Alpine clubs, who are assisted on the ground by numerous volunteers, dedicated 35,316 hours of voluntary work to the repair and maintenance of mountain trails in 2021, while the technical group of the PZS Mountain Trails Committee, which looks after difficult and very difficult mountain trails in high mountain areas, added a further 1,540 hours of voluntary work, meaning that our committed trail markers dedicated a total of 36,856 hours of voluntary work to mountain trails,” explains Uroš Zagoričnik, the head of the Mountain Trails Committee.
The average age of trail markers is 53 but, as Zagoričnik adds, the committee would like them to be joined by even more volunteers, especially younger ones.
On Saturday, 2 July – Trail Markers Day – 200 volunteers divided into 40 teams worked on trails in the Gorjanci, Kočevski Rog, Trebnje and Kostanjevica na Krki areas.
Difficult campaigns in 2022
Each Alpine club works on trails in its own area, while difficult mountain trails are looked after by the technical group of the PZS Mountain Trails Committee. This year at least 16 campaigns are planned on difficult and very difficult mountain trails. These are expected to last around 47 days and involve 45 trail markers, some of whom will take part more than once. Renewing metal fixtures, repairing damage to trails and reducing the effects of erosion will take around 3,500 hours.
Technical campaigns on the “Jelenk via Kendovi Robi” and “Zvoh via the Jež ridge” trails have already been completed this year. This weekend trail markers are renovating the 2021 Best Mountain Trail, from Ledine to Koroška Rinka. Also planned is the renovation of this year’s Best Mountain Trail, the very difficult Hanza Trail from the Koča na Gozdu mountain hut to Prisojnik. The technical group will also renovate the Tominšek Trail up to the treeline, the trail from the Sedlo Planja pass to Mlinarica, the trail from Kranjska Planina to Kajzljeva Škrbina through Zadnje Oko, the trail from Srednja Ponca towards Visoka Ponca, the Silvo Koren Trail to Krn, the trail over Rž and Kot and the difficult trail from Pišnica over Kačji Graben to Špik.
The high-quality work of the trail markers and the uniform procedures used in the arrangement of mountain trails are the result of the training that the PZS Mountain Trails Committee has been providing for a number of years.
There are no special prizes for work in the field of marking and maintaining mountain paths, but anyone who does take part receives the best reward of all – the awareness that they have fulfilled a human duty, one that they have voluntarily accepted. They are, however, entitled to commendations and praise for their work. In 2021 the highest honour for PZS trail markers – the Alojz Knafelc Diploma, awarded for lifetime achievement – went to Mladen Živković. With more than three decades of experience working on mountain trails, Živković has also been the head of the Mountain Trail Section of the interclub committee of the Alpine clubs of the Dolenjska and Bela Krajina regions since 2006.
For Knafelc’s many followers – the volunteer trail markers of the PZS – the new year promises better times ahead. “The amendments to the Mountain Trails Act sets out the state’s obligations regarding the funding of the maintenance of mountain trails and the training and equipment of trail markers. Until now, the burden of maintaining more than 10,000 km of mountain trails has been borne by Alpine clubs alone,” adds PZS president Jože Rovan.
Best Mountain Trail competition highlights the work of trail markers
The important work done by trail markers has also been recognised, in the context of the “Let’s Clean Up Our Mountains” initiative, by Zavarovalnica Triglav, which, in conjunction with the Alpine Association of Slovenia, has dedicated the Best Mountain Trail competition to it. “By presenting a selection of trails in urgent need of renovation, which are then voted for by the general public, we have for the fifth year in a row shone a light on the noble voluntary work done by Slovenia’s trail markers. They are true heroes who can also encourage us to make our own contribution – through small actions such as having proper equipment, choosing destinations that match our level of physical fitness and preparedness, and coming back from the mountains with, as well as beautiful memories, at least our own rubbish, and perhaps even some rubbish left by someone else as well – to keeping the natural environment clean and safe and in this way creating a safer and more sustainable future.” With these words, Ana Cergolj Kebler, head of the “Let’s Clean Up Our Mountains” campaign at Zavarovalnica Triglav, sums up the purpose of the Best Mountain Trail competition.
The Best Mountain Trail of 2022 is the Hanza Trail
This year’s winner of the Best Mountain Trail competition is the very difficult Hanza Trail, which runs from the Koča na Gozdu mountain hut to Prisojnik. Because of a rockfall, the trail, which is looked after by the Kranjska Gora Alpine Club, will be closed until the renovation is complete. Even when open, it is only used by experienced mountaineers and hillwalkers, since it is one of the longest and most difficult via ferrata routes in Slovenia. Its steep ascent, which offers incredible views of the waterfall, is protected by steel cables and pegs. The route also crosses a snowfield, where snow usually remains throughout the year.
“The Hanza Trail climbs around 1,300 metres from the starting point at the Koča na Gozdu mountain hut to Prisojnik and is one of the longest via ferrata routes in the Julian Alps. Renovation is needed of around 100 metres of the upper part of the route, where a large rock has collapsed and will need to be brought down to the valley. We will have to be very careful not to damage the remaining steel cables and pegs. Renovation of cables and pegs will also take place in the snowfield area,” explained Kranjska Gora Alpine Club president Marko Kopač at the proclamation of this year’s winning trail. He thanked everyone who voted for the Hanza Trail. “Being named Best Mountain Trail means a lot to us, since the funds from Zavarovalnica Triglav mean that the trail will be renovated before the year is out,” he added.
Every visitor to the mountains can do their bit to help with the marking and upkeep of mountain trails: text the word POT5 to telephone number 1919 to make a donation of 5 euros – a small contribution that will help make a “blazing” impression. All donations will go towards the maintenance of mountain trails.