Her Majesty – the Mountain. There is no nature lover, regardless of the level of his or her mountain-climbing experience or rock-climbing skills, who will not bow to the beauty and challenges of Paklenica in the silence of gratitude.
This is where the highest and the most magnificent peaks of Velebit are located: Vaganski vrh (1,757 meters) and Sveto brdo (1,753 meters). Only experienced mountain climbers can reach that high. However, even those without any mountain-climbing experience whatsoever, tourists with a simple desire to spend some time in the mountains, will be richly rewarded during their stay.
For many visitors, the giant ravines of Velika Paklenica and Mala Paklenica are perhaps the most attractive parts of the Park. When facing four hundred meters of ash-grey, wrinkled cliffs dozens of tons in weight, one has no emotion left other than deep respect for the force and superiority of nature.
The stony faces of ravines are so close to each other in some places, as if they are ready to meet after so much history between them. In walking through ravines, one can only vaguely picture the immense force of water that used to flow through them. Nowadays, the ravines are mostly dry, although some creeks still exist in the higher parts of the Park area, drying up in the lower part of their courses during the summer period.
During the last ice age, the highest peaks of the Velebit Mountain were covered in glaciers. That was the time when rock formations were disintegrating, without forest cover that would mitigate the erosion. Due to a large quantity of karst material and various substances brought by erosion, the power of water flowing in those times was enormous. Thus creeks, the only ones on the littoral side of Velebit, managed to force their path to the sea. As a result of this geological “episode” from a highly complex history, two impressive canyons remained cut into the mountain.
The sea is within easy reach of the mountain. The intensity of beauty of the view is immense, from sea to mountain and vice versa. The bulk of the National Park belongs to the Velika Paklenica basin, which is highly accessible to visitors.
The ravine of Velika Paklenica is fully passable, and its lower section is two and a half kilometers long. Towards its upper end lies the highest vertical wall on the Velebit Mountain – Anića kuk. This rock, 400 meters high, is more than well known and popular on the map of every alpinist: in fact, it is the best-known location for rock climbing in Croatia. In May, climbers from all over the world rush to it, as part of a rock-climbing gathering.
Kilometer by kilometer, Velika Paklenica reaches all the way to the heart of Velebit. At 500 meters above sea level, one comes across Brezimenjača – a valley “without a name”, as its Croatian name suggests. The main forests of the Park grow in this area, so a climb to the valley brings with it yet another beautiful view of the contrast between the forest and the rocks.
Mala Paklenica, literally “Small Paklenica” in Croatian, is not particularly big, as its name suggests. The torrent here was weaker. And while even leisurely walkers can enjoy the nicely beaten path that runs through Velika Paklenica, passing through Mala Paklenica requires some skill. One even needs hands in order to break through the thicket, and this part of the Park is best explored during the summer, when the ravine is dry. The wilderness of Mala Paklenica is reserved for mountain climbers, after all. At the very entrance to Mala Paklenica, there is a sign informing the visitors that they are entering the area “for experienced mountain climbers only” – in other words, on top of the entry ticket, experience and knowledge of the mountain are also required. This is an area of pure wilderness, highly beneficial for the area of the Park and its flora and fauna, where the environment is pulsating in the rhythm of its own originality.
Over time, due to the increasing level of protection, the Park has been expanding its borders. At one point, the rocky peaks of Bojinac (1,110 meters) and massifs of Debelo brdo or Višerujna (1,632 meters) and Badanj (1,638 meters), located on the western side, became constituent parts of the Park. Between the localities of Bojinac and Višerujna, there is the largest “field” on the littoral slope of the Velebit Mountain – Veliko Rujno.
Veliko Rujno is a karst depression, and the locality Rujanska kosa is a remnant of true moraine – an accumulation of material of various sizes that a mighty glacier once crushed and carried along through the passage of Ribnička vrata. One of the most beautiful parts of Mala Paklenica is the locality of Velika Močila, covered by black pine forest at the height of 850 meters.
Forests, in particular black pine forests, are a major asset of Paklenica. In the past, hard-living population used to exploit wood to a large extent, primarily for heating and processing, and many trees also ended up destroyed for the purposes of reconstruction following World War II. The establishment of the National Park prevented further destruction of that treasure.
Forests cover roughly one half of the Park area. Beech forests are the most prominent, with black pine forests (Pinus nigra ssp. Illyrica) second in importance. Black pine likes high altitudes, and it seems as if it grows straight from stone. Until World War II, sap was extracted from black pine, providing substance for lighting the houses and for coating wooden vessels. People used to call this substance “paklina”, and some believe that Paklenica got its name precisely because of that.
At high altitudes, above 1,450 meters, survival gets tough even for plants. When it comes to forest species, only bushy mountain pine (Pinus mugo) is present, but not so densely as at lower altitudes. In order to create pastures, livestock farmers used to clear the terrain, thus decreasing the area covered by this pine species.
The vegetation of rocks and talus cones is a story in itself. The blue color of the Adriatic bellflower (Campanula fenestrellata), white flower of Daphe alpina and many endemic mountain species enrich the landscape and biodiversity of the mountain by their scent and appearance. In spring, visitors to the ravines of Velika Paklenica and Mala Paklenica can come across small white flowers of sandwort (Arenaria orbicularis), that can only be seen here, and nowhere else.
The fauna is quite diverse, since this area is marked by a considerable scope of altitudes. The running water flows literally give life to various species. In total, 258 bird species have been recorded, including rare birds of prey such as the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), short-toed snake-eagle (Circaetus gallicus) and peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus). Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) used to inhabit this area too until 1999. One can only hope that, with the establishment of feeding spots, this bird will also fly above the ravines of Paklenica again.
If the golden eagle is the king of the skies, with its striking appearance and impressive wing span, the role of the kings among carnivores would surely belong to brown bear (Ursus arctos), wolf (Canis lupus), lynx (Lynx lynx) and wildcat (Felis sylvestris).
The underground is mystical and attractive. Among 115 speleological sites, hiding an entire world of numerous endemic animal species, the visitors are particularly attracted to the cave Manita peć in the lower section of Velika Paklenica, which captivates with a large number of dripstones. So far, 175 meters of the cave have been researched. The dimensions of underground halls are impressive. The biggest one is 65 meters long, 40 meters wide, and 32 meters high. The height of stalagmites exceeds 20 meters. At the sightseeing point in front of the cave, located next to the rocks Zub Manite peći and Maniti kuk, one can enjoy the view of the highest peaks of Velebit.
Paklenica is not a space of alpine gardens; however, with its pointed and rounded peaks, its position and natural characteristics, it is most definitely one of the top rock-climbing and tourist destinations.
Velebit is an extraordinary mountain. Experienced rock climbers, who scaled various mountain peaks of the world, continue to consider Velebit one of their most vivid experiences.
It is challenging, wonderful, unforgiving and harsh; it terrifies and thrills, asks for respect and knowledge of the mountain; and yet, it is an extraordinary host to those who respect it. A space of unforgettable experience and fascinating views, Velebit Mountain is a Nature Park in its entirety, and Paklenica a fairy offering her peaks as challenge and object of admiration to man.