Written by: Anita Palada, Edward Kiersh

Surrounded by massively-large boulders, a stunningly green mountain peak in the distance beckoned to the adventurer inside me. Even if the path towards this spire meant braving the narrowest of trails, and then ascending through a steep gorge lined with unforgiving and intimidating-looking craggy stones, the prospect of taming this wilderness kept me going, even high-spirited. Knowing there was breathtaking beauty ahead, I didn’t surrender to my fears, and continued walking, determined to overcome all challenges, and to discover all of Mala Paklenica’s natural glories.

A legendary, Croatian National Park Paklenica in northern Dalmatia, abundant with spring-fed streams, torrents, endangered bird species, and 300 meter high canyons, the Mala Paklenica has long stirred fears and the imagination. Its’ gorges and ascents can be treacherous. But hiking with Jure and his skilled helpers, I was mentally getting ready to hook myself to steel cables and to expend all my energy to reach that green summit.

National Park Paklenica
National Park Paklenica

While surrounded by majestic, towering trees of every variety, and chirping birds cavorting above me, I was still surprised when encountering a dry riverbed. One of the park’s scenic wonders, especially when the mountain runoff cascades down the cliffs, it was clearly the victim of the dry winter, or far more worrisome, dry because of climate change.

I still pushed ahead, entranced by the almost supernatural silence—the other-worldliness calm that greets Paklenica’s visitors. There are so many different ecosystems, flowers, and animals, to marvel at, there is no time to think about life outride the park. Here there are only caves to explore, rich vegetation, and panoramic views of fascinating rock formations.

But Mala Paklenica remains a terrific physical and mental challenge—for colossal boulders often confront those who hike these narrow goat trails. Where to put your foot? Will the gravel hold your weight? What should I do with my hands? These critical decisions must be made in split seconds to get past the boulders. So my instincts had to take over,  fueled by a mighty rush of adrenaline.

Totally focused, knowing success means finding new survival skills,  I take a breath and summon the resolve to go forward. One small step, then another on our intimidating path. There can be no respite. Too many of Nature’s miracles await us.

National Park Paklenica
National Park Paklenica

Specifically, the vast meadow below the Velebit mountain range. Abuzz with bumblebees and songbirds, this vast field seems like a rainbow glistening under my feet, covered with wild, flourishing roses in every conceivable color, dark reds, violet, yellow, peach and Kelly Green. It’s Mother Nature’s coming out party, her warm-hearted greeting, saying “Come, feast on my riches. Walk here, and taste the delights.”

Hypnotized by this streaming rush of colors, and the soft breezes enveloping me, I gazed at the Adriatic Sea in the distance. “What could be more beautiful?” I asked myself. “This is Creation, the real soul of life.”

Amazingly, there was one more marvel to enjoy, the Velika Paklenica canyon, a geological must-see. It too contains a striking array of plant and animal species, including falcons, eagles, deers, bears and lynx.

But sunset is quickly approaching. After eight hours in the Park, it’s best to collect our memories, impressions that may have even changed our notions about beauty, and to wind our way down the gravely goat trail towards the  “real world.”

What an experience!

Yet amid all the roses, canyons, and wild animals, I also discovered something besides scenic wonders. I found a power inside me, the conviction that I could encounter hazardous obstacles, and without any prodding, keep on moving, keep on climbing. Towards that rainbow!

Whether it was finding a field of wild flowers, or fulfilling some life’s ambition—that reaching this goal was indeed attainable.

Photos were taken by Anita Palada