This hike turned out to be more of an adventure than we originally planned. It was mostly in the shade of the forest, but had a few areas here and there where you could see some good views of the city Nis, and of the surrounding mountains and Nisava River valley. I did this hike with my wife's cousin Jordan, who for the entire 15.2 miles that we ended up hiking, drank only a half liter of some kind of carbonated Schwepp's drink.
This hike started at Niska Banja, a day spa with a lot of tourist activities. From there, a marked trail makes its way up the hill to the Nis Transversal Trail, which is a 130km trail that makes its way around the Nisava River Valley along the mountain range. The Nis Transversal takes you to Trem on Suva Planina, which was the first hike I did when I got here. We took the Nis Transveral to a point where you can take another trail (if you can find it) back to Niska Banja, which by my guessitmate, looked to be a 10-12 mile loop. The only problem is that the trails for the most part follow already existing horse carriage roads that run along the hill, most of which are certainly hundreds of years old. The trail can be very well marked in some places, and horrible in others. In some ways, this was similar to hiking in the more remote areas of the Tonto National Forest.
We started out ok getting up the hill following a very well built and easy to follow footpath. Once we got to the top, the trail started to branch off. We followed a trail that was unmarked to a paraglider platform, from which we took some pictures of Nis and the surrounding area. From there we began to follow a gravel road further uphill, but began to notice that we hadnÃ¯Â¿½t seen any of the red and white paint markers for a while. After some dead-ending on trails, we finally found the marked trail, which only took us right to the gravel road we had started on. At the junction with the dirt road was a sign for Crni Kamen (Black Rock), which wasnÃ¯Â¿½t listed on my map. That trail took us to a dirt road, which had one obscured red and white marker. The trail kept going up. We took that trail and noticed after almost a half mile that there were no markers (they can be spaced pretty far apart). So we made our way down and went over a quarter mile on the dirt road with no sign of markers. We then made it back to the junction again and went a quarter mile in the other direction, where we found markers and the one waypoint along the Nis Transversal called KT3, which has a spring. From there, Jordan and I argued about which direction we should go. We went his way, found another unmarked junction, took that wrong road and came back to the KT3 marker, to notice the marker that said which way to go to get to KT4. We finally were on our way in the right direction on the Nis Transversal, and it had taken 2 hours total since the beginning and we had probably already hiked an extra mile and half.
Once we got going on the Nis Transversal, things were pleasant again. The hiking was mostly level and in the shade. The temperature was below 80 and not very humid at all. Once we got to Crni Kamen, we summitted there, and took the obligatory pics, which included a nice view of Suva Planina.
Once we got to the junction with the trail that takes you back to Niska Banja, things got hairy again. The markers are very obscure a the junctions with the other roads and things are very overgrown at this time of year. We went down one road that seemed wrong once we looked at the topo map so we backtracked another half mile. Then we took another road that had the markers, but they disappeared after a while. We kept taking roads and found more junctions, but no markers. We tried to just take one road downhill to almost bushwhack our way down but the road faded away, quickly. We finally made the gut-check decision to make our way all the way back the way we came. My GPS said we had done 9 miles, so this was not something I was looking forward to, even with enough water. On our way back, we began to notice the markers again, and Jordan then told me he saw some marking on one tree that said "to N. Banja". I had totally missed it due to the overgrowth. Even after seeing it, you had to bushwhack your way thru 100 feet or more of high overgrowth to get to the small road that takes you back to the start.
Even on this road, we got sidetracked on a wrong road on the way down due to the poor marking that gives the impression you should take the lower road. We figured this out a few hundred feet in, but we were already a few hundred feet lower, and were too tired to make our way back for even more backtracking. This turned to be ok since this road eventually took us back to the trail, which ends up following an asphalt road for the last mile and a half to Niska Banja. It was also very cool because we went thru a small village called Rautovo, which is very rural. The buildings are mostly made of mud and sticks, for real. We were a little confused on which way to go, so Jordan asked two old men who happened to be walking their cow, and they told us which way to go. The last thing we passed on the way out of Rautovo was the graveyard, which had the pictures of a lot of old couples who appeared to be from the early 20th and late 19th century. Overall it was a very cool experience to walk thru an old rural village like this and get an up close look.
This is my last hike in Serbia for this trip, and after this, I think I'll need a break before I tackle the Grand Canyon next month while my family has an extended stay with the relatives. I enjoyed hiking here very much and look forward to coming back in a few years to check out some more trails and hit the other peak on Suva Planina, which is called Sokolov Kamen (Falcon's Rock).