We got up extra early this morning because we had to be in Konjic by 8:00 for today’s adventure. We’re staying at the Swissotel in Sarajevo and they serve breakfast from 6:30 to 10:30. I think that’s the largest breakfast window of any hotel we’ve seen. And the breakfast spread was really good. So we met everyone for breakfast at 6:30, ate quickly, and left the hotel by 6:50.
Konjic is a popular tourist town for mountain adventures like rafting and canyoning on the upper Neretva River. We were scheduled to do two canyons with some river boarding (think boogie boarding down a mountain river). Unfortunately, the water levels are too low right now for the river boarding, but we still got to hike the canyons and float the rivers in our wetsuits and life jackets.
Charmaine and I don’t have any real canyoneering shoes. We knew we would want some on this trip, but they are nearly impossible to find in the United States. Brett says it can take up to a year to get them. We started looking for them about 2 months ago, but the impossible task lived up to its name. I did bring my approach shoes on this trip, and I used them on the via ferrata we did in Slovenia, but they’re not really water shoes. The tour guides did provide some scuba-style booties for use in the river, but I know from experience those are terrible for just about anything outside of the water. So I had a choice to make… do I wear my somewhat uncomfortable approach shoes and be happy during the non-floating periods, or do I go with the scuba booties provided by the guides and have a difficult time on everything outside of the water. I asked the woman giving our briefing about how much hiking we would do on our trip. She assured me we wouldn’t be hiking except in the river itself, so I decided to use the booties they supply. Charmaine also chose the booties over her worn-down running shoes that she’s planning to ditch at the end of the trip. Everyone else in our group has real canyoneering shoes, so they obviously went with their own high-quality equipment.
Coldest River in the World
We drove for about 40 minutes to get to the trailhead where we hiked up and then down into the narrow canyon. The choice of scuba booties was a terrible one. There wasn’t too much hiking from the drop-off point to the river, but it was pretty vertical and the booties were not up to the task. My feet were really sore by the time I got in the water. We were wearing 3mm farmer-john style wetsuits with dry-suit jackets on top, then a windbreaker, and finally a life jacket. It was a lot of equipment, but it worked out really well in the cold river. We also had helmets to protect our heads. Our guide claimed the Neretva River is well-known as the coldest river in the world. That felt like an exaggeration, but it looks like he was right. He also said the Rakitnica River (the main tributary to the Neretva), where we started our day, is even colder. The water temperature was probably around 38 degrees Fahrenheit, which felt plenty cold.
I accidentally left my gloves in the van, so my hands were well aware of the water temperature. My hands acclimated to the water after the first few sections of the river, but my choice of scuba booties continued to cause me trouble. We spent at least half our time walking the banks of the river, which were almost always hard, sharp, rocks. Those booties didn’t have much traction in or out of the water and I slipped and fell several times, but I never really got hurt thanks to all that equipment and padding.
The Rakitnica River was really beautiful. At 800 meters deep in some places, it is one of the deepest canyons in Europe. Our guide said the water is extremely pure and that we could drink it without worrying. None of us opted to test that claim, but it was definitely clear and beautiful.
As we walked and talked with our guide, we found out he has been to Utah several times while coaching snowboarders for all sorts of competitions including the Olympics, X-Games, etc. He was the head coach for snowboard teams from both Bosnia and Croatia in the big air and slopestyle events. It was interesting to hear his perspective on the world.
We made our way down the canyon to where it joins the Neretva River. I really enjoyed the floating sections, and I really disliked the non-floating sections (mostly due to my footwear choice). Some people in our group enjoyed the hiking more than the floating. There were a few sections of the canyon where the narrow canyon walls closed in on the river and everyone was forced to swim and/or float. The current was never very strong and the floating sections were usually pretty relaxing and enjoyable.
At the confluence with the larger Neretva River, we turned and hiked upstream until we reached our pull-out point. Along the way we jumped off a few cliffs and jumped into the river to float back down through some fun rapid sections. It was the perfect way to end the journey. And I was extremely happy to discover we didn’t have to hike far from the river to get back to the van.