The K24 challenge started back in 2000 as an idea among a couple of friends (Milan Savellij, Dušan Štrucl in Marjan Lačen) who pondered whether it would be possible to walk/trek/run across the peaks of Koroska region in under 24 hours, without support (apart from food and water). The trail across the 5 peaks (Urslja Gora 1699m, Smrekovec 1577, Raduha 2062m, Govca (Oljseva) 1929m, Peca 2126m) is around 90km long with around 5500m of ascending. It starts and finishes in Crna na Koroskem and the choice of route between the peaks and the direction you take doesn't matter as long as you get to each of the peaks and touch the top.
Whoever finishes the challenge becomes a 'member of the K24 club'. However, no-one really checks whether you've actually done the route, if you had other support or if you cheated. As the founders say, the challenge is based on good old 'mountain' honesty to yourself – if you lie, you know that you've lied, if you've done it, you alone can be happy about achieving this feat.
K24 - My challenge
I decided to run the route in the counter-clockwise direction climbing to Peca first (via Pikovo), continuing across Oljseva (Govca), and Raduha, adding in an additional peak of Komen and then continuing across Smrekovec, Sleme and Urslja gora.
Crna na Koroskem – Peca, Kumer
I packed my gear the day before and talked my parents into driving me to Crna na Koroskem, where I've put on my head-torch, loaded my trusty Salomon vest and set off at 1am.
The night was quiet, crisp and clear. Climbing towards Kordezeva Glava (the top of Peca or Petzen in German), I've woken up a couple of dogs passing the nearby farms on the way but otherwise enjoyed the tranquility of dark woods in the night. Me, my footsteps, the stars above, my breath and my footsteps. Everyone's got a mountain to climb, and this was one of mine.
The top was cold and windy. I didn't stick around for long and made my way down to Kumer, where my lovely parents waited for me, half asleep, with water and sandwiches.
Kumer - Oljseva, Raduha, Koca na Loki pod Raduho
The night run continued along the gravel path a few hundred meters away from the border with Austria. Climbing to the top of Oljseva (Govca) I really started to feel the weight of my backpack carrying all the extra gear I usually leave in a drop-bag at ultra marathons (like the change of clothes, additional gels, extra food, water, etc.).
However, the experience of getting to the top, just as the first rays of sun started to appear far in the distance charged my legs with youthful enthusiasm for a swift descend towards Bukovnik.
At Koca na Grohatu, I refilled my water bottles with the water from the fountain outside the hut and climbed to the top of Raduha in daylight.
From the top of Raduha I ran down the short technical descend (or at least perceived that way) and reached Koca na Loki pod Raduho, where I decided to have a coffee before continuing.
Koca na Loki pod Raduho – Komen, Smrekovec, Andrejev dom pod Slemenom
This was the easiest part of the run. Terrain was non-technical, the sun was out and the autumn woods and alpine fields were an absolute joy to travel through. I've met many happy people on the way. My route took me past Komen (the peak is about 200m away from the 'official' K24 route, so I decided to pop to the top on the way.
From here I continued to Smrekovec (where a kind lady offered me an apple) and then ran along the ridge down to Andrejev dom pod Smrekovcem. My amazing parents were here again to cheer me on.
Leg four (oh gosh it hurts)
Andrejev dom pod Slemenom – Urslja gora, Zerjav, Crna na Koroskem
This was the part where the leges definitely started 'feeling it'. I scrambled up that last ascend of Urslja Gora with the speed and grace of a drunken snail. I grabbed some Cedevita (best drink ever) at the top and set off towards Crna.
The descend was amazing – the path between Naravske Ledine and Zerjav, through the red and yellow coloured autumn leaves was one of the most beautiful parts of the whole journey.
From the start of Zerjav village to Crna na Koroskem it's then just a short run, in km anyway. Although I was doing well, and my pace was quite fast it felt like an eternity.
I reached that fountain in Crna na Koroskem in 15:42 with a massive smile on my face and mum and dad cheering, clapping and snapping pictures (so many hands?).
All in all
Amazing experience, fantastic crisp, day (sunny all day), beautiful, clear night and a great challenge. Definitely worth going in the counter clock-wise direction and possibly doing it in the summer at night – when less gear has to be carried. Until the next time, thank you Koroska and thank you mum and dad. You rock!