The Davies, Route 4.

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The Davies, Route 4.

Sivria #78.

I take huge pleasure hiking on my own in Pirin . There is a zen like peace, almost meditative state that wandering our hills brings to me.  The silence filled with the millions of tiny noises of nature, the stillness punctuated only by the babble of streams and the chattering of birds. The frantic, hectic speed of modern life distilled down into a steady, peaceful rhythm of your steps over broken ground. I’m addicted to it and like an addict I keep going back for more and more.  The Davies have been a wonderful excuse to feed my habit!20160717_103412

Some routes demand company, not on a technical level. None of our routes really need you to have a guide or a buddy to hold your rope. But some of our routes (The Davies, Route 4. in particular) are just so idyllic so fantastically PIRIN that I feel that they should be shared with a group of friends Sivria #78 The Davies, route 4 is exactly that route.

20160717_103428Last time I was on Sivria we were a big crowd, a big mixed international crowd. Old, young, Bulgarian, British, Kiwi, experienced mountaineers, first timers even a baby in a rucksack! But this is the point of hiking to Sivria it is a magical combination of everything that there is to love about hiking in the mountains. There’s a decrepit ex communist chair lift to get you to altitude. There are lakes, mighty peaks, magical forests, rocks and meadows, views galore and at the end of the day there is a sketchy little bar by a lake to wash away the trail dust with cold beer!

Access to the start of the route is via the chair lift at Dobrinishtay. This relic of communism is much loved and well maintained. The staff are careful and attentive and for about 20 leva  you will glide up to 2200m through beautiful beech,and pine forests to be unceremoniously dropped  near the top of the Kleck line. It is a long day so it is worth being on the first lift around 8:30 am.

20160717_113130From the top of the lift there is a very clear trail that skirts round the west shore of the Bez Bog lake. This very popular route is a rush hour motorway of picnic-ers on the weekends  so it is best to go mid week. Following the trail over the pass you get your first view of Djangal #87 this fortress of clean granite offers some of the best rock climbing in Pirin and dominates the route. The trail drops down the south side of the pass and runs almost straight south to Popovo lake. Popovo is a beautiful destination in itself, the lake is surrounded by grassy wild flower meadows and the little island in the centre of the lake offers plenty of scope for contemplation. It is about 2 hours gentle walk to Popovo lake and this is the final destination for most of the crowds.

20160717_124710I pretty sure you are not meant to swim in the lake but if you are inclined to dive into the crystal clear waters the south west corner of the lake offers some fantastic swimming holes and rocks to bask on as you dry off. For Sivria you turn left when you arrive at the lake, heading east along the shore you will find a path that gets fainter and fainter as you go round. The route up the west face of Sivria is not very clear.  The trail markers are mostly just little piles of stones but it makes little difference. As you look up aim for the shoulder just to the right of the summit. Of our group of 10 I think we must have gone 5 different ways, some option for the direct route straight to the top others winding in and out of the rocks to find the easiest way over grassy meadows.

pirin_-_kremenski_ezera_-_img_9291Allow another couple of hours to slowly slowly get to the top, it is a steep pull up 400m of ascent, stronger walkers will do it in an hour but whats the rush, with every step up more and more views open around you.  Just below the summit there is a lovely grassy patch littered with smooth stones that make perfect picnic tables and chairs, the summit itself is covered with man made towers of stones that lend a fairy tale feel to the place. This is somewhere you could imagine wizards wielding unlimited power of witches meeting for sabbaths.

20160717_141925At the junction with this path turn left heading back up towards Polojan #64. It is a very useful habit to get into, using peaks as directional aides. If you can focus on summits for orientation you will save yourself from making wrong turns! This trail is used by summer herders to bring their stock into the mountains for the summer grazing so it is  well worn but not marked very well. You are now in pristine wilderness, nature has settled into itself other than the path there is little trace of man and the trees, grasses and flowers are as they have been for thousands of years. No one has been up here logging or planting just the biannual rise and fall of herders passing through to graze the high pastures.

20160717_152547The trail climbs gently up the side of the valley heading almost due west until it meets  the stream where you cross and gently climb the other side, now heading north. About half an hour from the stream is a shepherds hut which comes as an odious shock of humanity after the last 5 hours of pristine wilderness. From the hut it is another hour up and round the ridge that circles Bez Bog lake. The last 20 minutes of the walk is through a 3m high forest of Klek the path is well maintained and you get to see just how intimidating the pretty green carpets of Klek are close up.  They are almost impenetrable to everything other than the wild boar who appear not to care as long as there are there are some wild crocus bulbs to dig up.

All of a sudden you will come out of the maze of Klek to the shore of Bez Bog lake, turn right and in a few minutes you’ll be sat in the sun with a cold beer in you hand contemplating the cool waters of the lake.20160717_152837

It’s is a long day, you need to do the whole route in under 7 hours if you want to catch the last lift down at 4pm. Stay the night at the Bez Bog hut and you can spend the whole day slowly slowly enjoying this pristine corner of Pirin.

The Davies, Route 6.

http://alextrek.com/gallery-alextrek-pirin-vasilashki-chukar-climbing

Photo Credits to Alex Trek

The Davies, Route 6.

Vazella #33, Vasilashki Chukar #34

 

This is a lovely little walk close to the road head at Vihren hut. The Davies, Route 6 will take you about 5 hours of which 3 hours are on clearly marked main trails. 2 hours of the route is off piste and involves a little bit of easy scrambling. This is a great route to practice hiking off piste and a wonderfully easy introduction to scrambling. I took my son here to get his confidence back after his first scrambling adventure!

Starting at Vihren hut follow the main trail to Damianitsa hut. This trail is marked with red and white blazes and green and white blazes. The trail follows the river up the valley towards Ribno lake then climbs to Jabeshko lake. Here the trail splits and the red and white markers go south east towards Tevno Hut and the green and white markeres head almost due east towards Damianitsa hut.  Follow the green and white path as it zig zags up the slope towards the pass “Todorina Porta” .

 

Near the top the path skirts round a field of boulders at this point turn right (east) across the boulders towards the summit of the ridge . Follow the ridge south east. There is a path along the top of the ridge but in places it is over grown with klek, fight your way through the klek! There are a couple of spots where you walk along the ridge edge but nothing too scary!

There are some magnificent views down to Vasilashki lakes and across to the pinicaled ridge of Strazhite and Polejan and Djangal in the background. This enjpoyable but short ridge walk ends abruptly with a section that requires a little care. The first pinicale can be avoided by taking the path that skirts below it down to the right. I would recommend taking with direct route over the top of this pinacle. Follow the ridge line straight up to the summit. It will require some easy scrambling. The next few spikes can be climbed in the same manner but they are covered in klek. It is better to go around them following the vague path down to the right of the ridge.

Don’t be tempted to follow a “path” down and across the bottom of the south west face of Vasilashki Chukar. Stay high! Make your way up to the foot of the final face of Vasilashki Chukar. This North West face looks intimidating from below but don’t be put off it is not as scary as it looks! A few minutes sfitt climbing up the grassy slope and then a scramble through the rocks and you are on the summit. Please be aware the rocks are loose here so go gently. The summit is a lovely spot so take a break here and enjoy.

Descend directly south from the summit.  The route is clear, follow the ridge over boulders and loose ground passing 2 rounded pinicles. Asscend again to reach the narrow col between the 2 peaks. there is a vague path here that curves up and around some boulders to the summit of Vazella.

From Vazella, drop down south east over easy ground to the main red and white trail that goes from Vihren Hut to Tevno Hut. From here you will descend through a huge boulder field down to Dulgoto lake. Before you do take a moment to enjoy the majesty of Bashliyska Chukar, Vihren and Kutelo. From Dulgoto lake it is an easy walk back to Vihren hut following the red and white trail.

 

 

The Davies, Route 3.

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The Davies, Route 3.

Todorka#37, Sredna Todorka#36, Malka Todorka#35

 

Life in Pirin has 4 very distinct seasons. Cold snowy winters give way to mild wet springs of lush alpine meadows filled with flowers. The summer is hot and dry with months of relentless sunshine drying out the hills into a uniform khaki brown. The summer sun can carry on long into autumn but with the shortening days the temperatures fall and the nights are cold. This is my favourite time of year to be in the mountains. Few people venture up into the high mountains after mid September but  the mild climate makes it ideal hiking weather.

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Nearly all the routes I will describe over the next 20 or 30 posts will be summer routes. There are many fantastic winter routes in Pirin. When the snow and ice lock the rocks into place a whole other world of possibilities open up. There are enough winter adventures to be had in Pirin to fill many many books. The aim of this guide is to attract people to explore our mountains, to introduce them to the joys of Pirin and to share our experiences. Di is a very accomplished winter mountaineer but I am not. I love to ski tour (ski up mountains) and I do own an ice axe but she gets little use! This is our view of Pirin and as such a very personal journey through our beloved mountains.

The Todorkas, are a crescent moon shaped ridge of peaks, the largest of which stands above the ski area and dominates the skyline.  Todorka viewed from Bansko looks like a classic triangular peak standing alone and proud between two very separate massifs.  In reality she is a buttress or spur that juts out from the main line of Pirin peaks working as a watershed between the Bunderitsa and Damianitsa rivers. route3-12

It is a very viable route and even pleasant to climb Tordorka in the summer but i would like to describe this route as a winter trip. This is by far and away the easiest of winter routes and the majesty of the mountains in the winter is well worth the minimal hardship of a winter ascent. If you go in late March starting early in the morning the ski back down to town is no harder than a red run and normally as smooth and firm as a piste. The bang for your buck is massive! A real sense of big mountain mountaineering with the effort of a summer picnic!

route3-11Taking the Bunderitsa chair lifts from the top of the gondola to the top of the mountain removes most of the effort. The top lift drops you at 2600m with Tordorka only 2746m. For the majority of winter mountaineers and extreme skiers the trot up the ridge in ski boots is under 45 minutes but if this is your first time hiking in the snow I would suggest a more serious approach.

Take a guide, the vast majority of trips into the hills in the winter go without incident but when things do go wrong in the winter they go seriously wrong so take an expert. Speak to mountain rescue about the weather and snow pack.  Early mornings normally mean the snow is more solid underfoot and more stable for skiing down. If you can be on the first lift you will be back for an early lunch. If this is your first time it is best to borrow some kit. The ridge is more than 2m wide most of the way but there are two narrow sections where it is less than 50cm and a couple of steps that need you to use your hands and another couple where you have to balance on a less than 20cm wide ridge.route3-10

For a first trip I would suggest you borrow crampons and get a small section of rope to connect you to your guide. A rucksack that has straps to hold your skis will free up your hands. In the winter moisture is a huge issue so it is best to start the walk wearing as little clothing as possible, you are going to get really hot and sweaty. Start the walk uncomfortably cold, you will soon warm up. The problem you are trying to avoid is sweat. If you wear too much clothing you will get sweaty which is fine as you climb but when you get to the top and rest you will be damp and you will get dangerously cold very quickly. Practice walking with crampons the day before, there is a technique similar to how a penguin walks, be careful not to kick yourself they hurt! Walk slowly, you do not want to get out of breath so develop a speed that is so slow that you never get out of breath. At the right speed you can walk for hours over the hardest terrain and never get tired, never get hot and never get sweaty!

route3-4From the top of the lift there is a pisted section of about 100m that goes up to the crucifix just above the lift, I normally sort all my equipment at the bottom of this section. Crampons on, jackets off, skis on the bag and on my back, helmet off but gloves and sunglasses on. I use my ski poles as walking sticks. The sun is very strong in the winter so sunglasses are a must as you will be looking at the snow all the way up. Wear your gloves, snow and ice are sharper than you think.

From the crucifix follow the ridge line straight up. the path is normally well worn so easy to follow, if there is a wind lip out over the east face stay well back from it.  About 20 minutes into your walk there are a couple of rocks that will need you to use yours hands. It is worth being over cautious, make sure you have three good points of contact before you move on, one hand and two feet safely placed mean you can move your other hand, two hands and one foot gripping the hill nicely means you can move the other foot. Go slow move safely. Kick deeper foot holds, clear snow to get the best hand holds, there is no rush. Even going slowly you will be at the top in an hour.route3-6

There is a small section skirting the gully at the top where you walk along a narrow ridge 20cm wide. This is where your crampons are amazing. Even if it is pure blue ice they will grip like claws.  Skirt the gully and walk up to the summit. The views are amazing! There is normally a bug wind lip hanging over the north face so stay at least 10m back from the edge! From here you can see nearly all the big peaks in Pirin and snow bound they are almost unrecognisable. You can clearly see the crescent moon of the ridge from here sweeping south and east until it joins the main range at Banderishki Chukar #32.

route3-9I would normally put on my ski here and  glide along the ridge towards Sredna Todorka#36 but if it feels too technical walk it. The ridge is normally solid wind blown snow so easy to walk on. The route south is maybe another hour of up and down along the ridge line. By the time you get to Malka Todorka #35 you will probably be in need of a rest. travelling over snow is much harder than walking over summer ground. Take a break here drink some coffee, eat something and rest. It is very important that before you start skiing down that your body is rested and ready for skiing. I have fallen many times on my first turn after a long hike just because my muscles haven’t be in the right mode.

Put on all your kit.your skis or board, jackets helmet goggles and ski/ side slip down the ridge line until you feel comfortable to ski properly. As you look down the ridge you are heading right, it is the much more gentle slope, between a blue and red run, wide and featureless.  Left is a steeper more rocky, cliffy route down to Damianitsa hut! Find the line you are most comfortable with and follow the valley down towards Vihren hut. The skiing is very easy and if you keep right you will be able to ski without pushing nearly all the way to the hut.route3-2

I normally stop for a cup of tea at Vihren hut to let the manager know I am ok, he spends a huge amount of his time watching people descend from Todorka to call for help if anyone gets into trouble so it is a courtesy to  pass the time of day. There are normally a few of the extreme team hanging out here so it is a social point as well as a rest.

route3-1From the hut you can either ski down the road (often it is piste bashed) or through the bushes following the stream. Either way you will easily get to the bridge at Banderitsa camp site with little or no effort. From the camp site to the ski area is very flat and involves a fair amount of skating and pushing.  It should take about 15 minutes of effort to get back to the Tomba piste and 20minutes to be back in a bar! route3-7

 

 

 

 

Djangal 2730m

Djangal

02/08/2013 Training/playing again! Yesterday I finally got to the top of Peak Djangal 2730m. A long day all in all with maybe 8 hours of hiking and climbing as we tried to find  a route up the hill. There are a few relatively clearly marked trails for people to use but none of them are really that exciting. So from Popovo lake we headed straight up the north face and with lots of pottering around and trying out of different options. On the way up we found some lovely granite slabs that were full of crystals that made for some great climbing practice. Close to the top there were still some large patches of snow but nothing that got in our way. I think summer 2013 is one of the coldest and wettest I have ever seen. This has made the hiking really beautiful this year as everything is so green and lush all sorts of flowers are out bigger brighter and longer than normal and while the meadows would normally be burnt brown, now they are still green carpets dotted with wild flowers!

Di got to the top about ten minutes before me by following the westerly ridge for the last little bit. I didn’t really like the look of that way much so followed a lovely wide, zig-zaging path up the middle of the face which unfortunately ended with a tiny problem! 5 vertical meters below the top the path stopped and turned into in a wall of soft saggy turf which at ground level would have been a matter of 4 steps up onto nice clean rock. With a few hundred meters of cliff below me those 4 soft saggy little steps become a little more daunting, I totally lost my bottle. Di came down to where I was to see what was taking me so long and found a quivering mess hanging onto the rock. Rope unpacked and a few words of encouragement and soon we were both sat on the top. Djangal is a fantastically positioned mountain high enough and central enough to give some great views of most of Pirin, a glimpse of Greece and a little look over into Macedonia.

The route down proved a little fraught as we decided that to follow one of the proper trails would be boring! So after a few false starts we found what looked like a goat trail down towards Popovo lake and yup it was definitely a goat trail. So with lots of shuffling on our bums and hanging on by fingertips we eventually got down to a proper trail. Evening time high up in Pirin is a truly magical time all the hikers are safely home and most of the birds and beasties are either going to sleep or just waking up. The long march back to Bez Bog was lovely and cool with a gentle breeze for most of the way and an ice cold beer at the hut really topped off a great day.

Things were not to end on such a high note as on the plod down the piste to the car we were to find that evening time lower down in Pirin is for some a very active and aggressive time of day. Thousands upon thousands of mosquitoes were waking up to the joyous sight of some fresh meat. The assault was phenomenal and relentless.