I’ve just come back from 72 hours at Tevno lake and other than the usual aches and pains from 3 longs days hiking I feel like a new man. Tevno is a magical place. At 2512m it is higher than what I consider a mountain but surrounded by mountains giving a secret valley feel.
Tevno is not one place as such it is the name of a lake (Tevno Ezero) and a hut (Hija Tevno) and the shelf of land on which the two perch. Cut off from the rest of Pirin by a curtain of mountains on 3 sides the meadows around the lake are a salve of lush green in a land of boulders. The 4th side drops away south towards Sandanski and Greece lending an infinity pool feel to the landscape.
In the summer months when Pirin is busiest Tevno is a riot of tents and tourists. It is only 4 hours walk from the top of the Bez Bog lift and 4 easy hours at that, with food, shelter, electricity and drinking water it is a perfect base for hikers. The tiny hut can squeeze in 120 people, packed in like sardines. Suffocating in their own farts, baked in their own body heat, August is not the time to visit. Valia and Ivan who run the hut do an amazing job, on one tiny stove Valia will cook 3 hot meals a day for the crowds that pass through, Ivan with his train of ponies constantly work the route down to Damianitsa hut collecting supplies. July and August must be brutal graft.
The outflow from the lake has been connected to a generator at the bottom of the infinity pool cliff giving light and power. Mobile phone signal still hasn’t and probably will never get to Tevno, the nature of the valley and its distance from the civilised world means it isn’t really viable. But by climbing to the col above the hut you can get signal if you really need to keep in touch.
Amazingly for a Bulgarian mountain hut, especially one that is so busy, the loos are fantastically clean! Some ingenious plumbing means that the classic squat toilets have been turned into self cleaning squat toilets! The huge drop down the front of the hillside helps keep a certain distance and a blind eye to downstream pollution makes the whole experience remarkably pleasant.
For me Tevno is an Autumn thing, the hotel quietens down in September and we are normally closed by the 15th of October. My birthday is at the end of September and for the last 5 or 6 years we have gone with a small group of friends to a small beach on Thassos, away from the crowds late in the season it is normally deserted. With great rocks of diving a cafe and a restaurant it is everything we need for a super chilled break. This year we closed the hotel early and as soon as I got back from Greece I packed my rucksack and nipped off to Tevno. Pirin is not quite deserted in the Autumn but my god it’s close. Once you are off the main tracks there is not a soul in the hills. The way to Tevno follows the main Bez Bog / Popovo Lake motorway as far as Popovo, this track is insanely busy in the summer , crowds from Sofia and Plovdiv trying to get away from the summer heat, school summer camps and packs of trekkers heading deeper into the hills make it a hectic place. But now with the night time temperatures below freezing and the official holidays over silence prevails.
The few hikers that I passed on the main trail don’t venture past the lake so the faint track from Popovo up to the pass is empty. This little valley sandwiched between the Popovo valley and Djangal ridge might have a green floor but the high rocky walls lend an imposing gates of Mordor feel that is added to but the silence. Rocks that have been shunted around and then welded in place by ice overnight are now freed by the warm sun. Rock falls punctuate the silence suggesting goats among the scree, the odd crow and the clump of my footsteps are the only sounds.
I try to focus on my breathing tempering my pace to the terrain keeping my breaths constant my mind ever balanced on the in and out of my breath. I pace myself to never feel tired by any step, little steps, constant breath. The sun’s warmth, hot on one side, the cold mountain air chilly where my shirt is damp with sweat. I stop every hour for a drink and some nuts, I don’t know how but my body has a pretty accurate clock for these breaks, give or take 5 minutes I’ll decide to have a rest on the hour every hour. the relief of ditching the bag and taking the weight off my feet is bliss, a different awareness of nature floods my mind as the tiredness eases out of me. The rhythm of steps and breaths , the focus on the ground in front of me is replaced with a symphony of luxury, resting in the view all around me.
The final pull up over the pass at Kralev Dvor always looks so much bigger that it really is, the daunting ever steepening wall of scree and smashed rock disappears in the steady rhythm of breaths and steps. It is a magical feeling looking down toward Tevno from the pass. Scree and jagged peaks give way to a grassy meadow. I’m tired now as I’ve been in the hotel too much this summer and my pack is heavy with all my camping clobber but in no time I’m sat on the bench out front, slowly taking off my boots zoned out in my little world of sweaty quiet.
Valia is the same as ever, maybe a little more chilled, maybe a little older. I have been coming here for 13 years and she has been running the hut all that time. She is a mum now and her son Bojidar is staying at the hut as things are quieter. A couple of plastic toys and children’s clothes on the washing line lend a domestic air to this remote spot. I normally come with a friend so Valia is surprised to see me alone, we half chat neither needing the conversation but enjoying the renewed acquaintance. Soup and sausage make for a simple lunch and dinner and then I’m off again.
I don’t sleep at Tevno, I am not a fan of mountain huts at the best of times but the stifling insulation of the high mountain huts is too much for me. This far from civilisation I like to sleep out under the stars. I have my normal spot the other side of the lake but today I’ve decided to sleep on the top of Valiavishki chukar 2664m. It is a bit of a plod up the ridge and with the wind picking up and clouds in the valleys I worry that it could be a cold and pointless night. I found a perfect spot, flattish grass between some big boulders out of the wind right on the summit!
There is a fine balance to sleeping in a bivvy bag yes you must be warm but not so warm that you are claustrophobic. I like my feet toasty but my head cool, shoulders and neck warm but face cool. Turning over in your sleep is a delicate affair if you don’t want to get tied in a knot, getting up to go for a pee in the night, lethal! Tonight I get it perfect. I fall asleep practicing my meditation just after a fantastic sunset, I wake up again to the most amazing night sky I have ever seen. Pitch black, the milky way dominating my vision, every star clear and bright. I lie there for a while blown away by the vastness of it all. The beauty of the universe stretching away into infinity is awesome! The freezing air is biting at my cheeks so I pull the hood over and go back to sleep. I’m awoken again, this time by the moon, it means nothing to me just a harsh bright white light like a torch shone in my face, grumpily I try to ignore it and go back to sleep. Dawn is a riot of colour, nature has no shame! Like a whore who has won the lottery, technicolour splashes of red and gold, pink and orange smear themselves across the landscape. I wait for the sun to come up properly, half extract myself from my bag and sit reveling in the warmth of the sun on my skin.
Packing fast stiffly I set off towards a 2600m peak with no name a click or so to the west. It is a little drop down and then a gentle climb back up to the peak, a nice warm on such a chilly morning. The scramble down through the boulders back to Tevno hut is a bit nerve wracking with stiff sleepy legs. A quick breakfast of eggy bread and tea and I am off again. I want to explore a ridge called Mazgovishki chukar. Our plan to map and promote all the peaks in Pirin occasionally needs boots on the ground. on the three maps we have the ridge could have anything from 1 to 5 peaks on it. It is a hard climb up the steep ridge by the col but once I am on the ridge the mix of boulders and grass is fun walking. After a couple of hours three things become clear. 1) I am in terrible shape compared to last year. 2) There are 5 peaks on the ridge. 3) There is no way I am doing 2 of them today. One is at the end of a narrow rocky ridge with certain death on both sides ( I’ll need Di and some rope to tackle that) and the other is out on a flying buttress of dwarf pine covered smashed rock that will take hours to get to and back from. That one will have to be a mission on its own probably from below. I wander slowly back to Tevno worrying about the clouds, if they come in it will be a warm wet night with lots of dew if they stay away it will be cold and clear. Probably very cold as it will be the second cloudless night in a row. I decide for a lower more sheltered spot in the folds of meadow towards the far edge of the fields away from the hut. Hopefully out of the wind and with a good view of sun set and rise.
Errors all round! too many clothes on, no hat, restless sleeping meant I got tied in the most awful knot in the bivvy bag. A freezing boulder under my mattress , heavy frost and minus way too much, all in all a shit night. Well the stars were amazing again but otherwise shit! I left my phone in my rucksack so that got frozen which killed the battery. Same for my water bottles, and my head. I woke up with a blinding headache which I can only think was due to my head being out of the bag all night without a hat. Feeling miserable and not a little sorry for myself I start digging through my medical kit where I know I have some amazingly powerful opiates, nope they’ve run out as well. Packed and ready to roll I head off for breakfast . Bojidar and I make some puzzles as I nurse some tea and eggy bread. It is a long day back to Vihren hut and I am not feeling my best. I want to climb 3 peaks that are off the main trail and really don’t know if I have the energy. It is a long hard walk on a good day but today isn’t a good day. I pace myself as best I can, stopping a lot of water and nuts, slowly up and slowly down pausing at every excuse but it is soon clear that I’m not going to get those extra peaks. Malak Tipits it way off the main trail, Vazela looks huge and impossible and the ridge to Vasilashki chukar like death on a stick. I know it is my addled brain that is making things look worse than they are but still I can’t face it. The sun is burning and every little bit of shade is a blessing and a curse. The cool in the shade is both a balm for my brain and well as my skin but then it also means that the ice from last night has not defrosted yet so the rocks and mud underfoot are treacherous. Eventually I start down through the boulders into the valley above Vihren hut. down down down, giant careful steps, solid easy rocks, wobbly ones, giant steps down onto tiptoes, flowing paths of crushed rock. on and on the descent goes. I keep telling myself not to get too happy about getting to the grass at the bottom as there are two more sections of equally difficult terrain but still my heart skips as I step off the rocks onto soft grass. The path get busier, a group of Bulgarians heading to Tevno, two beautiful girls dressed for a wedding, a lost lone walker asking for directions. Down down down the path heads into the dwarf pine, offering a little shade I’m happy to be in amongst this most annoying of plants. I stop to chat to an Israeli couple but too tired carry on after the briefest of conversations. More rocks, more sun, now so tired. I stop in the cool damp shade under a huge boulder, I can see the last meadow before the bridge, Vihren hut is 20 minutes away at this pace but it feels further. More nuts, more water, my stomach is not happy about the nuts it wants something easier to work with but nuts is all I have so nuts it is. I am pretty zoned out now my brain has been in a state of nothing for hours so as I come up to the bridge and see Dylan, Vania, Niki and the dogs it is with a strange sense of equanimity, that I drop my bag, kneel down to hug Dylan.