Bansko Mountain Biking, Perfect Day

Bansko Mountain Biking:-

MTB Bansko

Mountain biking trail in Bansko

Bansko is a great place fro mountain biking. Here at the hotel Avalon we have been making and promoting Mountain biking trails for nearly 10 years. The official mountain biking trails are limited to 176km of trails accessible from Bansko town but this is nowhere near the total extent of available riding. Not even the tip of the iceberg! For a better idea of the mission click here :- Bansko-MTB.com

Weirdly the trails are a bit organic. They evolve and change as people use them. Bad marking, exploration and feedback all work towards making each trail perfect. In the case of Perfect Day this evolution has been pretty extreme. The direction, length and nearly 1/2 of the route  have all changed over the years. It is one of the most popular and well used mountain biking trails in the region. Just under 20km and with only 2 or 3 hundred meters of climbing it is not a killer route but it is tough enough to keep most people entertained.

Last week I went out with a couple of locals to ride the whole route in one go exactly as it is mapped. Considering I can claim to have created all the official trails in the valley it might sound weird that I have only ridden 2 of them all the way round. In the case of Perfect Day  I have ridden sections of it over and over and over again painting the route but riding the whole trail just for fun? Never!

None of us were in particularly good shape so it took a couple of sweaty hours  but riding it just for fun was a real eye opener for me. There are some fantastic long easy sections of rolling terrain and a couple of challenging  but easy climbs up into the woods and then some great fast but easy single track.  There are two technical climbs in the woods and 3 or 4 fast technical descents on single track all of which I had to walk as they were way beyond me! No biggie really but great fun for the better riders. The last 1/4 of the route up and out of the forest and then back down the ski road is an easy and fun way to loosen off the legs.

All in all it is a great trail for almost any level of rider, a pro could probably sprint it in an hour and love the variations and a total beginner could spend a day with a picnic pottering round and take 5 hours over it and never break into a sweat!

N.B. The route is marked starting at the Bansko Army base and goes along the main dirt road out to the golf course. It finishes at the caves on the ski road. On some older maps it is marked the other way round, follow the new direction (anti clockwise) for the best experience.

 

The Scotsman. Mountain biking in Bansko

The scotsman

Mountain Biking in Bansko, Bulgaria. It’s strange how myths of mountains get under your skin. There is no rhyme or reason to it  but one morning you wake up and something has stuck in your head about a particular pass or peak. I’ve spent 10 years now wandering around the Pirin mountains trying to itch various urges. Djangal, Yalovarnika, The North face of Vihren, Jumgiev rub,  Suhodol.. they have all held their sway over me at some point. I would love to describe it as a raging fire, a passion, some sort of all consuming glory filled  Shakelton-esque force that drives me on. The reality is more of an itch.

Yesterday I scratched one of those itches. And what a scratch! If you can imagine Baloo in the jungle book scratching up against a palm tree you will get an idea of how good an itch it was! I have been mildly inclined to ride The Flying Scotsman since its inception. The trail looks amazing on paper. A long rolling descent from the Dobrinishtay ski area back to Bansko. The graph shows things just as you want to see them 25kms of top left to bottom right. There might be the odd moment when you’ll need to pedal a bit but really only if you can be bothered. Otherwise just free wheel home baby, whoop whoop, la di da yeah ha!…..BLAH….BLAH….BLAH.

The reality is, you need to get to the top to those miles and miles of down hill. Getting to the top wasn’t tooo bad, maybe only 20 kilometers of up hill, a 1000 vertical meters of up hill, 20 kilometers of hauling 107 kilos of fat up a 1000 vertical meters of mid day sun baked, up hill. You’re getting the idea.

Pretty early on in the forest my urges kicked in and a trail I have not been down before looked like a promising alternative and so started an hour or so of following ancient trails to see if they would link up. Interesting if you are into scrambling lost in the woods carrying your bike through stream and thicket but ultimately futile. We eventually got back on the proper trail and climbed up through some fantastic country.  Barely used logging trail running up through beautiful mixed forest, cool shade provided by old growth trees all in a cloud of butterflies attracted to the salt on our shirts.   One of the best views down into the valley from near the summit (the photo at the top) gave a glimpse of Dobrinishtay and the extent of our climb.

Eventually after quiet a few sweaty hours we got pay back and off we rolled down the endless descent to Bansko.  Wide, hard packed forest roads, little wiggly bits of single track, long straight runs, swooping linked banked turns miles and miles of fun!

On the map I’ve got they call it Trionska Livada but I have always known it as Trionska Polyana. The name is irrelevant the myth of this scruffy little meadow halfway back to Bansko has been a constant theme in my struggles with the national park. This 1/4 acre of shrub and wild flowers has been debated at ministerial level and has been a thorn in the side of 3 directors of National Park Pirin. The problem comes from the fact that even with all the will in the world not everyone who works in the mighty bureaucratic  machine  that is the Bulgarian National Parks Authority can know every square meter of land in the parks. Allowances have to be made, accommodations and vaguenesses . However Bureaucracy in Bulgaria is  BUREAUCRACY and if a jobs worth feels the need to thrust out his chest and write to the boss and if that letter gets all the way to the top  all those accommodations, allowances and vaguenesses have to be ignored and the letter of the LAW must be applied.

The details are dull in the extreme but have been a constant theme of my summers. Trionska polyana lies within the general area of the National Park however the route into it passes through 150m of Reserve.  Reserve where no man may set foot, reserve so special, dam it, so sacred that it is the raison d’etre of  the entire National Park.  Well finally this winter some sanity has descended and a compromise reached, the minister in charge has agreed that mountain bikers can walk the 150m along the road that runs through the Reserve and the trail can now be officially be used.

So yesterday, at about 4 in the afternoon our hero sat. On a wobbly bench in a scruffy meadow. Sweaty, muddy and tired. Listening, to the birds, the little silences, the wind in the trees. He sat in Trionska Polyana and for a few moments that scruffy little meadow took on a whole new beauty.

Here is a link to a video of the downhill section of the trail!

Djangal

Mountain biking on the Flying Scostman MTB Trail in Bansko Bulgaria. Written by James Hughes from The Hotel Avalon, Bansko,  Bulgaria. With many thanks to Rich Walker for support with the MTB Trail finding and guiding.

The Road to Nowhere

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The Road to Nowhere, what is it all about? For most people it is a mountain bike rally that takes place at the end of July every year, for some it is a community of mountain bikers in Bansko but for me it has been/is a bit of a journey. I started out in 2004 trying to find reasons for people to come to Bansko in the summer and to keep myself entertained trough those long lazy days between winter seasons.

I started off by wandering around the mountains close to Bansko trying to find routes that might be interesting to bikers  but on foot things take a really really long time. The dogs were good company the weather wasn’t. Being fat and ginger in 30 degree heat without water took it’s toll, the trail names tell a story in themselves, “Dead Dog” almost killed Krishna, “Perfect Day” almost killed me and “The Road to Nowhere”  drove Mick mad with its long long long circular section!

After a couple of summers I decided to call in the big guns and invited mountain bikers to come and stay for free in exchange for trail finding and marking, the offer still stands but no one really believes it’s true. We did get one group who found the “Flying Scotsman”  and Mick Lever who found The Road to Nowhere and “Pondorossa”  but the pottering around was the main source of new trails.

In 2006 there was some saga in Czech about mountain biking and lots of trails in Czech got banned from use so even though we still had almost no interest in mountain biking in Bansko I decided to try and get everything legal and above board. What a mission that has been, 3 of the trails are in the National Park, we have trails in the Municipalities of  Bachevo, Razlog, Banya, Dobrinishtay and Bansko. Half of these guys don’t talk to the other half, the National park didn’t talk to the town hall for many years the National Park is not allowed to do anything without a ton of paperwork and permission signed in triplicat from a notary on Mars. Nightmare is not the word.

Some things went well Mayor Kravarov was very supportive and gave me money to help mark the trails the old director of the National Park Grancharov was very supportive with huge amounts of time and advice .  Nasko from Iskar Tours made us some great maps.  But the crux of the matter is and was always the trails and how to maintain and mark them. In a good year with me really focusing on the job I could keep 3 trails open and marked but not all seven. Finally last year a group of the ex pats got involved and totally changed the game, working like slaves with rakes and spades they attacked the worst parts of Dead Dog and what had once been a tough trail now became an awesome trail. I hope they keep up their good work!

So why this post? Well today is the 7th of April 2014 it’s probably 9 or 10 years since I started this journey and part of the routine of trying to get everything done is to drop in on the Driector of National Park Pirin on a monthly basis and poke things a bit. Well today my routine chat was stopped halfway through as Rossen (the director) suddenly remembered something, so telling me to stay where I was he trotted off and came back with one of the girls and told her to break the news to me. Sveti (the girl) has been involved in the MTB saga for probably 4 years now and has been working very hard trying to get the trails legalised and as the chat explained finally, FINALLY! The Flying Scotsman has received its permission from Sofia. o.k. there are a couple of caveats for one small section but the trail is now legal!

It’s a small victory and there is probably only one other person who really knows how much it has taken but it is a victory. There wont be any medals or cheering crowds there wont be any glory or recognition. But there is a little warm glow in me and weirdly as I type this a tear in my eye.

 

The Davies, Route 8

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The Davies, Route 8

Dzhangal#87

Djangal#87 Option 1

 

The Davies, Route 8 has two options. Djangal ( I prefer this spelling!) is a mighty peak made of great rock and has over a dozen routes to the summit. We think two should be enough for here!

The Davies, Route 8. Option 1.  Starting at Bez Bog Hut via Popovo lake , Djangal Summit return to Bez Bog Hut, 6 hours. As another reletively easy introductory journey in the Davies Djangal is a very impressive peak. Which somehow to me has the feel of a real mountain. This trip should allow you to return to Bez Bog for a well earned drink by the lakeside before having to catch the ( unreasonably early) last lift back down to civilisation! Please npote the times of the last lift as the walk down can be unpleasant. ( normally last lift is 16:30)img_20130801_121822

head out from Bez Bog hutalong the very well worn path to Popovo Lake. Popovo is an ideal spot to rest and gaze up at what lies in sotre. Seemingly inpregnable, surrounded as it is by a band of rock , Djangal does have some weaknesses in its protective wall. As you look up from the lake there is a very large chock stone wedged in a small gully. It looks like there is a cave below the chock stone. This gully can be climbed on the right hand side but does involve a couple of climbing moves.djangal1

The “path” goes throught this main rock band to the left of thius gully, and can be seen from below as a left and then right tracking fault. Head up towards the chock stone. Turn left towards the break that becomes more obvious as you approach.  Go up, first left and then right through interesting ground to get above the chock stone. The trail continues up pleasantly tracking right along the fault. As the terrain allows the trail straightens out.

After 150m of ascent you will enter a circus or bowl shaped landscape that sits beneath the north face of Djangal. Head due south to find a poorly marked zig zag path which heads up and then across the north face. The path becomes well defined and crosses an exposed section. Take care here. A few minutes later and you emerge onto the spectacular summit . Very definately a sunmmit on which to linger!

Descend the steep and stoney  South South East ridge path. Passthe first large pinacle on the east side. A sharp notch in the ridge line marks a descent route downto the Kraveshki (Momini) Lakes. This route is often marked with a cairn (pile of stones).  If this route feels too steep continue around on the east side of the ridge. At the col between Djangal and Momin Dvor there is another descent path that is somewhat easier. This also leads to the lakes. At the lakes you will join the Popovo lake to Tevno hut trail. Follow this trail back down to Popovo lake and Bez Bog hut.djangal2

Djangal#87 Option 2

The Davies, Route 8. Damianitsa hut or Bez Bog hut to Djangalska Porta, Descent as for Option 1 to Bez bog hut or as described below to Damianitsa hut.

Djangal is such a dramatic peak when viewed from the west that Di thought a route from this side would appeal to serious mountain walkers. It includes some very steep vegitated slopes  and a few scrambling moves in exposed positions. The difficulties are short lived and the rewards long lasting.  We would recommend a short length of confidence inspiring rope if you are of nervous disposition.

Starting from Djangalsk Porta allows an approach from either Bez Bog hut or Damianitsa hut.  The route itself starts a little down on the west side of the porta. There is an obvious cairn (pile of rocks) and a yellow route marker near by.  There is no path other than one or two route marker stones left by previous adventurers.

djangal3From the cairn follow the contour round for about 100m in a south easterly direction. You will find a notch in the rock above the klek. Contour round for another 150m to another obvious notch between two boulders. Continue round leaving a very green patch below you. Above you now towers the very impressive rocky west face of Djangal.  To the left ( north west) of the first very large pinicle is a smaller spike of rock with two angular ear-like protusions. Head up very steep ground towards this spike. Little gullies appear either side of this spike and both can be used . Di has climbed both gullies and thinks the right hand side is a little bit easier.  You will find 3 meters of the route difficult scrambling which  brings you out onto the magnificent north ridge.

The north ridge is a viable option for the summit attempt but does involve proper climbing moves and equipment. Once you are on the ridge make your way south over and around large boulders heading for the steep north face of the actual summit . Head straight up this steep vegitated slope aiming just right ( west) of the summit. Scramble through some large blocks to emerge on the summit.djangal4

Descent to Bez Bog hut as described in Option 1 or if you are heading to Damianitsa descent the south east ridge. Below and beyond the first pinicle head noth west aiming for a point just east of the first pair of lakes. The first part of the descent is hard work and requires care over loose boulders. The going soon improves and quickly you will reach the lakes. climb a few meters up and around the grassy knoll and head west then north west until you meet the main trail down to Damianitsa. This trail is marked with yellow and white trail markers.

 

 

The Davies, Route 7

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The Davies, Route 7

Muratov Vrah#19 Vlahinski Vrah#20 Gredaro#21

 

The Davies, Route 7  is one of the more photogenic routes in Pirin. There are many different variations you could try, all of them beautiful! Gredaro climed on the way to Sinanitsa hut then Sinanitsa and Muratov on the way back is a great two day trip. The Davies, route 7 that we have decided on isn’t perfect as it involves a lot of re-tracing your steps but it is the most efficient. You will bag 3 summits for one day and it is almost circular. 7 hours should be plenty of time to complete it.

I have done each of the three peaks seperately, as part of longer days to Sinanitsa hut and as part of the descent from Vihren but not everyone has as much time as we do! From Gredaro you can descend via the beautiful and rarely visited Gergiyski lakes to Sinanitsa. Muratov can be an adventure on her own via any of her 3 faces or 3 ridges. Vlahinski Vrah is probably only worth climbing as part of this route, she is difficult to access and debatable as to if she is a peak at all!!muratov

Starting at Vihren hut, follow the main blue and white / yellow and white trail markers that head south from the hut. Do not cross the river, keep to the west bank. The first section through the meadows is particularly beautiful in the early summer when the retreating snow gives way to an explosion of spring flowers. The trail climbs to Muratovo lake where you will leave it. The lake is wonderfully photogenic and offers some great views north to Bansko and east to the Todorka ridge.

From the south side of the lake facing north Hvoinati is in front of you and Muratov is to your left. There is a steep gully that climbs to the ridge between the two peaks. head up the gully aiming for the lowest point. The pass over the ridge is called Vlahinski Preval or Vinarski Preslap. From here you will have you first view of Gredaro. Pause here to plan your route. You will see a green strip of grass that goes all the way from the summit down to the lake. This is the way up. The more logical route along the south east ridge is densely covered in klek and boulders, this is not a viable option.

pirin_-_gergiyski_ezera_-_img_4439You can either drop down to the lake and joing the grassy strip from the lake side or cut through the boulder fields keeping as high as possible to save the descent and consequential ascent. Di and I prefer the boulder field. Once you hit the grassy patch it is a steep pull until about half way up. Now start tracking left as you ascend, you should aim for a clearing on the south east ridge. This way you will avoid steep sections of loose rock.  From the clearing follow the ridge lin up to the summit. Fantastic views south and west over the many lakes are a delight.

 

Retrace your steps to the clearing, drop down the north east face. Make your way across the face, this is a tiresome and awkward traverse that ends at the col leading to Gergiyski lakes. The minor peak we have called Valhinski Vrah rears up ahead of you. Skirt round and up keeping to the left (north east) face. Ascend to the summit. From the top you drop down the south east face through rough rocks and boulders, take care here! From the lowest point between the two peaks it is a steep climb/scramble up the west ridge of Muratov Vrah.

From the summit of Muratov Vrah you can see nearly every mountain in Pirin, enjoy it! You have earned a break! The descent down the south east ridge is easy and on a clear trail. At the pass below Muratov peak you will join the blue and white /yellow and white trail markers. From here it is a steep but easy descent back to the lake and thus back to Vihren hut. It is worth knowing the below Vihren Hut is the Bunderitsa campsite where a local family run the most fantastic BBQ restaurant.

 

The Davies, Route 5.

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The Davies, Route 5.

Pitel #44, Mozgovishki Chukar #45#46#47#49

 

Mozgovishki Chukar has proved to be one of the hardest routes to put together for The Davies.  It isn’t the most technically challenging route or the longest. Those titles probably go to Yalovarnika #55 and Golena #58. But route 4 poses it’s own unique chalenges.

After 10 attempts I finally made it with one of my strongest hiking buddies. After a very early start, with rope packed just in case. There are two possible start points, one is from Tevno hut  from where you will have to follow the red trail towards Vihren to the pass east of Pitel #44 and the other is from Damianitsa hut. The route I will describe is from Damianitsa hut.

To get to Damianitsa hut drive ( or be driven) by 4×4 up the dirt road to the hut. It is a long day so saving a couple of hours by driving is well worth it. We left Bansko in the dark and returned in the dark in October, this is a 10 to 12 hour day so allow Plenty of time.

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From the hut head due south on on the blue trail. Most of the way  the trail is also marked by black and yellow winter trail poles. These poles are on most of the main winter ski mountaineering routes and have distances to the next post on the little sign at the top of the pole.

The trail follows the valley floor towards the u shaped pass at the head of the valley. This is alpine pasture grazed all summer by the local cattle, you get some great views looking back towards Bansko and east towards Gazai#68 and Djangal#87. After you pass the yellow trail that comes down from Djangal to the east  there is the first little climb up to a small lake. From here on you are off piste and there are no trail markers until you come back to this little lake.

20181007_103112At the lake you will see a faint trail the heads due west up to the ridge, the trail gets fainter and fainter as it nears the top of the ridge. At the top you will meet the main motorway trail that goes the whole length of Pirin. This section of the red trail goes from Vihren hut to Tevno hut and is one of the most popular trails in National Park Pirin. Peak summer this is a busy motorway full of hut to hut holiday makers. Cross the red trail and head down towards the lake at the foot of Pitel. There is a kind of faint trail here but any route will do.

The valley below the lake leads to Sandanski and the hut at Spano Pole ( pronounced Spano Polay) From the lake you get a good view of Pitel. It looks impossible from here, don’t worry there is a way. From the north shore of the lake head straight toward the summit of Pitel. You will soon come up against a wall of impenetrable klek. Skirt round to the west and keep climbing up the north ridge, repeat this every time you hit klek and you will curve easily to the summit. The summit of Pitel is covered in “small”  boulders, It is pretty easy scrambling here. 20181007_112821

We spent a huge amount of time on the summit of Pitel trying to find a route onto the main ridge, as it turned out the most direct route was the best but it looks pretty grim from Pitel.   From the summit follow the ridge line due south dropping down onto the west flank to miss the worst of the klek. You will have to scramble at times but nothing too scary. You are aiming for the saddle where Pitel joins the Mozgovishki Chukar ridge. Just before the saddle you will have to skirt along the east flank then scamble back up onto the main ridge. The ridge is steep but easy scrambling. It took us about 45 minutes from the Summit of Pitel to peak#46 on Mozgovishki Chukar. 20181007_130329

From here the real fun starts. Simply put head west along the ridge until you come the summit of Mozgovishki Chukar about 90 minutes from this peak! In reality the ridge is nothing but trouble and at times technical scary trouble at that.

The ridge starts easily enough with some grass and the odd boulder or patch of kelk to circumvent. The further along the ridge you go the bigger the boulders get and the thicker the patches of Klek become. I’ve tried every possible variation of this ridge and even though it is a bit scary at times the best route is to follow the highest point of the ridge. It’s not easy. The boulders are huge in places and some of the moves are almost rock climbing.  The patches of Klek are a huge pain in the bum  but it’s better to fight through them than try to detour around them.

20181007_130339The summit is very very satisfying. We didn’t need a rope but I think some people would like to have one. We didn’t do any actual climbing but there are two sections, The Crack and The ledge where a good pair of shoes and strong fingers are essential.

The route home is back the way you came so you will get a chance to experience those exciting bits descending now! Go carefully, a buddy to spot foot holds is useful.

When you get back to #46 the peak next to Pitel carry on directly east along the ridge towards Tevno hut.  This is pretty easy going after the boulder fields you have just crossed.  Soon you will see the red trail below you and the little lake where you turned off the blue trail. At this point you can follow the faint goat trail directly down to the lake. It is almost a perfectly straight line. If you have not had enough excitement varry on along the main ridge towards Tevno. Descend here via the winter route marked with the yellow and black poles, there is also a chain to help winter climbers.

Follow the Blue trail back to Damianitsa hut. As I said at the beginning this is a long day. Added to that it is a dry route so you will need to carry lots of water and food.  Expect it to take you 12 hours at a good pace from Damianitsa hut.  The views are unique and you will get a real feeling of being an explorer adventuring in untamed lands. This almost untouched route, during the 10 recces I have made on this route I have only seen 2 other people on the main ridge.

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72 hours at Tevno

 

 

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Dawn over Tevno lake 2512m

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.

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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.

Aliki GreeceFor 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. 

Tevno Hut 2512m

Tevno Hut 2512m

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! IMG_20151002_130927

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.

IMG_20151002_151226Packing 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.IMG_20151002_150410 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. IMG_20151002_150814 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.

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