Walking on Edelweiss

Co-living Bansko

Walking on Edelweiss

There comes a moment on most mountaineering routes in Pirin when you will come across an Edelweiss. These beautiful little flowers are the symbol of mountaineers around the world. They live high up on cliff faces away from man. At one and the same time they are super hardy and super delicate. Growing in tiny cracks they thrive in the most inhospitable environments. While they are able to live where nothing else can, they are not very robust when it comes to contact. Pick their flowers and they die, step on them, knock them or disturb them in any way and they die. For me spotting Edelweiss on a route is the sign that we are somewhere wild.

Banski Suhodol

As you look up from Bansko Pirin dominates. Todorka with her pistes. Flat topped Vihren and oh so pretty Kutelo.  Next to these lonely giants Banski Suhodol tends to be ignored. Suhodol blends into the horizon all but forgotten. Koncheto and Koteshki chal demmand the viewers attention, while Suhodol fades into the foreground.

For Mr Davies and I Banski Suhodol has burnt brightly in our imagination for over a decade. The summit is of no consequence in the grand scheme of things. Dropping down from the summit is a ridge. A long ridge, a ridge that plunges down into the valley below buttressing the main wall of Pirin. This ridge of marble has been crying out to us to be explored.

We have visited the base of the North Ridge of Suhodol many times. Trying to find a route to the bottom of the ridge has been challenging. The valley of Suhodol is remote and little visited, the path sketchy in places and the distances a little daunting. After a few false starts we finally managed to get to the bottom of the ridge 2 weeks ago. I hid some gear in a cave and comitted to climbing it thisweek.

Normally mountaineering is a game of study. You read up on the route. Talk to people who have done it before. Discuss, analyse plot and plan and then go for it. In Pirin the game is very different, the info about routes is at best sparse and in the case of most of our routes here nonexistant. The best info I could find on the route was “It’s a little flakey” and ” I had a look from the top and it doesn’t look nice”.  With this wealth of info we set off at 5am on Saturday morning.

Coliving Bansko

The Approach

We parked the car at the end of a dirt road just as the first light of dawn made it possible to see the path. The hike up Suhodol is just stunning. The path is little used and wiggles its way up and across a stream bed that in turn wriggles down through old forest. for three hours we climbed up through forest, then kleck and finally out into meadows filled with snow fields. From the first patch of snow we hacked our way up through cliffs and gullies thick with kleck until at 9am, just as it was starting to get hot we got to the bottom of the first pyramid.

The Banski Suhodol ridge is made up of two main features. A pyramid of marble about 3 pitches high that rises alone above the boulder fields and then drops again to the foot of the main ridge. Then the main ridge rises in steep steps all the way to the summit at 2884m.

coliving Bansko

The Pyramid

The pyramid was a pleasant little climb there were hints of the troubles to come but all in all it was fun. A few easy moves a little, scramble, the odd wobbly rock and some flakey pieces that came away in your hands but nothing to write home about. We had been assuming that the whole game would have been on good clean marble but were not really bothered by a few crappy hand holds and some loose rock.

As we prepared to climb the main ridge we were joking about how nice it was to be climbing on rock that clearly never saw many people. A normal popular route is polished by many hands and feet. Belay spots are clear from regular use and hand holds are marked by patches of chalk. Here there was none of that. the rock was old and untouched, pristine and wild. There was a feeling that we were the first people to climb here and it gave us a thrill of excitement.

co living bansko

The Route

Mr Davies is a little older than I and I am a little rounder than most. As a pair we are not a typical mountaineering team. We have done a lot together and understand eachother perfectly. Di leads and I carry! We swung back into the easy routine of moving up the rock pretty quickly. Di as always cursing and swearing his way ever upwards, mostly free climbing the first two pitches as there was nowhere to put in protection.

Di is a slow and careful climber, even more so without protection. Many years of experience mean he can route find by smell and belay from rotten spots confidently. Old injuries and even older bones means he climbs slowly but very safely. I’m a strong climber if not confident enough to lead unknow routes . Our progress was thus a dance of slow analytical leads followed by me rapidly catching up once the route was discovered.

I started to get nervous on the second pitch. The rock was rotten and there was nowhere for Di to put in protection again. My belay spot was exposed and I had no way yo build a hanging belay. If Di came off the rock we were both going to fall to our deaths. With the Mantra of “Well just don’t bloddy fall” running through my head I made my way up the ridge.

From there on every pitch was the same chilling nightmare. Di leading a route with no protection and me belaying with little or no protection. To find one piece of gear fixed as I climbed up was a joy. To belay with one nut wedged into a shonky crack , blessed relief!

coliving bansko

On or 5th or 6th pitch we found a shelf to rest on. The view was exceptional as the shelf curved elegantly round the ridge onto the more exposed steep eastern side. The next few pitches hung out over this cliff with hundreds of meters of near vertical wall plunging down to the rocks below. Loose handholds, loose footholds, the sound of cursing as Di found some more rotten rock, the sound of rotten rock crashing down the face. My memories of the next few hours are blurred. Checking every hand hold 3 or 4 times became the routine. Kicking every foot hold over and over just to make sure it would take my weight. The sinking feeling as something gave way, the ecstasy of finding holds that worked. Trusting your boots to hold onto smooth rock and your tired fingers to grip little cracks focuses the mind somewhat.

After we had got up about a hundred meters it became clear there was no going back. There was no way we could set up an abseil on this rotten marble. Our only way out was over the top. The dread of finding a section that we couldn’t climb hung over me for the rest of the route. The joy of completing each pitch ever more ecstatic.

After 6 hours we came to the base of a tower of rock about 15m high. A little flat patch covered in grass made a lovely little garden at its base so here we stopped to rest. There was plenty of goat poo in the little meadow which is always a good sign and it looked like there were 2 routes around the tower as well as a little chimney over the top.  I sat and smoked, drank water and ate some flapjack.

As my mind relaxed I realised quite how tightly I was wound up. Every failed hold had focused my mind tighter and tighter. No matter how calm and logical I had been, keeping my mind focussed on making good choices, I now felt this knot clenched in my gut, exhausted from the hours of concentration. As I sat smoking my second then third cigarette I could feel my muscles tightening, aching from the weight of our bag. Cuts and bruises I hadn’t noticed now called for attention. Tiredness that I had kept at bay for so long now came flooding in. Memories of holds that had failed, rocks that had fallen footings that had slipped rushed up from the depths of my mind where I had burried them. I felt dizzy and weak, the world swam in front of me. I needed to get a grip there was no way I could climb out of here in this state.

On autopilot I set up a hanging belay with a couple of nuts and before I could compse myself Di had set off up the cliff. By the time his curses were out of ear shot my head was still spinning the little chimney he had dissapeared up looked impossible and an incredible loneliness descended on me. After what felt like an age I felt the rope come tight on my harness and I started climbing again.

I remember almost nothing of the next 25 minutes. Just flakey rock, hard moves and a bottomless cliff.  Crawling on my hands and knees across a chock stone, flowing up a pile of lightning shattered rock, a view of Di silhouetted against clear sky. The slope levelling out, walking without using my hands, tourists having a picnic. Suddenly we were stood on a path! The Tourist Path! Joy!!! So much Joy!!! I remember hugging Di full of so much joy just repeating over and over 10 years , 10 years, we did it!

Trek in Pirin 2021

There are many ways up a mountain. Sometimes the hardest routes are the most joyful. I remember seeing the first edelweiss near the bottom of the ridge, I remember making sure I didn’t touch any of the others along the way. I remember crushing one beneath my boot as I desperately scrambled to find a footing when the rock I was standing on gave way. Rightly this little flower is the symbol of mountaineers the world over.

 

 

 

Trek in Pirin 2021

Trek in Pirin 2021Trek in Pirin 2021

Normally the summer season starts in earnest around the beginning of June. This year has been very very different. After huge snow falls throughout the season, the coldest spring in 23 years and fresh snow in June the mountains are about a month behind. I was skiing a good line on Doncovi Karuli mid June this year WTF!!! Yesterday  (28th of June) was my first Trek in Pirin 2021 !

Trek in Pirin 2021

A word of Warning!

There is still a load of snow around. We went up the route from Banderitsa hut to Kutelo. we crossed a few slightly sketchy snow fields, a couple of scary snow fields and saw some horrors on the North face route down from Vihren and the traverse to Koncheto. Steep snow in trekking shoes is very dangerous, mostly because it doesn’t look dangerous. If you slip you can get up some serious speed and then chrash into the rocks below causing serious injury. Be warned, be careful and as much as possible do not cross snow fields.

If you have to cross steep snow, traverse in an upward direction digging deep foot holds with your heels. Use a trekking pole as a brake if you slip and wedge it under your armpit pushing the tip hard into the snow to slow down.

Trek in Pirin 2021

Banderitsa Hut to Kutelo 1

This is a hard dry route but one of the classic treks in Pirin.  There is no water above the hut so take a couple of litres each. At a normal pace it takes about 4 hours up and 3 1/2 hours down it’s a big walk with around 1000m of up! There is no shade above the tree line so bring a buff and sun cream. The sun is strong in the high hills especially after rain. even with factor 50 Piz Buin mountain sun cream I got toasted!

I love this route. It has a wonderful plethora of transitions. You start in deep old forest, pass through alpine meadows, high alpine sedge pastures and finish up among the barren rocks and cliffs of Pirin’s most spectacular ridge.

Behind Banderitsa hut the green and white marked trail starts steep and carries on steep all the way to the top. This is a hard walk and for me it was a challenge as it was my first of the year. Carrying a little bit too much winter fat and being out of shape combined with high humidity and 25 degree heat first thing in the morning I was dripping within minutes!

The forest here is just wonderful ancient trees battered by decades of avalanches are warped and twisted into the most fantastic shapes. Peak summer you wander through fields of wild strawberries and raspberries. It really is a classic!

Trek in Pirin 2021

Alpine Pastures

The pastures above the tree line are filled with flowers and wild goats. The goats are not afraid of tourists and will potter around you looking for apple cores and crusts of bread. The young goats are still in the winter jackets and look a little scruffy and dredlocked at the moment.

Crucus and other wild flowers are popping up around the edge of the snow fields. Normally they would be over by now but with so much snow around spring has come late to our hills.

I am not sure if it because of the weather or covid or what but tourist numbers are massively down. I would expect to see dozens of people at this time of year even mid week. We saw 5! 5 People in the whole day!!! This was especially splendid as I was seriously suffering from a lack of fitness and the heat, thankfully there was no one to see us puffing up the hill.

Trek in Pirin 2021

Alpine

At the foot of the north face of Vihren the extent of the snow really became apparent. Huge fields of snow streatch off in all directions covering the path through most of Kazana. I love to stop here at wonder at the massive wall that in Vihren’s north face. I have climbed a few routes on it and every time I see it again I am shocked by how the hell I managed them. What was I thinking? It is a sheer wall of cast limestone and frankly not for summer climbing. The winter routes must be amazing. In the summer it is just a nightmare of loose rock and horrendous belay points.

I had a bit of a moment in Kazana. the route up and out of the bowl looked blocked by a huge snow field and I was seriously contemplating turning back. I have a horror of steep snow fields, the thought of slipping and sliding uncontrollably at 30kmh into a sea of boulders fills me with dread!

We found a kind of a path around the snow. Scrambling up on loose rock and sand, heart racing as little rock falls and slips messed with my mind. Above that snow we had to cross another snow field, less steep but still steep enough and long enough to scare me. By the time we got above the snows and into the High Alpine rocks I was happier but still dredding the descent!

Premkata

There is a huge pass between Vihren and Kutelo. As you look east back towards Banderitsa hut it is all rock and snow. Look west and it is a totally different story, a beautiful river wgiggles merrily through apline pastures that are in turn surrounded by old pine forest. Few people go down to the valleys south of Pirin other than shepherds and they have a pristine wildness to them that calls to your soul.

Trek in Pirin 2021

High Alpine

The photo above is from the pass between Vihren and Kutelo looking up towards the north west face of Vihren. We met a Czech guy here who had just descended the face. It looks cool but he was seriously shaken. High up on the north face the path passes through two little snow patches that you can see in the photo. To traverse these patches of snow, in aproach shoes, on a 45 degree slope with a huge back pack must have taken some serious nerves! He said it was terrifying.

From the pass to the summit of Kutelo is noting much.Just a boring sandy path over boring rocks with no real view to talk about. 30minutes of dull slog up this featureless slope makes arriving at the top a shockingly, wonderful moment. Plod plod plod you haul your tired bod up and up and then in one sudden moment the path stops. A near verticle cliff plunges down into Bansko Suhodol. Bansko and Razlog are miles below you in little pools of green. This amazing sea of rock and snow plung flows down and down into an alien barren world.

I have a few plans for Banski Suhodol, it is an untouched wilderness of barren rock. Di and I think there could be some great climbing routes to discover in there this summer.

Trek in Pirin 2021

Hiking with Danny

Hourses for courses I supose. Each to their own. Beauty is in the eye and all that. Hiking with Danny is a unique experience. I am a plodder. I have my pace and just plod along I don’t stop often and tend to take little or no food. With danny it is a very different experience. Photos must be taken, she charges along rushing for view to view, stopping here and there to look at this and that and Lunch? Lunch is a thing!

Cold beers, home made salami, sourdough bread, cucmbers, cheese, nuts and dessert. In a way it is wonderful but a truely alien experience for me! Sat atop a hill, resting tired muscles, with a cold beer and the cool breeze soothing my burnt skin I am happy.

Trek in Pirin 2021

When is Bansko at it’s best?

calendar

When is Bansko at it’s best?

The simple answer is from the 20th of December to the 20th of April and then the 20th of June to the 20th of September.

The complicated answer is much longer. Bansko has huge appeal all year round. There are a few hundred foreigners who are now living here full time because there is so much more to our little mountain village than the two peak seasons. For those of us who live here the changing seasons just mean a change of activities!

When is Bansko at it's best?

When is Bansko at it’s best? Winter!

I came to Bansko to ski, Alpine, Backcountry, Touring and Telemark. Back then (2003!) I really wasn’t interested in much else. Winter meant fun and fun meant strapping on some skis and hitting the white stuff.

The Resort opens Around the middle of December and closes around the beginning of April. Some years there is enough snow for Bansko to be skiable on the 1st of December and close on the 20th of April. If you are thinking of doing a season here aim for Christmas to Easter.

During the winter season there are a fair few variations in the flow of JOY! Peak periods like New Year and the Feb half term holidays can be just awful. We’ve seen queues that would make you weep. For those of us that live here there is always a work round, drive up to Chalin and ski there, ski tour into the Backcountry or even just take a few days off to rest the bones.

The other side of the coin is the moments that mass tourism forgot. The back end of Feb? Not a soul! March? What, March, when it snows and snows and snows and no one is here. Yes March!! In a good year April can be epic, this year May was Epic. This year I was even skiing in June!

If you are here for the winter, Stay a little longer, go touring , go to Dobrinishtay earn some turns and ski some great spring lines. When is Bansko at it’s best? If I was coming to visit I’d be here from  Mid December to the 1st of May!

When is Bansko at it's best?

When is Bansko at it’s best? Summer

A bit like the winter the summer months have their moments. Some years Spring hangs around in Greece for way to long. This year winter refused to leave. Normally Summer  proper starts around the middle of June and rolls on and on well into October with warm dry days back to back. The only real exception to that rule is the middle of the Jazz fest. For some reasone there is normally one massive storm in the second week of August!.

there are some events in the summer that you really shouldn’t miss. The jazz fest, Opera fest and a few other musical and cinematic wonders. Unlike the winter the resort really can handel these crowds and no matter how busy Bansko gets it is always a joy in the summer.

When is Bansko at it’s best? In the Summer it is probably best for most people to be here between the 15th of June and the 1st of October.

When is Bansko at it's best?

When is Bansko at it’s best? All the time!

So why do we all live here? Why the hell do we live here all the time? Bansko has something to offer , something awesome, every month of the year.

My year is an ebb and flow of what gear am I using now. The basic quiver of gear matches this ebb and flow beautifully! There are alpine skis, there are Telemark skis, Big Bad Powder skis and Touring skis. The CycloCross Bike, The Mountain Bike. The Big Boy Mountain boots, The Mountain Boots, The Approach Shoes and  those hellishly tight tools of torture called climbing shoes.

At the start of the winter when the piste is ideal for  Alpine skis and the Telemarks. When it properly snows the powder skis come out then it’s back to the Telemarks and Alpines until the next dump.

Once the season starts to wind down and the tourists are heading home. We head into the hills with the Touring gear. Pirin is amazing for touring. With few people in the hill, we have access to face after face of creamy spring goodness.

Spring means one of three things, sunny days are for touring or rock climbing. Cloudy days are for Biking. The trails around Bansko are ideal for Enduro, Mountain Biking and Cyclocross. From the middle of April to the middle of June we just mix it up.

From Mid June it is unlikely that the skis are coming out again so the mix is now full summer mix. Hiking, Climbing and Biking. The flow is from big watherproof mountain boots that you can attach a crampon to super lightweight hiking trainers back to big boots! June and July you can still expect some patches of snow in the hills. ByJuly and August you are unliekly to get your feet wet, September and October it is getting cold again so the big boots come out again. All the while we just mix it up on the bikes and the climbing crags!

By November and December the climbing is over, and it is getting too cold for biking. I tend to spend these months doing less than the rest of the year. Fully geared up it is still a joy to go into the hills but it is harder when you have to carry so much gear. There is a bills like no other to be found in the high mountains at this time of year. The world is holding it’s breath.The silence is almost deafening compared to the clamour of Spring. The gods are close and the soul soars over the empty valleys and barren peaks.

The wheel turns and the seasons come and go. Every one of them has it’s own joy and so we stay.

When is Bansko at it’s best? Bansko is always at it’s best!

 

 

 

The Davies peak bagging in National Park Pirin

the-davies

The Davies peak bagging in National Park Pirin

The Davies is a game. Please remember it is just a game! Some people have taken it all waaaay too seriously. There is a small prize when you complete it but more than that it is a wonderful adventure.

My friend and Mentor Di Davies have been pottering around Pirin for the best part of 17 years. As new arrivals in Bulgaria we knew little or nothing about Pirin and the information about the peaks in the park was very limited.

We spent our first few years here climbing and hiking trying to find climbing routes and generally exploring the national Park.

After a few more years we started to think we had climbed most of the mountains in Pirin and there started the discussion. What is a mountain? In Scotland the peaks were first written up by a man named Sir Hugh Thomas Munro in 1891. A peak was defined as being over 3000 feet high. Ever since that first list was produced people have been “Bagging Munros” and arguing about what constitutes a mountain.

There are 92 peaks in Pirin over 2500m that we call The Davies. I have named the game and the peaks after Di as a kind of thank you for all the wonderful trips we have taken together in Pirin and for all the tireless support he has given me in climbing, mapping and exploring them.

spanopolski-chukar

The list!

The Davies peak bagging in National Park Pirin !

I’ve had a lot of hate about the list and very little opportunity to defend our definition of what constitutes a Davies so I am going to do that here.

1)A Davies must be over 2500m.

2)A Davies must appear as a marked peak or spot height on at least one of the recognized maps of Nation Park Pirin.

3)A Davies is included if it has a name and is over 2500m.

This definition has led to a few strange inclusions. Peak number 63 is more a bump than a peak but is marked on every map as a spot height. Peak number 89 “Blaguncho” is commonly know as such in Dobrinishtay but isn’t really a mountain.

Then there are the Strazhite, are there 3 of them? 4, 6, 9 or 12 the gods know but I’m not sure so we included the ones we thought were about right.

Remember this is a game and a bit of an adventure!

Tourism is both the life blood and poison of National Park Pirin. The idea behind The Davies is not just about fun. We have worked closely with the national park every step of the way. Encouraging tourists to explore areas other than the main trails reduces the burden of mass tourism on those main trails. Tourists in remote parts of the Pirin also discourage poachers. Win Win!

bashliyski_chukar_-_img_5178

Two Big Targets!

The Davies peak bagging in National Park Pirin 14 days or 12 years!

As far as I am aware only 2 people have managed to stand on every peak on the list . This is not because it is impossibly hard or that locals can’t do it. The reason only 2 people have completed The Davies is because the game has only been around for a few years and that lots of the locals just haven’t been interested in some of the more obscure peaks.

The fastest time to stand on them all is 14 mountain days, yes, he is a lunatic! For myself it took 12 years. The fastest time was spent running frantically between peaks my time was spent exploring every possible route up each peak to make sure they were all ok for normal people. There were also a few lazy days just loving the view!

djangal3

Can you do it?

Yes, you can! The Davies are all walking peaks except two (kind of two) The first difficult one is number 49 Mozgovishki Chukar. This peak is at the end of a ridge of 4 Davies and there is a little section in the middle that involves a little bit of scrambling. Nothing scary but a little scary!!!

The second on is a climbing peak. Number 73, Golema Strazja. Yes, you can climb it without ropes I know. Yes, you know a guy who did Blah Blah Blah. But I couldn’t and didn’t. We took a light weight bit of climbing string and a sling. Di, my son Dylan and I climbed it easily and safely. Dylan climbed it twice! Having some climbing string on Strazhite is also nice as there are a few exposed sections that are on gravel.

Hire a guide, take some extra kit do whatever it takes to allow you to enjoy yourself to the max!

the-davies1

I have published a map of The Davies with a list of all the peaks on the back and each peak numbered on the front. These maps are free! You can find them at: –

-National Park pirin office https://goo.gl/maps/z3d4BTjPzRt2yhyEA

-Bansko Tourist Information office https://goo.gl/maps/7xVgFbqGQjKEBpki7

-Mountain Rescue Bansko https://goo.gl/maps/3f1pMwBatbMdsFFx5

-The Hotel Avalon https://goo.gl/maps/eAt1NjkU1Ws3XKD9A

-Alt space Bansko https://g.page/altspacecoworking?share

-Co-Working Bansko  https://goo.gl/maps/68ZHauf7baqoBtPM8

Freeride Backpack. Kit you need when you are off into the Backcountry

Freeride Backpack

Freeride Backpack. Kit you need!

I LOVE POW! We all love pow! To be honest Pow is what it is all about. Sick lines in fresh snow are just flipping awesome. There is a long learning curve you need to nail to really enjoy baccountry skiing/boarding. There are skills to be honed, fitness to be built up. Don’t forget the whole KBYG thing, safety, risk assesment, avalananche awareness courses blah blah blah. There is a butt load of info to be aquired before you head out into the POW!

To save you some time, effort and lessons here is what I should normally take as a Freeride Backpack.  I say should and normally a little shamefully. I have been know to go out with no bateries in my transciever, an empty water bottle, no gloves no food , even an empty backpack. None of us are perfect and I am less perfect than most. The list is what I would take if I remembered and what you should take as a minimum.

26 years I’ve been at this so hopefully by now I’ve got it about right.There is other stuff, like parapet rope, crampons and axes that I sometimes take but only for special reasons. This is my everyday carry for a day freeriding. I hope it helps!

Clothing

A few choice items of spare clothing are a must in every Freeride Backpack. The weather can turn quickly in the mountains. We often go from a long hard run, to standing around waiting and having some spare layers makes a lovely difference.

Ortovox Swisswool Piz Cartas Vest

O.K. this really isn’t cheap, well north of a hundred euros for a vest is a little bit silly. But we have to do out bit. Mountain sports wear is environmentally a disaster, the whole industry is shamefully polluting so I try to do my bit. Ortovox, Picture and Patagonia are all pretty green so I buy from them and pay the price.

This vest is awesome, lined with the wool of some special, happy, loved, European sheep. It keeps you warm and wicks away moisture beautifully!

York Beanie and Buff

The weather can change, you can end up hanging around whatever the reason it is always nice to have a beanie and a spare BUFF in your bag! BUFF are versatile, warm and have some cool patterns. Picture are eco-friendly and painfully cooooool!

Hestra Gloves

You will think me mad now but experience has really taught me that you need 4 pairs of gloves! Hands can suffer really fast in low winter temps and fingers fall off easily. Spare gloves are an essential: –

1) The gloves on your hands that you are skiing in

2) A spare pair of similar gloves to your everyday ones in case you drop one, rip one, get yours wet or a friend needs a pair.

3) Thick glove liners if it suddenly gets windy or cold thick wind stopper liners are brilliant, also can be used as reserve gloves if someone n your group has a problem.

4) Silk gloves. I am obsessed with these little beauties. So thin you don’t even know you are wearing them and increase you finger warmth by 100%. I promise you if you buy a pair, you will thank me for ever.

Hestra are a company beyond any other, I LOVE THEM! Gear that lasts for years and looks cool and does the job better than you hoped for. GO HESTRA!

Glacier Sunglasses

Opinion is divided on these. Are we going for the cool bearded explorer look or are we just a wally? I’m on the bearded explorer side of the debate but I fear I might be in the minority.

Fashion debates aside Category 4 lens glacier glasses are a must. If you are hiking for an extended period in the snow goggles just don’t work. They are hot and fog up in seconds. Glacier glasses on the other hand are perfectly designed for the job. With lenses that are so dark you aren’t allowed to drive in them, they protect your eyes from glare beautifully. Those silly/awesome little leather blinkers also keep the glare from the sides of your eyes.

Hardware

There are some basic bits you will need in your Freeride BackPack. If anyone doesn’t have this minimum amount of kit do not ride with them. They are either stupid, ignorant, suicidal or an egotistical psychopath. Whatever the reason for them to be without this BASIC level of safety equipment don’t ride with them.

  • A Backpack,
  • Shovel and Probe
  • Transceiver

Deuter Freerider Lite 25 Backpack

I’ve tried a lot of brands at a lot of different prices and this little beauty is just right. Not too expensice, not too cheap, loads of space and really well designed. It has a huge top pocket for easy access for snacks , cigarettes and maps. inside appears to be way bigger than the 25l advertised and it carries skis perfectly

Ortovox probe and Shovel.

Good quality gear not made in china. Up to the job and somewhere in the middle of the price range. I use K2 at the moment as you can see in the picture. I got them for a stupidly low price as part of a set with the bag included. If I had to replace them now, I would go Ortovox.

BCA Tracker2 Avalanche Transceiver

This is probably your most important piece of hardware. I wont bang on about transceivers and mortality rates as it’s boring. Simply put this 300 euro bit of kit could, will and very often does save lives. Learn how to use it, practice a few times a year.

It also has the added bonus that wearing one instantly makes you the sexiest guy in the room. Babes will throw themselves at you if they catch a glimpse of one so for the sake of modesty wear it under your jacket!

Hardware II

Optional extras in the metalwork category really depend on what you are up to. I keep the below in my Freeride BackPack  because, well why not! The touring crampons are super light and take up no space, a head torch just in case, water because I am fat and sweaty and the finest sun creams on earth because I’m ginger!

Sigg Aluminium traveller water bottle 1L.

I have had my Sigg water bottle since 1995. It has been on thousands of days of adventures and even though it is battered and bruised it is still in perfect working order.

Piz Buin sun cream.

Basically, I am allergic to the sun. Like a vampire I catch fire as soon as the clouds clear. I am ginger but I do have a soul so I use the blue Piz Buin. Mountain sun cream and it actually works. Great for the lips and skin it’s a little bit expensive but well worth the money.

Dynafit speed crampon

Lightweight and as grippy a a honey badger’s claw. A great little back up when you are touring and encounter ice.

Black Diamond Icon 700

It looks like over kill but when you are coming home late or going out early a head torch is a god send. On the heavy side but still not so heavy that you notice, the Black Diamond icon has a ridiculous 700 lumins that basically turns night into day!

Medical kit

I have played with what goes into the medical kit for years and I am still not 100% sure what I need to I have 3 layers in there. :-

  • A basic medical kit
  • Survival Kit

Basic Medical Kit

Buy one from any out door shop these little packs have pretty much everything you might need. Don’t think too much just grab one off the shelf and chuck it in your bag.

Survival Kit

This is what I have collected over the years as much as this is apropriate for a Freeride BackPack it is also useful for summer treking. Many adventures/disasters have taught me the vital importance of these little extras. The whole of the list below only weighs a few hundred grams but can make a massive difference when you are in a pickle.

A small piece of bicycle tyre stuffed with cotton wool that has been rubbed in Vaseline. With this you can start a fire out of anything. Fire means warmth and smoke so you can be warm and cosy while the smoke leads help to you.

Serious pain killers. The strongest you can get your hands on. A hefty does of poppies really helps when you are hurt.

Some Prussik cord. Thin heavy duty climbing cord has a million and one uses in a pinch.

A knife, something tough and sharp. I love an Opinel knife or something similar. Spend a bit extra if you want but Opinel are spot on.

Flint and steel, with a bit of practice you can start a fire easily with one of these and they don’t mind getting wet.

Compass and a Map….

Iodine, yes it stings and dyes your skin brown but it kills everything, it even works on drinking water if you can stomach the taste!

Tampax are wonderfully absorbent and expand. They make great wound dressings especially if it is a puncture wound.

Zink oxide tape is great for making splints, fixing kit and covering blisters. It’s the gaffa tape of the medical world. If you are damaged zinc oxide tape will probably be able to fix it for a while.

Space blanket. Looks like tin foil keeps you warm as toast and weighs nothing. A total no brainer. Every medical kit should have one.

Freeride Backpack

Ski Touring in and around Bansko and the Pirin

Ski Touring

Ski Touring

The ski season lasts only 100 days, some years even less. The normal routine is that the resort management do everything they can to get the pistes open for Christmas and then it snows and snows and keeps on snowing and no matter how much snow is on the hill the muppets close the resort around easter.

This year was a perfect example in Bansko. With perfect conditions on piste until the 10th of may the resort shut up shop around the beginning of APRIL!!!

For most tourists this is cool, they might ski Christmas, Feb half term or possibly a cheeky weekend over easter. For people who live in countries with skiing this annual moment of madness is very frustrating. With the snow at its deepest all the lifts close!

ski touring in Pirin

The solution? Ski touring, Randonne, Ski Mo, Earning your turns, Ski Mountaineering….. Whatever you want to call it, the solution is hauling your butt up the mountain with all your gear and then skiing down. The ratio of up to down is a little different to lift access skiing but the rewards are well worth the effort. 

Because the off piste was so good this winter I spent most of my time skiing lift access backcountry lines. When the lifts closed the proper backcountry was calling and my god did we rise to the call. I’ve had some epic days this spring going places and skiing lines that just blew my mind for their beauty and general awesomeness.

ski mountiaineering in the Balkans

Bansko and Dobrinishtay have some amazing, easy access and sick backcountry lines (the link to the book below is a great starting point) Most of what you really want to do is within about a 2 hour hike. Lines that will transform your instagram reputation from ski bum to ski god are within the grasp of even the old, fat and unfit (yup that’s moi)

Golden rules of Spring touring:-

  1. Invest in the right kit.
  2. Know before you go. 
  3. Get home by 12 noon,  the snowpack can get a bit avalanchy in the afternoons
  4. Avalanche bag, I’ll do a blog dedicated to this in the near future.
  5. Merion merino merino
  6. Down down down
  1. Invest in the right kit, touring gear can be used for alpine skiing so next time you are buying skis why not make them touring skis. Tech has moved on so much recently that my go to piste/backcountry ski is also my touring set up. Buy Dynafit. Simple. I have destroyed a lot of gear over the years and Dynafit appear to be nearly indestructible, light and versatile. Go for a ski to suit your riding style. 88mm wide if you plan more up and piste skiing than pow. 108  beasts if you are aiming for the pow!
  2. Know before you go, as it sounds. Get local info about terrain and avalanche risk before you set off. Touring puts you in places a long way from help and in strange terrain. Get a book on local routes (link below) talk to locals about classic tours, get a local guide ; for ski touring  , for split board touring 
  3. Get home by lunch, spring  brings a new dimension to avalanche risk. A slope that is as safe as houses at 6am can be death on a stick at 3pm. Warm spring days and freezing nights play a significant role in safe spring skiing. As a rule of thumb you want to be in the pub by 12:00. Allow for some faffing, route finding and photo ops and leave early. |a head torch is your friend!
  4. Avalanche Bag, this is such an important bit of kit that I will dedicate a whole blog to it another time.
  5. Merino, you are going to get sweaty. There’s no nice way of saying this. Hauling yourself up the hill with all your gear is hard work. Merino is your friend, it keeps you warm on those early starts and wicks sweat away from your skin as you start getting moist!
  6. Down, this is the best investment you can ever make if you are into mountains. So work out how much money you can afford then double your budget. A good down jacket will last you for the rest of your life and is a godsend. At the end of a hike when you are tired and wet to wrap yourself in a -25 rated down jacket is heaven. We got to the top of a run an hour early this winter and had to wait for the sun to come up. Wrapped in a gore tex shell and my down puffy I was warm as toast even with minus temps and a howling gale.

Here are some links to gear I own and can vouch for 100% Everything below is something I would buy again and again. I know it all looks very expensive but do the math there is some serious value to be had in buying quality. Hestra gloves are a perfect example, in 25 years of skiing seasons I have owned a total of 3 pairs of hestra gloves. Two pairs partially destroyed and 1 pair still looking like new. That’s 11 years per pair, it takes about 1000 days of abuse to destroy a pair of hestra gloves!!

Skiing the Balkans book, this is a great introduction to backcountry skiing and touring in Bulgaria. Classic routes with good descriptions and photos this is a beginners bible. :- 

Ski Boot, you will need a boot that fits a technical binding. Advances in tech now mean you can get the same performance out of technical binding as you can out of a normal alpine binding. If you are planning on hucking cliffs and skiing very agressively I suggest the Dynafit beast binding :-

Skis I bought these seven summit skis this summer, they came as a set as per the link. I was riding them in pow, crud, avalanche debris and on piste all winter. They did the job!!! in super deep pow they were a little bit narrow and on crust they were a little hard to control but most skis would struggle in both those situations:-

Skins there is huge debate about ski touring climbing skins and frankly I am not fit or fast enough to tell the difference. I really like the dynafit ones mostly because I can’t afford the G3 ones that look so cool!!:-

Ski touring crampon, again there is a lot of debate about ski touring crampons. I love them, on crud or ice you have prefect grip. When things are a little laterally slippy they also help. They weigh nothing and are a huge help:-

Leashes, I used these for the first time this winter and they are a god send. I ski on super light technical bindings that really are a bit too weak for a 100kg man skiing agressively. When I have popped out of my skis these little beauties have kept my skis attached! If you want to be charging sweet lines rather than hunting for lost skis get yourself a pair.

Down jacket, I love my puffy, I use it all year. from camping trips in the summer to -25 days in the winter. It is perfect in a tight spot when you need to survive the worst the weather can throw at you and as a little luxury at the end of a long sweaty ski touring climb.:-

Hestra Gloves if I was a poet I would write love songs about Hestra. They are just perfect. Warm, tough, durable and only get better with age. A pair of Hestra gloves will last you a lifetime:-

Icebreaker claim a lot about how good their baselayers are. Odourless, warm in the cold, cool in the warm, breathable, amazing wicking properties. To be honest I didn’t believe a word of the advertising guff when I first heared it and frankly 75 euros for a vest is just nuts. I am now totally coverted. It is all true and more. My record is 30 days and nights straight wearing the same thermals and not a wiff of stink. Great sun protection and cool/warm depending on what you need. Those Kiwi sheep really know their stuff.:-

Head torch, I’ve had a lot of different head torches over the years, even wind up ones and not one has come close to this bad boy. For ski touring before dawn starts the Black Diamond Ion lights up the mountain beautifully. Lots of clever adjustments and pretty lightweight  considering the power this monster is just ideal:-

fresh spring tracks

Covid-19

coronavirus-information

Covid-19

Running your own business is one of the greatest adventures in this life. Hundreds of layers of complexity merge together into this one perfect dance of success. From the outside it all looks so easy on the inside it is like juggling chainsaws!

Just like juggling chainsaws it is amazingly satisfying, happy guests, happy staff a steady income, a little glory from a job well done. It’s awesome!

Covid has thrown a few new challenges into the mix, limited capacity, limited numbers of guests travelling, restrictions and new rules really add a little spice to the game!

We have come up with a plan! Hopefully it will be acceptable to our guests.

Social distancing.

The bar and restaurant will work with 50% occupancy, there’s lots of space so we ask guests to spread out.

Testing

All our team will have appropriate and regular Covid blood and PCR tests.

Lock Down

If one of us gets a positive test we will close the Restaurant and Bar. Our guests are more important than our profit.

Take Away

Depending on the local situation with numbers of covid cases/hospital occupancy, available testing capacity etc. We will run the restaurant as take away only.

These are not the laws of the land, these are our choices. If we appear stricter than the country allows it is because we care. I would rather make a little less money than make problems for our guests. I hope you all understand if we cancel an event it is because we love you guys and want to keep you safe.

 

 

 

Co-living-avalon-bansko Online English teachers

Co-living @ Avalon Bansko

In December Avalon will start a new chapter in Bansko!

Covid-19 has totally changed the way we live and work. With less and less office based work, flexible hours and more and more location independent work available we have decided on a change.

Out with traditional old fashioned hospitality and in with a totally new way of living the Bansko dream!

Avalon has been a Home-tel for many of our regular guests for years, our plan is to expand on the Home side of things. We will no be offering our mini apartments and single rooms for rent exclusively on a monthly basis.

Our guests will be able to use the kitchen and living room as their own home!

We will still be doing some weekly events as well as cooking courses, guided ski, bike and hike days.

Our focus is online English teachers and location independent workers who love the mountains.

Co-living-avalon-bansko Online English teachers

Indian food in Bansko

Indian food in Bansko

Indian food in Bansko

Indian food in Bansko.

 

Indian in BanskoThe Hotel Avalon has been offering Indian food in Bansko. for over 10 years now. It’s a slightly strange situation, an English guy cooking Indian food in Bansko but it makes sense I promise. A little bit of history will help.

On leaving school I trained and worked as a British modern chef. Cooking in most of the best restaurants in Bristol and upsetting nearly all of the head chefs. I never lasted long in one place! I’d work 3 months, learn everything I could and then dash off to the Alps to ski all winter or to Asia to wander around the Himalaya, Karakorum and Hindu Kush. My passion for food followed me to Asia. Where sat in wooden shacks in smokey kitchens I’d prize recipes out of everyone I could.15

Mostly we wouldn’t be able to talk in a shared language, there’d be lots of show and tell, spices would have local names, recipes would vary from village to village, but the general idea built up as I wandered through each region. For almost a decade I never really got a chance to cook any of the dishes I was learning. The U.K. was and still is in the throws of the Jamie Oliver food revolution. Cooking was all about “bung in a bit of Basil and slosh a load of olive oil”. I kept learning eating and tasting and writing everything down.

I was sent to Bansko in 2003 to do a job and decided to stay. I tried cooking a bit of “pukker grub” but no one was really interested in what I’d learned in Bristol, so we did a curry night. I thought I’d cook curry the British way and it was a total disaster, people wanted spice. There’s only so much shopska you can eat before you start craving a bit of flavour!

18The adventure started gently, I began by cooking Indian food in Bansko with easy classics from Delhi and Nepal. Then a few Pakistani dishes, aromatic and spicy numbers from up by the Afghan boarder. People loved it! I added some dishes from Goa, then Sri Lanka perfect for the summer. I’ve interpreted some Kashmiri dishes and made them my own ( so popular people now copy them!!) Afghanistan inspired me to make a chicken dish, sour and soapy with lemon and Cardamon and a bucket load of coriander.  Snacks that you would only find in the foot hills of Everest and now served as Indian food in Bansko ! As the years go by we keep changing the menu, this summer I unleashed a couple of new dishes that I thought our guests might like. One a creamy coconut dish packed with chilli from Sri Lanka and the other a mushroom and aubergine “Balti” full of tamarind and rich spices. It appears our guests are willing to be adventurous!

I will keep pushing the boundaries. I have a few dishes with goat that I want to try and a butter “carrai” from Tish Mir that might be too rich for western tummies. I’ve eaten countless versions of bean curries that I’d like our guests to sample. Now we have a tandoor maybe some of the highly spiced Afghan kebabs of offal might come out. Who knows, I keep going back to Asia and every time I get a new recipe or two and every time our guests love it. The adventure that is Indian food in Bansko continues!

We have a huge following of regulars and I’m proud of what we offer, people book months in advance and as a chef that is the most wonderful compliment. I love cooking Asian food and thousands of you love eating what we cook, thank you for your support!

16If you would like to try “Indian food in Bansko” it’s not just Indian ( Punjabi, Kashmiri, Pathan, Chitrali, Nepali, Sri lankan!) please book by Email:- hotelavalonbansko@gmail.com

Our curry nights are every Thursday in the summer season. In the winter every Thursday, most Fridays and some Wednesdays.

We start serving at 7:30 with a selection of Asian street food starters, Papad, samosa, bahji, sukuti, raita, pickles and chutneys.

The main courses are served at 8pm 9 different dishes split pretty much 50/50 between meat and vegan, we adjust the selection according to the season and what’s available. There is also a pretty wide spread of spiciness and heat. About half the meat dishes are cooked in the Tandoor to get that unique flavour as well as our Naan. The Basmatti rice is the best I can find in the U.K.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer in the Mountains

Summer in the Mountains

Summer in the Mountains 2017

 

Most people think of Bansko as purely a winter resort. Don’t get me wrong I love the winter months from Christmas to Easter I am one seriously happy bunny. The winter is just 3 or 4  months, for me the other 8 months of the year have their own unique charm. Summer in the Mountains is a really special time for me. The spring rains and the relentless gardening that they cause soon pass and then the 6 months of summer kick in.img_20170724_164004_240

If you red back through my blog you will see that I’ve been pottering, climbing, biking and generally exploring Pirin in the summer for nearly 15 years now. It will come as a bit of a surprise to you to find that I have barely scratched the surface. The main trails I know like the back of my hand. The secondary routes also pretty perfectly. Those unmarked trails  that look like a slight discolouration in the grass? Yup I know pretty much all of them too. The goat paths that always seem to lead to the top are my stomping grounds. Occasionally, more rarely now, the climbing routes get revisited.img_20170724_164843_455

This summer I heard of a new hut built in the south east corner of Pirin. This is an area I knew nothing about and the idea to explore really excited me. The most eastern ridge of Pirin runs almost exactly north to south. We planned to hike the ridge from Bez Bog hut to it’s end and then drop down to the hut.  Dylan is bigger and stronger these days so he came along. There is also now a really cool group of ex pats who love a good potter in the hills so we managed to get together a really nice group for the expedition.img_20170731_165002_354

Leading groups in the mountains is a dark art and I am not good at it. Distances change depending on weather, group size, style of walking, number of breaks, and soooo many other different variables. I normally get it wrong. My best f**k up was what I considered a 7 hour walk becoming a 14 hour walk ! So I was prepared for some issues. I had counted for 6 hours walking to the new hut. It was closer to 9 by the time we had had a picnic, swim, chat or two and sadly for poor Dylan a thousand and one breaks for him to rest!

Children in the mountains are a very un-quantifiable variable. Now the little man is a beast, we walk a lot, he does a load of sport and frankly he is a tough little man. When he is tired you just feed him and he carries on. Unfortunately even this didn’t work and for the last mile I had to carry him. A good lesson for Daddy and after some pasta and sauce a happy child. I would suggest if you are taking children into the hills halve the distance you think they can walk unless you are willing to carry them!img_20170702_193847_830

The second day was a bit of an adventure. New country is always hard to navigate and the endless forests that make up the eastern marches of Pirin are littered with trails and by ways that feel right but are very wrong. After a few hours we met a shepherd who told us we were on the right path if we were going to Greece but way off if we were going to Breznitsa! Herding his flock in front he took us on an hour yomp through the woods and set us on the right road. Again another long long day. Dylan ran out of steam when we got to tarmac so we hitched a lift down to the village.

Pirin is much much bigger than you imagine looking up from Bansko. 15 summers and I think  have covered only 80% of the trails and about the same amount of the peaks. Pirin is an ideal place for a Summer in the Mountains there are plenty of lake walks and easy trails. A project I am working on to bring more tourists to Bansko for a Summer in the Mountains is what I am calling the Davies. It is similar in concept to the Munro’s in Scotland.img_20170702_193757_380

Pirin Davies

If you are looking for a challenge during your Summer in the Mountains why not try bagging all the peaks in Pirin. The Pirin Davies challenge was thought up by my friend and mentor Di Davies, that’s why I’ve named the game after him. There are 89 peaks in Pirin over 2500m. Some are easy like Bez Bog which you could hike in under 3 hours others are epic multi day yomps like the Kamenitsa Begovitsa chain 7 peaks in a day but it takes 3 days in total. We think you could do them all in 10 weeks if you took it slow 6 if you pushed hard. All the peaks are doable without ropes on their traditional routes but some are a little bit hairy with scrambling and traversing steep unstable faces.img_20170702_194026_538

There are plenty of guides who would be willing to help if you need support on some of the trickier routes our friends at Summer Bansko are more than willing to point you in the right direction. The most south easterly and North westerly peaks would probably be best accesses with a tent so you can sleep at the peak and hike back the next day. Both get you 6 peaks in two days so there is some value in sleeping out for sunset and dawn!

I’m almost there with bagging all the peaks only 12 more to go and hopefully by this time next year we will have a lovely little web page with route guides and medals for anyone who bags them all.img_20170706_153142_549

 Annapurna Base Camp

I’m not a mountain guide! I failed my U.K. mountain leader qualification due to a technicality! However I do take people into the hills both summer and winter and some very special people to the Himalaya or Arctic. Guiding is an awesome responsibility that I normally leave to the professionals. The few times I have led groups in Pirin, Nepal, Greenland and off piste in the winter it always reminds me how amazing real professional mountain guides are!20171020_080819

This year I was planning my last trip to the Himalaya and mentioned it to a few of our regulars. Before long we had a group of 6 people interested and last week I came back from trekking with them to Annapurna Base Camp. The trek itself is one of the best in Nepal, at its quickest you can be in and out in 6 days starting from Jungle and passing through every variation of alpine until you get to  Base camp perched on a shelf above a huge glacier! 20171023_081901For me the Himalaya are a home from home the slow transition of landscape travelled though at walking pace, curry three times a day endless cups of tea and cigarettes friendly faces and beautiful places really appeal to me. What strikes me most about these trips is the human element and this trip was extraordinary for that. I had my usual team of Sulu Kumbu Sherpa. With Bihre leading and Sonam looking after the back of the group. This year a new guy came along called Kadgi, he’s been up Everest a few times and was a lovely addition to the team. The group were unbelievable, by far and away the funniest and fun people I have ever had the pleasure to hike with. Every day was full of laughter and banter even some of the harder days did not phase them. I will never forget this year, giggling like children over endless games of Uno teaching Daphne to swear like a navvy in her oh so lovely french accent . Trying to work out the probabilities of Yahtzee ( and failing dismally), the beautiful Chalet accommodation and the  snow at altitude. All in all an amazing trip made all the more amazing for the team.

20171016_074707

 

Summer in the Mountains

Once again Bansko and Nepal have made my Summer in the Mountains incredible. I’ve clocked god knows how many meters of altitude gain and miles of trail. Days and days of pottering new routes and new summits. As ever the views have been incredible and the experiences awesome. What has really struck me this year is the human contact. In the mountains you are away from the phone the computer and suddenly you are thrown into this old fashioned thing of actually meeting new people and talking to them, listening to them, enjoying their company. I’m not the most sociable of people outside work, as being friendly is my job but his year has been remarkable for the number of truly lovely people I’ve met in the hills.20171023_081901

If you are in Bansko in the summer go up, have a look. There appears to be an ars***le filter on the national park, you’ll only meet lovely people up there!!!