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.

 

 

 

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.

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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!!!

 

 

Summer in the mountains.

Dylan and Daddy in the hills!

 

img_20170731_165002_354This has been our first proper summer in the mountains. I’ve taken Dylan for a few trips each year for the last two years but nothing too crazy. We had an over nighter at Sinanitsa, a scramble with a little bit of rope with Di and a plenty of jollies. I started this summer with my best foot forward and haven’t really looked back.

 

Trekking in Pirin is a really hard game to explain. For each person who goes into our hills it means a totally different thing. If we make a scale of 1 to 5 to rate mountain nut nuts it’ll be a bit easier to understand.img_20170724_164401_150

 

 

Level One:-

Here is the The Man, 175 kilos of serious mountain man. He likes to walk from his car to a BBQ spot in the woods, the 100m stroll builds up an appetite. Gallons of beer will be strategically placed in the stream with a watermelon or two. Planning is essential as keeping beer cold and chilling a 10 kg melon is slow and difficult work. There are hundreds of dedicated BBQ spots. Most people have a favourite and will loyally go back to the same one week after week. The truly dedicate will spent a few years, possibly generations, building a villa but the principal is the same. Benches and tables hewn from whole trees, shade of some sort and a water source provide the supporting roles to the main star which is the fire pit. Pirin BBQ’s are not like your big green egg or Weber.  A U shaped pit of rocks cemented together make the frame. An intricate balancing act gets the grill in place over the roaring flames. Use of a flattish igneous rock as the grill and a roaring fire to heat it makes for an interesting fried/baked/smoked cooking style. This is proper cave man stuff none of your fancy metal grills here please. Just a bloody great rock heated up and slabs of meat slapped on top.img_20170706_153142_560

 

Pork fat, is crisped, peppers roasted, onions fried and maybe some other vegetable might be induced to show up. The real star of the show is the pork. No fancy marinades here, you use your favourite butcher and he’ll knock out a selection of different sausages, meat balls and spiced steaks of different cuts of pork ( neck is a personal favourite). This mountain of artery hardening goodness will be cooked to perfection by The Man and washed down  with gallons of cold beer. A ridiculously huge salad of home grown tomatoes and cucumbers will hint at vitamins. A few hours later in a meat coma under a tree our hero will be snoring happily.img_20170702_194026_538

 

Level 2:-

DFS, Down From Sofia. No one is from Sofia, not really. Sofiantsy are all recent immigrants to the big city. At most a generation ago they were all villagers and more likely only a couple of years ago. So Friday night means half of Sofia gets in the car and heads to the mountains. These guys are earning money so the clothes are nice and the trainers are nicer. They will eat in restaurants and HIKE! They split into two distinct categories. There are the jeans, t shirt and white trainers brigade and the everything from Decathlon brigade. These guys love the mountains! They will be up at the Rila seven lakes one weekend and Vihren the next. Limited in experience and stamina they will still spend most weekends exploring the main tourist routes in Bulgaria, scattering litter along the path all day and tucking into the local beers all night. Fun people who love spending time in the mountains these guys will be mountaineers soon!

 

img_20170706_153142_555Level 3:-

Trekkers , a truly international bunch. These guys can be from anywhere. Sofia, London, Buenos Aires , Paris or Milan. They’ve heard about how wild and hospitable Pirin is and they are here on an adventure. These guys can’t lie on a beach they will spend their whole summer in the mountains. Determined to be happy, super fit and willing to rough it in the hills they tend to respect the mountain more than most and LOVE what Pirin has to offer. Normally in town for a week hiking from hut to hut and then soaking in hot springs on their last day before heading home these easy going guys really get it!

 

Level 4:-img_20170702_193847_830

Summit baggers. Not all of this little group of nutters are interested in summits but they’ve got a goal and they are on a mission to get it. It could be all about climbing every mountain in Bulgaria or the Balkans, maybe its some epic adventure from Sofia to Greece. these guys are on one. Big packs and even bigger muscles, tales of insanely long routes, huge mountains and wild places that are beyond belief !

 

limg_20170724_164843_455evel 5:-

Mountaineers! There aren’t so many of these rare beasts in Bansko but  you can spot a few. Normally on north faces of something ridiculous  tooled up to the max with ropes and metal work. Leaving civilisation hours before dawn winter or summer these nutters will be hanging on by their fingernails to some hair raising  cliff before the rest of us have even had breakfast.

 

So where do I fit into this crowd? I’ve played at being a mountaineer and to be honest I’m lacking in the bucket loads of manliness needed to join them. I’ve played at bagging summits and still do from time to time. Long distance walks and multi day trips are still fun but I’ll only really do that a couple of times a year. Playing at being The Man is also pretty cool once or twice a year. I’m pretty partial to pork products and cold beer. But I think the truth of it is I like the playing most of all. National Park Pirin is , for me, a giant play ground. Now for Dylan as well.img_20170625_144915_068

 

We started our summer in the mountains together with an amazing group of ex pats. A crazily long trip to the wildest corner of Pirin. The south east corner of Pirin is visited by a few locals, hunters, trials bikers and the odd shepherd but otherwise is just a wilderness for the beasties. Last year the National Park built a hut about as far from anywhere as you could imagine so we decided to visit. It’s just a simple little bunk house for 8 people set in a meadow laced with crystal clear streams. A lovely little spot other than the clouds of mosquitoes! Getting there was a little harder than expected. I think it took us close on 16 hours over the two days to get from Bez Bog to Breznitsa and everyone was a little pooped by the end. I only had to carry Dylan for the last kilometre on the first day so he was a bit of a hero really.

 

img_20170724_164004_240I learnt my lesson so our next trip was a lot more child friendly. Bez Bog to Tevno hut and then on the second day Tevno to Damianitsa hut. We swam in lakes we had picnics. I had an afternoon nap and all in all it was a near perfect weekend. Telling bedtime stories under the stars and walking hand in hand through alpine meadows are experiences I hope he will never forget.Our next trip I plan to camp on a peak somewhere, then maybe the week after by a lake. I love this way of spending time in Pirin. Seeing the mountains through a child’s eyes is enlightening and walking at a child’s pace a real pleasure. Soon our summer in the mountains will be over and I will start testing myself against the high peaks and long trails again but for now I’m kind of loving the gentle life!img_20170625_145236_216

Bread and Jam

Bread and JamBread and Jam

Bread and Jam

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I really care about what I eat, it’s really important to me. Great flavours, textures and smells get me going, so much so that some might say I’m a couple of pounds over weight! But when it comes to our guests it matters even more. Not only do I want to offer the best we can but more and more people are caring about what they eat and really appreciate quality food.

Bansko is still trapped in the grip of the seasons. Yes you can by strawberries in Feb. but they are massively overpriced and no one locally would dream of buying them. The local way, the seasonal way is the old fashioned way, when there is a glut of fruit or veg it gets preserved, dried, pickled of fermented! So mid September we got hold of some raspberries, added a little sugar left them overnight and then slowly boiled them up the next day. 240 jars of jam later we serve it for breakfast. Local raspberries and sugar, nothing else, unless you count time and love. Just fruit and sugar and it is lovely.

I’ve been on a course to make bread and this summer I have been practicing, flour, salt and water. A little time and love to get the flour fermenting and with nearly a thousand loaves made in the last 9 months I reckon I have nearly got the perfect loaf! I make 100% whole meal, two types of seeded rye, brown and white loaves.

Bread and Jam, so simple and so often ruined by the supermarkets, are such a treat when home made! I hope you guys enjoy them as much as we do!

 

 

Rock climbing in Bansko

Rock climbing in Bansko

Rock climbing at Peshteritay

Rock climbing at Peshteritay

 

After our little adventure on the north face of Vihren I decided that the time had come to learn to rock climb. There are some things in life that are best learnt in the heat of the moment. Climbing with all its reliance on knots and technique and fatal consequences is not one of them.

I love Alpine style mountaineering and Trad climbing lightweight climbs on unknown routes leaving no trace that you were ever there. The independence of having everything you need on your back  the freedom that comes from being able to look after yourself no matter what. A rope, a stove, some gear and a good waterproof sleeping bag is nearly all you need in life. Add to that someone you trust and can get on with no matter what and life clarifies into a simple chain of pre ordained events and their responses. I have spent many happy years of my life riding this clear chain of thought and to be honest I love it. Questions answer themselves, life’s great mystery condenses  into a kind of enlightened clarity.

All good in principle but the lesson from Kuloara is that there are some technical skills needed as well. So last weekend we went off to Peshteritay to hone some skills. Peshteritay is a cave just outside Bansko next to the ski road, in the winter you’ll pass it on your way back from a days skiing. There is a little restaurant there that offers some great local food and hospitality at properly local prices.

Rock climbing in Bansko is a pretty hairy game, as most of the big mountain rock is cast limestone. If you imagine concrete that has not been mixed properly you will have a good idea of what this rubbish is. At Peshteritay there is some lovely rock, stable and with lots of great big holds. Mountain rescue and some local enthusiasts have fixed bolts onto the rock here so it is safe and easy to attach protection. Vania, Dylan, the nannies and I have been practising here for a month now. Vania and Dylan are now very very good, I am still struggling to master hauling so much weight around but hey we are having fun! If you want to go and try it out I really recommend George and his tear at INTERSPORT

climbing centre walltopia sofia

climbing centre walltopia sofia

As the family have taken so well to Rock climbing in Bansko we recently spent a weekend in Sofia at some indoor climbing walls. Bulgaria is the world leader when it comes to indoor climbing thanks to a company called WALLTOPIA we went to one of their newest ventures called boulderland.  A truely amazing experience, Vania it turns out is a natural rock climber, at moments she was hanging upside down efortlessly moving over the walls like a gecko. I on the other hand am still struggling to move the 110kg!

 

 

Bansko Sour Cherry Cosmopolitan

Summer fruit in Bansko

Bansko Sour Cherry, image thanks to www.tremendus-fruit.com

Bansko Sour cherry ideal for a Cosmopolitan.

You can’t rush things especially if it involves alcohol or food. The joy of our cocktail nights here at the Avalon is that they involve both. In my garden we have a young, healthy and very fecund sour cherry tree  we harvest the  fruit in July and turn it into a syrup for our Cosmopolitans in the winter. Each year we normally make around a hundred small bottles of concentrated syrup that we then dilute like Ribena at home or use neat in our Cosmos at the hotel. The Avalon Cosmopolitan uses this juice/syrup instead of cranberry juice to create one of the best cocktails I have ever tasted.

This year my life has been a little hectic with politics, cycling and trips back and forth around Europe so we called in some friends to help us bring in the harvest. In the end we really didn’t need all 6 of them as this summer has been really wet and a lot of the fruit rotted on the tree before it ripened. What we did get is now bubbling away in the kitchen, ready to be bottled and stored for the next 6 months until it gets unleashed on our guests in the winter.

Sour cherries make a great cordial.   The sour flavour of the fruit works brilliantly with vodka and triple sec and makes what I think is the perfect Cosmopolitan . 

Recipe:-

40ml Good quality export strength Vodka, I recommend Stolichnya Crystal but Savoy works!

40ml Triple sec, please don’t substitute Grand Marnier as it is too sweet you want a good quality dry orange liquor .

20ml lemon juice.

60ml sour cherry syrup.

Shaken with as much ice as you can get in the cocktail mixer and the lemon peel if you feel like it. Serve straight up in a frozen coupe or at least chill the coupe by filling it with ice and leaving it to chill while you make the drink .  Shake until frost appears on the outside of the shaker, drink and make merry!

 

The little world of Don Camillo

The little world of Don Camillo doesn’t seem to have got across the channel . On the continent it has been a huge part of peoples lives for nearly 70 years. I was introduced to the books by The Old Man and a very strange choice it was to suggest to a teenager. The stories have stuck with me for life, I have read and reread them over and over and love the characters like members of an extended dysfunctional family.

The little world is somewhere in the flat misty plains of the Po river in northern Italy, that agricultural land that gave us Parmesan, risotto, Balsamic vinegar and Barilla pasta. Lush fertile land breeds a type of hardened man that knows, through graft he will succeed the Po valley is such a land. miles and miles of flat green fields, soil as black as tar, bordered by the Alps far to the north and the Apennines to the south, the food and wine, the people and the climate have interested me since I first stepped into the little world through the books of Giovannino Guaresch.

December the 26th 2013 is Avalon’s 10th Birthday and as we can’t really take a holiday right at the beginning of the season I decided to take Vania and Dylan on a trip overland through the little world of Don Camillo, the drive from Bansko to Igoumenitsa in Greece was a bit of a pain but once we were on the ferry things slowed down to a more manageable pace. 3 hours a day of driving followed by lunch and a lazy walk around whichever town we ended up in.

I wont bore you too much with details of meals eaten and wine drunk castles visited and views seen but there are some details that really stand out. The first place we stopped was just outside Modena a small nothingish little village with one bar and a couple of hotels, the main square was an exact replica of how I imagined the village of Don Camillo, arcades, a huge church tower and the whole village packed into the one barrestaurant, young and old alike eating and drinking. The food was incredible! Just a pizza and a risotto to share between the three of us but wow what a rissotto, plump white rice in the creamiest starchy sauce, flavoured with nothing more than a hint of Rosemary and Balsamic. As the evening wore on the background music changed to techno for half an hour to get rid of the olds and then back to chilled house for the rest of the night to make the place more of a bar than restaurant.

The next 14 days carried on in much the same vein, France and Italy really blow the mind when it comes to living well, we stopped a few times at motorway services to have lunch and even there you will find a better steak than anything in Bulgaria and a selection of hot cooked food that would baffle the average British motorist. The pace of life on the continent really is lovely, lots of muddling around talking rubbish, drinking coffee and making lunch a proper sit down meal rather than a rushed sandwich at the desk. Compared with the hectic 10 days we had in the U.K. our two weeks on the road were snail like!

Back in Bansko we have been plugging away at getting the hotel ready while the town hall plugs away at smashing everything up before the season starts. Sadly I do understand why our Dumb Mayor Georgi Ikonomov  has decided to attack the town with a buldozer but none of the reasons are publishable here due to worries about prosecution! 3 out of 6 of the main roads into Bansko are now shut due to building works, 1/4 of town has been without water for the student holiday which supposedly brought 11000 tourists to Bansko for the weekend. The whole area around the gondola station has been smashed to pieces in a frenzy of destruction. All this just in time for the start of the season. Obviously none of this could have been done in May, June, July, August, September or even October. I now fully understand why the leader of Ikonomov’s party refers to him as “Our Dumb Mayor from Bansko” and recently at a party meeting trying to find something nice to say about him suggested he wasn’t too bad at watering the lawns!

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 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.