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!!!

 

 

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

The Davies, Route 7

gredaro3

The Davies, Route 7

Muratov Vrah#19 Vlahinski Vrah#20 Gredaro#21

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Climbing Mt. Vihren 2914m

Climbing Mt. Vihren 2914m.

Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m

Climbing Mt. Vihren 2914m , the north face of Mt Vihren, via the Kuloara route.

Dzhamdzhiev Rid

Climbing Mt. Vihren 2914m. It has become a bit of an annual thing for Di and I to climb an alpine route on Vihren.  We started off with Dzhamdzhiev Rid (pronounced Jamdjeiv rid)  Other than it being a long way the route is as basic as you want it to be. You can bypass the technical bits and just plod on up an steep faint trail. However if you follow the true ridge line there are some lovely technical rock climbing pitches and the odd bit of exposure. An explanation to the verbiage of climbing might be useful at this point. Exposure is  a technical term for scary, with lots of depth/space around you. Pitches are sections of the route with each pitch being the length of your rope, normally measuring 50m or 60m)

The technical pitches do require rope and some rock climbing experience. There is one point where you have to perch on a tiny ledge fingers gripping the top of the rock above you, depth plunging away below you, you reach around the end of the rock to some invisible hand hold and swing yourself up onto a saddle. Brown trousers time (technical climbing term again) and definitely not for the feint hearted! This route is very popular in the winter and has a bit of a reputation for trouble as people tend to underestimate it! Why people underestimate climbing routes in Pirin will become clear.

Dzhamdzhiev Rid on Mt Vihren, Pirin mountains , Bulgaria

Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m. Dzhamdzhiev Rid

Severen Greben

In 2013  we climbed Vihren 2914m via the Severen Greben route (route 11 on the image below) . In the topography guides we could find, this route was described as a little bit harder than Dzhamdzhiev Rid, (A LITTLE BIT!!!) but basically an easy beginners stroll across a field!!  Lots of rope work, lots of exposure and some proper climbing.  I counted 6 pitches. The top section was a real joy as we ended up climbing through a huge rock garden filled with Edelweiss . This little hardy alpine flower is a favourite of mountaineers. They only grow in truly wild  spots in steep rock faces and invariably appear when you are at your most shaken! . All in all a scary day with some proper climbing. However, said day was described as “a little bit” harder than Dzhamdzhiev Rid!

Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m

Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m Severen Greben route

Kuloara

Well this year our Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m trip was up Route 6 on the picture above. The Guide describes it thus:-

” Gully that separates the left side of the north face (triangle) on the right (funnel). Lightpath that is of interest primarily in winter. Some of the routes on the triangle out of the left edge of the sidelines and continue on it. For now just know the first winter climb – on April 14, 1952 by Encho Petkov and six mountaineers.”

A better translation of “lightpath” would be “easy route” Oh the joy that is Bulgarian Understatement, Mountaineers Understatement, Climbing Understatement. To make it really really clear THAT AINT NO EASY ROUTE!  O.k. in the winter when everything is full of snow and all the rock is frozen to the hill, it might be a little easier but you are still hanging off a vertical cliff, hundreds of meters up in the  air with nothing below you but certain death.

In the summer everything is exposed as its true self. A pile of shattered rock slide waiting to happen. A gutter filled with unstable, broken, horror held together with bird spit and balance. Looking at the picture you will get a pretty good idea of the route. You follow the vertical chimney up from the snow field until you hit the shelf that angles up to the left. The bulk of the climbing is going to be in the chimney and then a gentle scramble up the shelf. To be fair to you, the guide books agree, they claim the bulk of the climbing is in the chimney. They don’t even mention the shelf!

So up we went and for 4 pitches we muddled our way up the chimney, tough but nothing too unbearable as it’s not too long. I knew once we’d finished with the chimney the exit would be easy. ERROR! You guessed wrong, I guessed wrong, the guides were way way way wrong. The chimney is the easy bit. The shelf turns out to be a nightmare. We left the chimney behind and set off into what would turn out to be a pretty sustained climb (sustained being a technical climbers term for f-ing difficult, relentless and death defying).

The shelf is nothing of the sort, it is a very steep gutter. Sheer rock walls on either side offer little in the way of holds or places to attach safety equipment (protection in climber language). The floor of the gully is just rubble, smashed rock that has fallen in over the years, precariously balanced and just waiting for something to nudge it down the hill.

The shelf rises up in steps, 10 meters of steeply climbing gutter, filled with rock slide waiting to happen, ends at a 4, 5, or 6 meter high wall. These walls are mostly vertical and pretty technical. Some were over hanging and very technical. So we settled into a bit of a routine. Di would lead as far as he could. When he found a safe spot to belay me up to him I would climb up and then I would belay him as he climbed higher. At every moment bits of gully would slip and crash down into the depths below. I tried to only step on solid rock and then wedge myself under something to protect myself from falling debris Di kicked down.

Unfortunately there is very little solid rock in the gutter and sometimes nothing was solid. At these moments we would try and “Be The Mouse” tread lightly and disturb nothing. Even with all this caution and the constant pounding awareness that a mistake would kill us both, it was standing totally still the mountain that got me. Wedged in under a big overhang to protect myself from falling debris I was belaying Di when the gully floor started moving. Slowly enough to give me a chance to throw a leg up against the opposite wall of the gully and brace my back against the wall behind me.  Steadily the slow slide of rocks turned into a rapid crash, landing on and pulling away the coils of rope below me. Nothing caught on the rope but watching it slowly uncoil down the hill inside a wave of rubble was a terrifying moment. I eventually retrieved the rope from what was once the floor.

Meanwhile above me Di was struggling with a similar problem, there was no way for him to get up except through some unstable boulders that moved every time he touched them. The safe route was over an overhanging boulder but not an option with a left leg that does not bend. Slowly, carefully barely touching the ground he inched round the trap and onto solid rock.

Still wedged, muscles screaming I waited what must have been only a few minutes but for what  felt like hours until Di got somewhere safe. I hauled my way up to the overhanging rock. I’m not a rock climber, even in the depths of bar craptalk I wouldn’t claim to be much of a mountaineer but the next 4 meters were proper rock climbing. I tried to go round as Di had, but once again what looked solid wasn’t and the world just dropped away below me. With no plan B I had to go on.

Weirdly when I am about to die I get very calm, everything slows down, the moves became obvious, the options focused, crystallised. I could not go back so one leg  had to go here, the other as far as it would go over there. Both hands up onto that big rock , pulling all my weight onto my hands meant I could get my right leg much higher. Right hand up onto that little pimple. Push, pull, heave and Up I went.

On and On the gully climbed, it got narrower and steeper. We got so tight under the rocks we had to take our rucksacks off and haul them up on the rope as we just didn’t fit. At one point we were in a tiny tunnel full of shitty broken rock and nothing to hold onto. I’m not embarrassed to say it fear finally gripped me and I froze. I was above Di, trying to find a spot to belay him from and I just couldn’t do it any more. I wanted to see the rope above me, I wanted to be sure that I was safe and the rope just wasn’t there. Looking down all I could see was clear air all the way to the snow field at the bottom. I tied myself to something and Di climbed past me.  Things got a bit better after that but not much. There were still some moments where I climbed better than I ever thought I could. I did moves that a fat coach potato  really shouldn’t be able to. Finally the slope started to level out and the rock floor started to become stable rock.

I counted 8 pitches that were sustained technical rock climbing. Maybe another 8 that were just climbing. It took us 6 hours of near constant climbing most of which was spent in the sure knowledge that the ground could slip out from under us at any moment.

For more info about climbing Mt. Vihren 2914m click HERE

 

 

 

 

 

The Davies, Route 1.

Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m

Mt Vihren 2914m, the north face.

The Davies, Route 1.

Vihren #17 and Hvoinati #18.

 

There is no particular order that you should climb The Davies. Route 1, for most people, has to be the highest and most impressive mountain in Pirin. Over the next 20 or 30 posts we aim to describe our favourite routes to top of the Pirin mountains. Please understand these are not the best, the easiest, the most beautiful or any other superlative you care to mention. The routes we describe here are the ones we go back to time after time because we like them. If you prefer a different way please share on our Facebook page 

PirinThe majority of people will follow the obvious route from Vihren hut straight up the south face to the summit and back the way they came. This is the shortest, easiest and in our opinion least splendid route.

Route 1 has an extra kilometre or 2 of walking and 100 or 200 meters more ascent but it is well worth making the extra effort.

hija-bunderitsa Start at Bunderitsa hut. There is a spring in the garden here where you can fill your water bottles, this is a very dry route so take extra water. The start of the path is just up hill from the main building. There is a sign here marking the official start of the trail (it is hard to find) The sign reads “premkata”.

The path climbs steeply through mature pine forest and clearings are filled with lush vegetation. This is one of the official National Park trails and as such is well marked and well maintained. Green and white stripes painted on trees and rocks mark the path all the way to the pass.

Crossing the treeline you enter alpine pasture with the occasional patch of “Kleck”. This indomitable  bush will feature often in your adventures in Pirin. Kleck is Pinus Mugo a hardy pine bush that thrives in the Balkans.  It is possible to travel through Kleck but possible ….. not easy. Always try to go round patches of Kleck where possible. Over the years we have spent many many hours trapped in webs of Kleck and have learned to hate it with a passion.

kazanaUp to your right a few venerable pines keep a determined grip on the ridge. You are now in Alpine pasture proper, tongues of scree lick through the pasture, ridges of rock dominate the horizon. You will cross your first short section of rough ground and scree before the the landscape opens up.

At around 2200m the path drops into the amphitheatre of Little Kazana . This large open bowl of grass and wild flowers is beautiful in the spring and offers your eyes their last balm of green for a few hours. Looming up from Little Kazana you will get your first view of the awesome splendour of Vihren’s north face. This near vertical wall of cast limestone is a truly impressive sight. The horizon up and left  is the Djamdjiev ridge. Locally a very famous route up Vihren with some climbing sections.

Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m

Mt Vihren 2914m

Crossing the grassy bowl of Little Kazana you will start a steep zig zag climb, up the rocky gully and over the ridge into the main bowl of Kazana at 2400m.  Here you see the 500m north face of  Vihren in it’s entirety. There are a dozen or so routes up this  beauty most of which are best attempted in the winter when the rock is frozen together! We have tried 3 of them in the summer and they make for interesting climbing on unstable rock.

The main bowl of Kazana is filled most of the year with snow and often wild goats. They have become very relaxed around humans expecting easy pickings from tourists. Often you can get to within meters of them before they are spooked and run off.  Pirin eagles are starting to come back and can sometimes been seen here enjoying the cliffs!

You are now about 1/2 way up so push on! This is one of the finest view points in Pirin and it is tempting to loiter, the sun is getting hotter and the trail is bare from here to the summit. I normally try and get the majority of the climbing done before it gets too hot.

The Path out of Kazana is steep and rocky. The sandy surface on the steeper sections can be annoying so step carefully, the gully isn’t long and quickly you will be out into the grassy meadows between Vihren and Kutelo. It is worth wandering over to the Vihren side of the meadows for some lovely views into Kazana from above. It’s a short potter up the to main pass “Premkata” between Vihren and Kutelo.

IMG_20120802_161803At Premkata you have fantastic views West to Macedonia, South to Greece, North towards Plovdiv and East all along the main back bone of Pirin . Pause let it all sink in, Breathe, feel the magic and stride on. The summit is only step away!  the crown of Vihren is very distinct from here and you really get a wonderful sense of the forces involved in  building mountain ranges.

Follow the path up the increasingly steep and eroded zig zags until you come to the main band of rock that makes up the summit. Here a chain has been installed to assist the faint hearted. Scramble up about 25m until the path turns left. At this point turn right away from the main trail and head for a gap in the ridge. It is a difficult scramble for some but easy enough even if you have no experience. The views are spectacular and well worth it. After less than 5 minutes you will arrive on the summit!

The Trail down is shockingly eroded and surprisingly hard on the legs. Once you are back onto grass the walking becomes easier. The trail is almost due south until you come to the lowest point between Vihren and Hvoinati.  Carry on off the main trail up the slabby mess of rock that is the summit ridge  and soon you will be on the summit of Hvoinati. The views south south east to Moratovo, Ribno and Dulgo lakes  is lovely.

EdelweissFollow the summit ridge 150m due east and descend north towards the main tourist trail. Keep to the right of the ridge as the left side holds more scree. Once you are on the main trail it is under 2 hours walk until you reach Vihren hut.

We love this route. As you will see over the next few years Di and I differ slightly on timings. Di is a gentleman of advanced years and shockingly fit whilst I am an over weight recently ex-smoker! At the end of each route I will publish two times as below. One is the Davies route time, this is the number of hours a reasonably fit person would take to walk it not including their rest stops. The second is how long I normally spend on the hill doing the route including lunch, naps, rests and photo oportunities!

The Davies, Route 1. Di Time 5 hours, James Time 6.5 hours.

Written by:-

Di Davies and James Hughes