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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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

Co-living

Co-Working in Bansko

Co-living!

What an AMAZING winter we’ve had! Tons and tons of snow, no queues for the lifts. Some of the best powder days of my life and this spring , OMG this spring, it has just been wild. Sooo many days of backcountry touring on some of the best spring snow I have ever seen. It’s now the 4th of May and I am still planning adventures into the hills with my skis!

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The Awesomeness of this winter has not been limited to the mountains. Avalon has transformed, risen from the ashes, metamorphosed. Whatever you want to call it, the Avalon is no longer the beast it once was. We embraced the co-living idea and ran with it and what a fabulous idea!

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Co-living in its basic form is a shared house. Guests come and stay for a month or more, and live here in a community of like minded people. We cook together, we drink together, we ski and visit the hot springs together. We live the Bansko dream! 

We’ve had Israelis, Germans, Italians, Brits, Swiss and Bulgarians. A heady mix of people from every background all here to work live and have fun. 

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Our days developed a rhythm that for me was paradise. In the mornings our guests would hook up and ski together. Dani and I would join them for a coffee on the hill maybe for a few powder runs if the conditions were right. Back at the hotel we’d have lunch and then do all the little jobs to keep the hotel warm and cozy. Bread would be baked, croissants or cinnamon rolls experimented with. Our guests would work either in their rooms or in the restaurant and by early evening we would end up sat by the fire drinking and chatting. This was our winter, no stress and lots of fun. 

co-living

We did a bit of cooking for take away, we did a bit of cooking together. The Curries and Ribs were a huge success in their 100% biodegradable tali boxes. And our evenings cooking together were chaotic brilliance. 

The highlight of the winter for me were our Backcountry days. I’ve been extreme skiing for 26 years now and even though I might not be the best or fittest in town I manage to charge most lines with a certain old school charm. Normally alone or with a mate my backcountry days have tended to meld into a zen like meditation. This year blew a massive hole in that zen. A few of our guests wanted to explore the backcountry and I hesitantly agreed to take them out. Good lines in good snow, safety first and all that, I assumed that “guiding” would be a mildly painful duty. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

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Seeing Bansko through the eyes of our guests was just amazing. The pure joy they brought to the game was inspiring. Every new line, every new adventure was just filled with pure excitement. They brought a spark to my skiing that has been missing these last few years, the happiness, the simple childish pleasure of bombing through fresh pow, the laughter and high fives at the end of a run. The frisson of fear at the start. The wonder at the beauty of Pirin.

Co-Living has totally transformed the Avalon and I love it! Thanks for a great winter guys, we’re looking forward to more of the same this summer!

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