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!

 

 

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 3.

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The Davies, Route 3.

Todorka#37, Sredna Todorka#36, Malka Todorka#35

 

Life in Pirin has 4 very distinct seasons. Cold snowy winters give way to mild wet springs of lush alpine meadows filled with flowers. The summer is hot and dry with months of relentless sunshine drying out the hills into a uniform khaki brown. The summer sun can carry on long into autumn but with the shortening days the temperatures fall and the nights are cold. This is my favourite time of year to be in the mountains. Few people venture up into the high mountains after mid September but  the mild climate makes it ideal hiking weather.

route3-5

Nearly all the routes I will describe over the next 20 or 30 posts will be summer routes. There are many fantastic winter routes in Pirin. When the snow and ice lock the rocks into place a whole other world of possibilities open up. There are enough winter adventures to be had in Pirin to fill many many books. The aim of this guide is to attract people to explore our mountains, to introduce them to the joys of Pirin and to share our experiences. Di is a very accomplished winter mountaineer but I am not. I love to ski tour (ski up mountains) and I do own an ice axe but she gets little use! This is our view of Pirin and as such a very personal journey through our beloved mountains.

The Todorkas, are a crescent moon shaped ridge of peaks, the largest of which stands above the ski area and dominates the skyline.  Todorka viewed from Bansko looks like a classic triangular peak standing alone and proud between two very separate massifs.  In reality she is a buttress or spur that juts out from the main line of Pirin peaks working as a watershed between the Bunderitsa and Damianitsa rivers. route3-12

It is a very viable route and even pleasant to climb Tordorka in the summer but i would like to describe this route as a winter trip. This is by far and away the easiest of winter routes and the majesty of the mountains in the winter is well worth the minimal hardship of a winter ascent. If you go in late March starting early in the morning the ski back down to town is no harder than a red run and normally as smooth and firm as a piste. The bang for your buck is massive! A real sense of big mountain mountaineering with the effort of a summer picnic!

route3-11Taking the Bunderitsa chair lifts from the top of the gondola to the top of the mountain removes most of the effort. The top lift drops you at 2600m with Tordorka only 2746m. For the majority of winter mountaineers and extreme skiers the trot up the ridge in ski boots is under 45 minutes but if this is your first time hiking in the snow I would suggest a more serious approach.

Take a guide, the vast majority of trips into the hills in the winter go without incident but when things do go wrong in the winter they go seriously wrong so take an expert. Speak to mountain rescue about the weather and snow pack.  Early mornings normally mean the snow is more solid underfoot and more stable for skiing down. If you can be on the first lift you will be back for an early lunch. If this is your first time it is best to borrow some kit. The ridge is more than 2m wide most of the way but there are two narrow sections where it is less than 50cm and a couple of steps that need you to use your hands and another couple where you have to balance on a less than 20cm wide ridge.route3-10

For a first trip I would suggest you borrow crampons and get a small section of rope to connect you to your guide. A rucksack that has straps to hold your skis will free up your hands. In the winter moisture is a huge issue so it is best to start the walk wearing as little clothing as possible, you are going to get really hot and sweaty. Start the walk uncomfortably cold, you will soon warm up. The problem you are trying to avoid is sweat. If you wear too much clothing you will get sweaty which is fine as you climb but when you get to the top and rest you will be damp and you will get dangerously cold very quickly. Practice walking with crampons the day before, there is a technique similar to how a penguin walks, be careful not to kick yourself they hurt! Walk slowly, you do not want to get out of breath so develop a speed that is so slow that you never get out of breath. At the right speed you can walk for hours over the hardest terrain and never get tired, never get hot and never get sweaty!

route3-4From the top of the lift there is a pisted section of about 100m that goes up to the crucifix just above the lift, I normally sort all my equipment at the bottom of this section. Crampons on, jackets off, skis on the bag and on my back, helmet off but gloves and sunglasses on. I use my ski poles as walking sticks. The sun is very strong in the winter so sunglasses are a must as you will be looking at the snow all the way up. Wear your gloves, snow and ice are sharper than you think.

From the crucifix follow the ridge line straight up. the path is normally well worn so easy to follow, if there is a wind lip out over the east face stay well back from it.  About 20 minutes into your walk there are a couple of rocks that will need you to use yours hands. It is worth being over cautious, make sure you have three good points of contact before you move on, one hand and two feet safely placed mean you can move your other hand, two hands and one foot gripping the hill nicely means you can move the other foot. Go slow move safely. Kick deeper foot holds, clear snow to get the best hand holds, there is no rush. Even going slowly you will be at the top in an hour.route3-6

There is a small section skirting the gully at the top where you walk along a narrow ridge 20cm wide. This is where your crampons are amazing. Even if it is pure blue ice they will grip like claws.  Skirt the gully and walk up to the summit. The views are amazing! There is normally a bug wind lip hanging over the north face so stay at least 10m back from the edge! From here you can see nearly all the big peaks in Pirin and snow bound they are almost unrecognisable. You can clearly see the crescent moon of the ridge from here sweeping south and east until it joins the main range at Banderishki Chukar #32.

route3-9I would normally put on my ski here and  glide along the ridge towards Sredna Todorka#36 but if it feels too technical walk it. The ridge is normally solid wind blown snow so easy to walk on. The route south is maybe another hour of up and down along the ridge line. By the time you get to Malka Todorka #35 you will probably be in need of a rest. travelling over snow is much harder than walking over summer ground. Take a break here drink some coffee, eat something and rest. It is very important that before you start skiing down that your body is rested and ready for skiing. I have fallen many times on my first turn after a long hike just because my muscles haven’t be in the right mode.

Put on all your kit.your skis or board, jackets helmet goggles and ski/ side slip down the ridge line until you feel comfortable to ski properly. As you look down the ridge you are heading right, it is the much more gentle slope, between a blue and red run, wide and featureless.  Left is a steeper more rocky, cliffy route down to Damianitsa hut! Find the line you are most comfortable with and follow the valley down towards Vihren hut. The skiing is very easy and if you keep right you will be able to ski without pushing nearly all the way to the hut.route3-2

I normally stop for a cup of tea at Vihren hut to let the manager know I am ok, he spends a huge amount of his time watching people descend from Todorka to call for help if anyone gets into trouble so it is a courtesy to  pass the time of day. There are normally a few of the extreme team hanging out here so it is a social point as well as a rest.

route3-1From the hut you can either ski down the road (often it is piste bashed) or through the bushes following the stream. Either way you will easily get to the bridge at Banderitsa camp site with little or no effort. From the camp site to the ski area is very flat and involves a fair amount of skating and pushing.  It should take about 15 minutes of effort to get back to the Tomba piste and 20minutes to be back in a bar! route3-7

 

 

 

 

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