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 2.

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The Davies, Route 2.

Djano #80, Chengel Chal #81, Demir Chal #82, Yazunov Vrah #83, Kornishki Vrah #84, Hleven #85, Kadiev Vrah #90.

 

As a contrast to Route 1, I thought route 2 should be one of least visited corners of Pirin. I have a profound love for the extremities of National Park Pirin. These rolling hills of cropped grass are rarely visited. They are so hard to get to that they have a sacrosanct aura to them . I went to Hleven #85 this weekend so it’s just chance that it is route 2. The trail head was full of the weekend crowds heading to Popovo lake for a picnic. A few more intrepid souls were climbing Djano #80 and a couple of over loaded Israelis were heading south to Melnik.  With each step the crowds thinned and as I passed Djano I was alone. The next 24 hours were as close to the old gods as anyone would wish to be.

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The Davies, Route 2 starts from the splendid relic that is the Dobrinishtay ski lift. Built under communism this lift looks like your worst health and safety nightmare. However long ago it was built, it was built well and built strong. Now after many many years of loving care she is still running like a dream. The team who run Dobrinishtay are a perfect example of Bulgarian hospitality, rough and ready they are always laughing and joking, friendly and caring.

The journey to Bez Bog Hut is about 40 minutes through a mixed corridor of pine and beech forest. As you start the second section of the lift the forest gives way to a sea of Klek that rolls over the landscape as far as you can see. The path skirts around the west bank of the lake beneath the north face of Bez Bog #62. On the far side of the lake you climb for 15 minutes up a heavily eroded section to the pass overlooking the lake, hut, sea of Klek and the road down to Greece.  bez-bog

 

Once you cross the pass the trail is wide and well maintained. the landscape opens up and you get fine views of Djangal#87 with her mighty fortress walls, Popovo lake , Sivria#78 and Djano#80.  It’s a splendid walk down to Popovo lake the trail winds through meadows of wild flowers, crossings of stepping stones over little streams huge skies and views rolling off into blue hills make for a picturesque walk. Happy groups of picnic-ers heading for the lake lend a Sunday afternoon feel to this section.

20160717_113130Once you arrive at Popovo lake the vast majority of  walkers will stop on the banks of the lake and unleash mountains of tomatoes, sausage, bread and cheese. The Bulgarian picnic is a serious affair and will take many hours . If you head round the west side of the lake there are a few nice swimming spots next to rocky outcrops and at the most southerly point a grassy meadow where the little river feeds the lake.  About 200m up the river is the junction. The right hand fork goes to Tevno the left heads south. I normally stop here for elevenses.

Follow the left hand fork which criss-crosses the stream up the valley towards the pass. The trail gets steeper and steeper until it forks again  straight on it follows the rocky stream over the pass and down to Greece, left it cuts faintly into the wide grassy expanse that is the north west face of Djano. This is your last chance to get any water so fill your boots. The stream is clean and ice cold you wont get a chance to fill up again until you are back here tomorrow so drink deep and fill all your bottles. I’m sure there is a proper trail up this hill but I never find it and I think the majority of people just wander up randomly. It’s a good 40 minute pull up to the summit and hard work in the mid day sun. The summit of Djano is a destination point for a lot of hikers. The views are spectacular with many many lakes visible in every direction. 20180721_193257

This is a magical spot, you can feel the wilderness calling. In every direction the wild rules. The odd herder calling to his flocks, a tourist in the distance, far far off villages are brown scratches in the endless forests. This is the domain of the old gods, bear, wolf, chamois, bugs and birds. 10 minutes scramble down the ridge onto the rocky exposed pass and you are totally removed from humanity. The first 500m of the trail is difficult going, the ridge is a mess of huge broken rocks and you’ll need to use your hands to get through.  After the exertion of crossing the ridge take a few moments to feel this landscape.20180721_183128

The route is pretty simple from here on, Follow the ridge south. At some points it might skirt left or right of the ridge but for the vast majority of the way it runs true along the ridge.

Chengel Chal#81, Demir Chal#82, Yazunov Vrah #83, Kornishki Vrah #84, Hleven#85 The first 4 peaks are of classic Pirin smashed rock sharp jagged broken summits, harsh on the ankles and soles, barren dead places, baked dry by the sun, fields of scree plunging down on both sides towards the distant greens of the valley.  It’s a good 3 hour march along the ridge each peak involving a 30 or 40 minute climb the sun and the sterility of the landscape play games on your mind. The silence and vast openness of the landscape draw your thoughts away from the mundane. My body has settled into the routine of long distance walking, legs work on auto pilot, my pace changing according to the terrain but my heart rate and breathing are as constant as if I were meditating. img_20180721_201421_874

This, for me is the joy of hiking, the landscape rolling past, the wind and the sun on my skin, my brain slows down and the buzz of modern life quietens to a litany of observation.  The odd flower leaps up and touches your eye, the lushness of a patch of soil where last weeks rain has finally seeped out. Huge ants grafting away, herds of cattle clonking down in the valley, birds riding the wind that ripples the lakes surface.

There is no up and down at this pace your body settles into the landscape if you allow it. You can flow with the countryside, no step tiring you out, no climb or descent being too much. Fighting to race up or down the slopes lengthening your pace to eat up the flat sections, leaning into the climbs. None of this works, you can’t conquer mountains, you can’t dominate them, they will not bend to your will, all you will do is break yourself against them. So roll on.

img_20180721_201421_867The jagged spine of Kornishki Vrah gives way to a totally different landscape. Hleven is like the Tors of my mountains in the west country.  A torn sheet of rolling grass reveals the old bones of well worn rock. This is the last mountain in eastern Pirin and looks totally different from all the others, older and more feminine. The country falls away on all sides  row upon row of  smaller and smaller hills tuning blue with distance.

This is the place to camp, if you have brought enough food and water stop here. The views are perfect for both sunset and sun rise. The turf is soft and flat the old rocks offer shelter  from the wind. img_20180721_201421_864

For me no chance to rest. I had little water and no food, I had underestimated the walk and now had to return as far as possible. The next flat bit of land good for camping is 3 hours north of Hleven so I turned my back on Greece and set off.  The miles disappear easily with an empty mind and soon I was settled in on a shelf of flat ground near the summit of  Chengel chal .

20180723_110432The next morning I took a small detour along Kadiev Rid to bag Kadiev Vrah#90 and then back to Djano.  The descent from Djano to the river and on to Popovo lake is a gentle return to civilisation. Following the main trail back towards Bez Bog  you can either join the crowds climbing over the ridge or drop off the main trail and head for the shepherds hut and around the ridge. This trail isn’t marked but it is the only right turn off the main trail. It;s marked on most maps so you should be able to find it with a little bit of cartographic literacy.

Bez Bog can be a bit of a shock after a couple of days away from civilisation. especially on a Sunday afternoon! Crowds of day trippers pack the shoreline eating and drinking sunbathing and laughing! It’s a happy sight but very different from the peace and solitude of Hleven.

Authors note:- Mountains existed long before man decided to name them and mountains will exist long after our civilisation has become dust. Bulgaria has been through some significant socio-political changes in the last 150 years. Under the Turkish occupation the mountains had Turkish names, under the Russian/Communist regime communist names and now New Bulgarian names. All this time locals have had their own names for certain peaks and places important to them. This has led to some significant confusion as to what the mountains are called. I have tried to use the most common names for peaks but in some cases this is impossible. In such cases I have written the name of the peak in red. For example Academica#16 this mountain does not have a name. but at 2681m is a significant peak. People who are not from Bansko call this mountain Cherna Mogila, but Cherna Mogila is a small hill in front of  Academica#16. This is one of the classic mistakes of mountain cartography. The map maker sat on the valley floor points up into the hills and asks a local shepherd what is the name of that. The shepherd thinks he is pointing to the hill with a name not the nameless peak and there starts confusion!!!! I have christened it Adcademica after the hotel and ski lift at the foot of the mountain and I hope this name holds as it feels about right.  Please forgive me my arrogance in giving peaks names, I claim no right in doing so it is more a matter of embarrassment at not knowing and a dislike of blank spaces. 

 

Written by:-

James Hughes and Di Davies

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