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 Davies, Route 4.

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The Davies, Route 4.

Sivria #78.

I take huge pleasure hiking on my own in Pirin . There is a zen like peace, almost meditative state that wandering our hills brings to me.  The silence filled with the millions of tiny noises of nature, the stillness punctuated only by the babble of streams and the chattering of birds. The frantic, hectic speed of modern life distilled down into a steady, peaceful rhythm of your steps over broken ground. I’m addicted to it and like an addict I keep going back for more and more.  The Davies have been a wonderful excuse to feed my habit!20160717_103412

Some routes demand company, not on a technical level. None of our routes really need you to have a guide or a buddy to hold your rope. But some of our routes (The Davies, Route 4. in particular) are just so idyllic so fantastically PIRIN that I feel that they should be shared with a group of friends Sivria #78 The Davies, route 4 is exactly that route.

20160717_103428Last time I was on Sivria we were a big crowd, a big mixed international crowd. Old, young, Bulgarian, British, Kiwi, experienced mountaineers, first timers even a baby in a rucksack! But this is the point of hiking to Sivria it is a magical combination of everything that there is to love about hiking in the mountains. There’s a decrepit ex communist chair lift to get you to altitude. There are lakes, mighty peaks, magical forests, rocks and meadows, views galore and at the end of the day there is a sketchy little bar by a lake to wash away the trail dust with cold beer!

Access to the start of the route is via the chair lift at Dobrinishtay. This relic of communism is much loved and well maintained. The staff are careful and attentive and for about 20 leva  you will glide up to 2200m through beautiful beech,and pine forests to be unceremoniously dropped  near the top of the Kleck line. It is a long day so it is worth being on the first lift around 8:30 am.

20160717_113130From the top of the lift there is a very clear trail that skirts round the west shore of the Bez Bog lake. This very popular route is a rush hour motorway of picnic-ers on the weekends  so it is best to go mid week. Following the trail over the pass you get your first view of Djangal #87 this fortress of clean granite offers some of the best rock climbing in Pirin and dominates the route. The trail drops down the south side of the pass and runs almost straight south to Popovo lake. Popovo is a beautiful destination in itself, the lake is surrounded by grassy wild flower meadows and the little island in the centre of the lake offers plenty of scope for contemplation. It is about 2 hours gentle walk to Popovo lake and this is the final destination for most of the crowds.

20160717_124710I pretty sure you are not meant to swim in the lake but if you are inclined to dive into the crystal clear waters the south west corner of the lake offers some fantastic swimming holes and rocks to bask on as you dry off. For Sivria you turn left when you arrive at the lake, heading east along the shore you will find a path that gets fainter and fainter as you go round. The route up the west face of Sivria is not very clear.  The trail markers are mostly just little piles of stones but it makes little difference. As you look up aim for the shoulder just to the right of the summit. Of our group of 10 I think we must have gone 5 different ways, some option for the direct route straight to the top others winding in and out of the rocks to find the easiest way over grassy meadows.

pirin_-_kremenski_ezera_-_img_9291Allow another couple of hours to slowly slowly get to the top, it is a steep pull up 400m of ascent, stronger walkers will do it in an hour but whats the rush, with every step up more and more views open around you.  Just below the summit there is a lovely grassy patch littered with smooth stones that make perfect picnic tables and chairs, the summit itself is covered with man made towers of stones that lend a fairy tale feel to the place. This is somewhere you could imagine wizards wielding unlimited power of witches meeting for sabbaths.

20160717_141925At the junction with this path turn left heading back up towards Polojan #64. It is a very useful habit to get into, using peaks as directional aides. If you can focus on summits for orientation you will save yourself from making wrong turns! This trail is used by summer herders to bring their stock into the mountains for the summer grazing so it is  well worn but not marked very well. You are now in pristine wilderness, nature has settled into itself other than the path there is little trace of man and the trees, grasses and flowers are as they have been for thousands of years. No one has been up here logging or planting just the biannual rise and fall of herders passing through to graze the high pastures.

20160717_152547The trail climbs gently up the side of the valley heading almost due west until it meets  the stream where you cross and gently climb the other side, now heading north. About half an hour from the stream is a shepherds hut which comes as an odious shock of humanity after the last 5 hours of pristine wilderness. From the hut it is another hour up and round the ridge that circles Bez Bog lake. The last 20 minutes of the walk is through a 3m high forest of Klek the path is well maintained and you get to see just how intimidating the pretty green carpets of Klek are close up.  They are almost impenetrable to everything other than the wild boar who appear not to care as long as there are there are some wild crocus bulbs to dig up.

All of a sudden you will come out of the maze of Klek to the shore of Bez Bog lake, turn right and in a few minutes you’ll be sat in the sun with a cold beer in you hand contemplating the cool waters of the lake.20160717_152837

It’s is a long day, you need to do the whole route in under 7 hours if you want to catch the last lift down at 4pm. Stay the night at the Bez Bog hut and you can spend the whole day slowly slowly enjoying this pristine corner of Pirin.

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.

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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

 

 

 

 

Hiking the Davies. A guide to climbing all the mountains in Pirin.

dylan

Hiking the Davies.

I’ve been playing the game for ten years now; this year will be my 11th hiking the Davies in Pirin. I suppose its a bit silly to call it a game as so far there are only two of us playing it! BUT I have great hopes for this one. In a hundred years time The Davies will be as much a game as the Munros are in Scotland!

The idea is to climb every mountain in Pirin (I’ll go into details about what constitutes a mountain later on). At the moment we calculate 89 peaks to be mountains. In Scotland they have a similar game climbing Munros. They are named after the man who measured and listed them. I want to name them Davies here in Bulgaria after Di Davies who has done more than anyone to map and list the routes and peaks in Pirin.

muratovHiking the Davies, the game.

Climb every peak in Pirin, take a photo of yourself on the summit. When you have climbed them all  send me the photos and I will put you on our hall of fame here and send you a goody bag.

 

Hiking the Davies, what is a mountain.

In Scotland the categorisation of Munros has been a contentious  issue since they were first listed. The fundamental question is , What is a mountain? In Scotland they have a complex formula of height, distance from another peak, vertical drop between peaks…..blah blah blah and still people debate exactly how many Munros there are in Scotland.

For the Davies we have come up with a simpler format. Is it above 2500m? Does it have a Name? Does it appear as a spot height on a published map? And More importantly does it feel like a mountain.sivria

Big flat topped mountains, long spiky ridges, crumpled masses of rock, plunging ridge lines and random spot heights have caused huge amounts of debate. Ultimately we are not geographers. Strazhite are a perfect example of the problem, this ridge could be considered 3, 9 or 14 peaks; we still haven’t decided, but we will. The plan is to take a load of climbing gear a tent and some food and spend a few days up there. We will sit and stare, we’ll talk a lot, we’ll climb a bit, we’ll stand on top of every little spike we can and eventually we will decide. It might not be scientific but it works.

Remember we are just a couple of blokes who love Pirin and want to share that love.

A Davies is over 2500m, a Davies is a mountain.

 

Hiking the Davies, a brief history.

The Idea came from my great friend and mentor Di Davies. This nearly indestructible Welshman has spent most of his very long life pottering around Scottish, Alpine, Balkan and Greek mountains. Di has taught me everything I know about rock climbing and has kept me company for many years wandering around Pirin and Rila.

Tevno Hut 2512m

Tevno Hut 2512m

In 2006 we were talking about the Munros in Scotland and his desire to climb all the mountains in Bulgaria. Di is a determined guy and this chat soon turned into action. Within a few years he had found and mapped the routes up nearly every mountain in Pirin. These routes were then written up into a tourist friendly format and are almost ready for publication as a guide book!

I have walked many of the routes with Di and some without him. The route finding is no mean feat, most mountains require multiple visits to find the best route. What might be acceptable for us isn’t for most people. Peaks need to be packaged into do-able days for average people. Not everyone is happy to sleep out, few are happy with 14 hour route marches and even less are willing to carry rope and metal work! For 10 years Di has been in the hills all summer every summer and now we are nearly finished!

In the background I have been lobbying for changes to the management plan of the national Park. These more holistic and sustainable changes are now mostly in force. Park Pirin is now clearly mandated to promote eco tourism and support sustainability within its boarders. We now have a situation (excluding skiing) where tourism, nature and business can live in harmony.

 

Hiking the Davies, how hard are they?

IMG_20120802_161803Mountaineering, trekking, hiking or a walk! I love to call what I do Mountaineering! It sounds cool, there is an aura of bearded, rope and gear encrusted, hard man. If I am honest with you very little of what I do is mountaineering and when it is I normally make a huge fuss. The big tough man telling tales of daring doo behind the bar is normally a blubbering wreck when roped up on a vertical rock wall.

So how hard are The Davies? Di has broken down the 89 peaks into day hikes. For a moderately fit adult all the days will get you from civilisation to civilisation in less than 8 hours. You will not need ropes. This is walking.

Simply put if you can walk in the hills for 8 hours you will easily manage all these peaks.

 

Hiking the Davies, what to expect.

Mostly road heads are the start points, so you are sleeping in your own bed at night. You will need to stay in managed mountain huts less than 5 times, twice in un-maned huts and on 2 occasions you will/might need to camp. The  hardest day involves 1500m of up, 1500m of down and 8 hours of walking. None of the routes require ropes and you are always within a few hours of a cold beer and a warm dry bed.

IMG_20120802_113604Pirin is within a Mediterranean climate so summer days are normally warm and dry. If you start early in the morning and get back before 3 you are pretty much guaranteed wall to wall sunshine from Mid June to Mid October . The climate is mild, nights are rarely below 5 degrees C , days rarely over 25 degrees C.

Trails are well marked from hut to hut with painted markers on rocks and posts. Summit trails are normally marked with cairns, sometimes you will need to use your judgement and follow goat tracks. Normally there is a well worn path.

Most of the time you will be above the tree line either in Alpine meadows or scree and boulder fields. There is a pine bush here called Klek, 2m high bendy and dense it is a pig to get through and sometimes swallows up trails. You will have to fight your way through it on a couple of routes, you will learn to hate it!

The western and eastern ends of Pirin are more curvaceous the central section more Alpine. You will encounter exposed ridges around Vihren, Sinanitsa and Djangal. Yalovarnika might get your heart racing. Koncheto and Koteshki chal are interesting. But nothing is really exposed.

You will need a minimum of good boots, day pack with a waterproof jacket, food and water and a mobile phone. Most people take much much more but please never ever take less. Unprepared, mountains can be cold lonely places, it is better to take more stuff than less. Luxuries will make The Davies fun. A thermos full of tea or coffee, cold beers, snacks, hats gloves and jumpers. Spare socks and wet wipes are lovely to have. Sun cream is essential!

Hiking the Davies, routes.

Over this summer I am planning to publish the routes here in day by day format. So watch this space!

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