Trek in Pirin 2021Normally the summer season starts in earnest around the beginning of June. This year has been very very different. After huge snow falls throughout the season, the coldest spring in 23 years and fresh snow in June the mountains are about a month behind. I was skiing a good line on Doncovi Karuli mid June this year WTF!!! Yesterday (28th of June) was my first Trek in Pirin 2021 !
A word of Warning!There is still a load of snow around. We went up the route from Banderitsa hut to Kutelo. we crossed a few slightly sketchy snow fields, a couple of scary snow fields and saw some horrors on the North face route down from Vihren and the traverse to Koncheto. Steep snow in trekking shoes is very dangerous, mostly because it doesn't look dangerous. If you slip you can get up some serious speed and then chrash into the rocks below causing serious injury. Be warned, be careful and as much as possible do not cross snow fields. If you have to cross steep snow, traverse in an upward direction digging deep foot holds with your heels. Use a trekking pole as a brake if you slip and wedge it under your armpit pushing the tip hard into the snow to slow down.
Banderitsa Hut to Kutelo 1This is a hard dry route but one of the classic treks in Pirin. There is no water above the hut so take a couple of litres each. At a normal pace it takes about 4 hours up and 3 1/2 hours down it's a big walk with around 1000m of up! There is no shade above the tree line so bring a buff and sun cream. The sun is strong in the high hills especially after rain. even with factor 50 Piz Buin mountain sun cream I got toasted! I love this route. It has a wonderful plethora of transitions. You start in deep old forest, pass through alpine meadows, high alpine sedge pastures and finish up among the barren rocks and cliffs of Pirin's most spectacular ridge. Behind Banderitsa hut the green and white marked trail starts steep and carries on steep all the way to the top. This is a hard walk and for me it was a challenge as it was my first of the year. Carrying a little bit too much winter fat and being out of shape combined with high humidity and 25 degree heat first thing in the morning I was dripping within minutes! The forest here is just wonderful ancient trees battered by decades of avalanches are warped and twisted into the most fantastic shapes. Peak summer you wander through fields of wild strawberries and raspberries. It really is a classic!
Alpine PasturesThe pastures above the tree line are filled with flowers and wild goats. The goats are not afraid of tourists and will potter around you looking for apple cores and crusts of bread. The young goats are still in the winter jackets and look a little scruffy and dredlocked at the moment. Crucus and other wild flowers are popping up around the edge of the snow fields. Normally they would be over by now but with so much snow around spring has come late to our hills. I am not sure if it because of the weather or covid or what but tourist numbers are massively down. I would expect to see dozens of people at this time of year even mid week. We saw 5! 5 People in the whole day!!! This was especially splendid as I was seriously suffering from a lack of fitness and the heat, thankfully there was no one to see us puffing up the hill.
AlpineAt the foot of the north face of Vihren the extent of the snow really became apparent. Huge fields of snow streatch off in all directions covering the path through most of Kazana. I love to stop here at wonder at the massive wall that in Vihren's north face. I have climbed a few routes on it and every time I see it again I am shocked by how the hell I managed them. What was I thinking? It is a sheer wall of cast limestone and frankly not for summer climbing. The winter routes must be amazing. In the summer it is just a nightmare of loose rock and horrendous belay points. I had a bit of a moment in Kazana. the route up and out of the bowl looked blocked by a huge snow field and I was seriously contemplating turning back. I have a horror of steep snow fields, the thought of slipping and sliding uncontrollably at 30kmh into a sea of boulders fills me with dread! We found a kind of a path around the snow. Scrambling up on loose rock and sand, heart racing as little rock falls and slips messed with my mind. Above that snow we had to cross another snow field, less steep but still steep enough and long enough to scare me. By the time we got above the snows and into the High Alpine rocks I was happier but still dredding the descent!
PremkataThere is a huge pass between Vihren and Kutelo. As you look east back towards Banderitsa hut it is all rock and snow. Look west and it is a totally different story, a beautiful river wgiggles merrily through apline pastures that are in turn surrounded by old pine forest. Few people go down to the valleys south of Pirin other than shepherds and they have a pristine wildness to them that calls to your soul.
High AlpineThe photo above is from the pass between Vihren and Kutelo looking up towards the north west face of Vihren. We met a Czech guy here who had just descended the face. It looks cool but he was seriously shaken. High up on the north face the path passes through two little snow patches that you can see in the photo. To traverse these patches of snow, in aproach shoes, on a 45 degree slope with a huge back pack must have taken some serious nerves! He said it was terrifying. From the pass to the summit of Kutelo is noting much.Just a boring sandy path over boring rocks with no real view to talk about. 30minutes of dull slog up this featureless slope makes arriving at the top a shockingly, wonderful moment. Plod plod plod you haul your tired bod up and up and then in one sudden moment the path stops. A near verticle cliff plunges down into Bansko Suhodol. Bansko and Razlog are miles below you in little pools of green. This amazing sea of rock and snow plung flows down and down into an alien barren world. I have a few plans for Banski Suhodol, it is an untouched wilderness of barren rock. Di and I think there could be some great climbing routes to discover in there this summer.
Hiking with DannyHourses for courses I supose. Each to their own. Beauty is in the eye and all that. Hiking with Danny is a unique experience. I am a plodder. I have my pace and just plod along I don't stop often and tend to take little or no food. With danny it is a very different experience. Photos must be taken, she charges along rushing for view to view, stopping here and there to look at this and that and Lunch? Lunch is a thing! Cold beers, home made salami, sourdough bread, cucmbers, cheese, nuts and dessert. In a way it is wonderful but a truely alien experience for me! Sat atop a hill, resting tired muscles, with a cold beer and the cool breeze soothing my burnt skin I am happy.
When is Bansko at it's best?The simple answer is from the 20th of December to the 20th of April and then the 20th of June to the 20th of September. The complicated answer is much longer. Bansko has huge appeal all year round. There are a few hundred foreigners who are now living here full time because there is so much more to our little mountain village than the two peak seasons. For those of us who live here the changing seasons just mean a change of activities!
When is Bansko at it's best? Winter!I came to Bansko to ski, Alpine, Backcountry, Touring and Telemark. Back then (2003!) I really wasn't interested in much else. Winter meant fun and fun meant strapping on some skis and hitting the white stuff. The Resort opens Around the middle of December and closes around the beginning of April. Some years there is enough snow for Bansko to be skiable on the 1st of December and close on the 20th of April. If you are thinking of doing a season here aim for Christmas to Easter. During the winter season there are a fair few variations in the flow of JOY! Peak periods like New Year and the Feb half term holidays can be just awful. We've seen queues that would make you weep. For those of us that live here there is always a work round, drive up to Chalin and ski there, ski tour into the Backcountry or even just take a few days off to rest the bones. The other side of the coin is the moments that mass tourism forgot. The back end of Feb? Not a soul! March? What, March, when it snows and snows and snows and no one is here. Yes March!! In a good year April can be epic, this year May was Epic. This year I was even skiing in June! If you are here for the winter, Stay a little longer, go touring , go to Dobrinishtay earn some turns and ski some great spring lines. When is Bansko at it's best? If I was coming to visit I'd be here from Mid December to the 1st of May!
When is Bansko at it's best? SummerA bit like the winter the summer months have their moments. Some years Spring hangs around in Greece for way to long. This year winter refused to leave. Normally Summer proper starts around the middle of June and rolls on and on well into October with warm dry days back to back. The only real exception to that rule is the middle of the Jazz fest. For some reasone there is normally one massive storm in the second week of August!. there are some events in the summer that you really shouldn't miss. The jazz fest, Opera fest and a few other musical and cinematic wonders. Unlike the winter the resort really can handel these crowds and no matter how busy Bansko gets it is always a joy in the summer. When is Bansko at it's best? In the Summer it is probably best for most people to be here between the 15th of June and the 1st of October.
When is Bansko at it's best? All the time!So why do we all live here? Why the hell do we live here all the time? Bansko has something to offer , something awesome, every month of the year. My year is an ebb and flow of what gear am I using now. The basic quiver of gear matches this ebb and flow beautifully! There are alpine skis, there are Telemark skis, Big Bad Powder skis and Touring skis. The CycloCross Bike, The Mountain Bike. The Big Boy Mountain boots, The Mountain Boots, The Approach Shoes and those hellishly tight tools of torture called climbing shoes. At the start of the winter when the piste is ideal for Alpine skis and the Telemarks. When it properly snows the powder skis come out then it's back to the Telemarks and Alpines until the next dump. Once the season starts to wind down and the tourists are heading home. We head into the hills with the Touring gear. Pirin is amazing for touring. With few people in the hill, we have access to face after face of creamy spring goodness. Spring means one of three things, sunny days are for touring or rock climbing. Cloudy days are for Biking. The trails around Bansko are ideal for Enduro, Mountain Biking and Cyclocross. From the middle of April to the middle of June we just mix it up. From Mid June it is unlikely that the skis are coming out again so the mix is now full summer mix. Hiking, Climbing and Biking. The flow is from big watherproof mountain boots that you can attach a crampon to super lightweight hiking trainers back to big boots! June and July you can still expect some patches of snow in the hills. ByJuly and August you are unliekly to get your feet wet, September and October it is getting cold again so the big boots come out again. All the while we just mix it up on the bikes and the climbing crags! By November and December the climbing is over, and it is getting too cold for biking. I tend to spend these months doing less than the rest of the year. Fully geared up it is still a joy to go into the hills but it is harder when you have to carry so much gear. There is a bills like no other to be found in the high mountains at this time of year. The world is holding it's breath.The silence is almost deafening compared to the clamour of Spring. The gods are close and the soul soars over the empty valleys and barren peaks. The wheel turns and the seasons come and go. Every one of them has it's own joy and so we stay. When is Bansko at it's best? Bansko is always at it's best!
The Davies peak bagging in National Park PirinThe 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.
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!
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!
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! 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! 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!
ClothingA 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.
York Beanie and BuffThe 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!
HardwareThere 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
Hardware IIOptional 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! lips and skin it’s a little bit expensive but well worth the money.
Medical kitI 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 KitBuy 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 KitThis 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.
Ski TouringThe 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! 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. 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:-
- Invest in the right kit.
- Know before you go.
- Get home by 12 noon, the snowpack can get a bit avalanchy in the afternoons
- Avalanche bag, I’ll do a blog dedicated to this in the near future.
- Merion merino merino
- Down down down
- 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!
- 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
- 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!
- Avalanche Bag, this is such an important bit of kit that I will dedicate a whole blog to it another time.
- 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!
- 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.
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:-
Winter is coming ,the first gentle snows of autumn have been and gone. The northern slopes of the highest peaks are now clad in their winter whites. Winter is coming, our central heating is on! The fire in reception is lit, evenings are spent sipping rum laced tea in front of its warm glow . Winter is coming that is an unstoppable reality but what sort of winter is coming the gods only know! I have been working winter seasons since 1995 I have seen the bad ones when the snow came late and left early, I seen the epic ones where weather systems cycled through relentlessly dumping pow week in week out. I've had winters with bookings so bad I've had to pay the wages out of my savings and winters so good I've not know what to do with all the profit. 12 months ago I thought I had seen everything winter tourism could throw at you. How wrong I was. Winter is coming a winter like no other! Globally winter 2020/21 currently looks like the worst season in history. Chalet bookings are almost non existent, tour operators have slashed their forecasts and cancelled vast numbers of hotels, resorts and countries. Air lines are 60% down and those numbers are just getting worse and worse.
Winter is coming !For those of us who live here and those of you who are planning on coming to live here this is going to be epic! Numbers are down! We will have the resort to ourselves. Finally my dreams have come true I have my own private ski resort! Co-workers and Co-livers mean Bansko is full of really cool people living here for the season. Even if they close the lifts we can still go ski touring, winter mountaineering and back country skiing. Finally I live in a ski resort and I will not be working 18 hours a day! Winter is coming YAY!
Working hours from 9th of November until 15th of December
Avalon will be open for drinks and events,
4pm to 8pm Monday to Friday pre season.
We will be complying with local Covid measures so numbers will be limited.
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