Bulgarian Corruption

According to Business insider Bulgaria is still the most corrupt country in Europe. In this Blog I'll explore what this means for living and working here.

I moved to Bulgaria in 2003. For all intents and purposes Bulgaria was a failed state. After the colapse of socialism the country was a Mafiocracy. Might had right and the robber barons ruled the roost. It was a strange and sometimes scary time. My family and I wanted to build a factory in Bulgaria due to cost and location but there were red flags popping up everywhere. A meeting with the Bulgarian ambassador in London ended with him suggesting that if we did invest we would lose all our money and probably end up shot.

With this warning ringing in their ears my family called me back from the Hindu Kush and sent me to Bansko with a suitcase full of money and a business plan. Bulgaria wasn't as dangerous as running around the Afghan border and there were less guns. That said it wasn't exactly Ibiza either.

In my first 3 years here I had two guns pulled on me, I was extradited twice, refused entry once and threatened by various officials countless time. I never paid a bribe, I never bent the knee. I fought and fought and fought every step of the way. My main motivation was that if I paid up even once I would be paying for the rest of the time I was here so I didn't. It wasn't easy and at times it was unpleasant but I stuck to my position that I would never pay.

Bent coppers and civil servants were pretty easy to get around. Simple jobs took weeks, paperwork was a Sisyphean task, everything was made as difficult as possible to encourage you just to pay up to get the job done. But we just plugged away at it. "Oh you also want form B filled out? No problem! A copy of my mothers birth certificate? No problem! Unicorn tears? No Problem!!!" They wanted it I got it and slowly slowly we moved on.

The biggest problem was always immigration. The law was grey enough that the vile little rat of a man who ran the immigration office in Blagoevgrad had a free reign to squeeze you as much as he liked. The 5 other foreigners in south west Bulgaria all paid up. If you wanted to live here it would cost you 200 euros and a bottle of scotch every year. If you didn't pay the little toad would reject your application over and over until you over stayed your visa and then he would kick you out.

I would drive down to Greece get a new visa and then try again the next day. When he worked out what I was doing he would ring the border guards and they would try and make it impossible for me to come back into BG.

The list of civil servants trying to make an easy buck on the back of foreigners was very long. From the fire brigade to the hotel inspectors, the health and safety office to the tax man, everyone wanted a little brown envelope full of cash to leave you alone. Like a cloud of mosquitoes they swarmed around desperately trying to get their drop of blood.

Bulgaria Today

I've been here 18 years now. I still haven't paid anyone anything. My family has been threatened, my business has been threatened and I've been threatened but still I didn't pay. As the years have gone by things have improved. It's been a very long time since anyone was gunned down in the streets and it has been a long time since a civil servant has asked me for money.

The police do their jobs and so do most of the civil servants. The paperwork is still excessive but not impossible and the taxes are low so we carry, happily, on. The vast majority of foreigners in BG now don't even come across corruption in their daily lives. If you open a business the paperwork is annoying but a good accountant can deal with that. If you just want to live here Bulgaria is pretty much paradise. Low cost of living, great food and wonderful nature. Add to that the lovely people who you meet every day and there isn't much to dislike.

Immigration

Today with some trepidation I went to immigration in Blagoevgrad. I didn't take a lawyer or a translator. I did take every document I possess and I was 100% sure that it was going to be nightmare. I warned my son that it was going to be a horrible day. I parked the car around the corner from the immigration office at 9am and when we got round the corner I saw a queue of over 100 people, my heart sank. It really was going to be a nightmare.

As we got closer to the queue I noticed all the people were Bulgarians, so just to check I strode into the office. The EU application desk didn't have anyone waiting at it. Being British I expected them to tell me to go and wait outside. Nope the sweet smiling lady said it was ok and started asking for documents.

Some I had, some I didn't have. Every time we came across one I didn't have she just smilingly asked if maybe I had something else similar. Slowly but surely we put together a dossier. She pointed me in the direction of an office down the street that would copy all of the documents and told me to come back.

Armed with my slab of paperwork she started talking me through the forms. Tick here, sign there, fill out this, fill out that. With the paitence of a saint she guided me through it all. A credit card payment and a photo, a sweet smile and she sent me on my way.

By 11am I was sat in cafe Yoanna, slightly stunned and just a little smug, eating icecream and drinking coffee.

Bulgaria WAS a failed state

Now it's not! In the last 15 years Bulgaria has transformed itself beyond belief. Running a business here is simpler than most EU countries. For the common man corruption is a thing of the past. Yes there is paperwork but lawyers and accountants are very reasonably priced especially if you are a small or micro business.

The days of police stopping you for no reason and asking for 20lv are long gone. I can't remember the last time a civil servant started telling me that I had a big problem that only he could fix. In my every day life now, I always assume incompetence rather than conspiracy.

I am not saying Bulgaria isn't corrupt. If you want to buy ten thousand second hand kalashnikovs I could put you in touch with a man. You want to buy a Nuclear power station? Probably possible. Did the ex mayor of Bansko build a 2 million lv house on a 2 thousand lv salary? That's the chat. BUT for us, the little guys, Bulgaria isn't really corrupt at all. For us Bulgaria is paradise!

Walking on Edelweiss

Co-living Bansko

Walking on Edelweiss

There comes a moment on most mountaineering routes in Pirin when you will come across an Edelweiss. These beautiful little flowers are the symbol of mountaineers around the world. They live high up on cliff faces away from man. At one and the same time they are super hardy and super delicate. Growing in tiny cracks they thrive in the most inhospitable environments. While they are able to live where nothing else can, they are not very robust when it comes to contact. Pick their flowers and they die, step on them, knock them or disturb them in any way and they die. For me spotting Edelweiss on a route is the sign that we are somewhere wild.

Banski Suhodol

As you look up from Bansko Pirin dominates. Todorka with her pistes. Flat topped Vihren and oh so pretty Kutelo.  Next to these lonely giants Banski Suhodol tends to be ignored. Suhodol blends into the horizon all but forgotten. Koncheto and Koteshki chal demmand the viewers attention, while Suhodol fades into the foreground. For Mr Davies and I Banski Suhodol has burnt brightly in our imagination for over a decade. The summit is of no consequence in the grand scheme of things. Dropping down from the summit is a ridge. A long ridge, a ridge that plunges down into the valley below buttressing the main wall of Pirin. This ridge of marble has been crying out to us to be explored. We have visited the base of the North Ridge of Suhodol many times. Trying to find a route to the bottom of the ridge has been challenging. The valley of Suhodol is remote and little visited, the path sketchy in places and the distances a little daunting. After a few false starts we finally managed to get to the bottom of the ridge 2 weeks ago. I hid some gear in a cave and comitted to climbing it thisweek. Normally mountaineering is a game of study. You read up on the route. Talk to people who have done it before. Discuss, analyse plot and plan and then go for it. In Pirin the game is very different, the info about routes is at best sparse and in the case of most of our routes here nonexistant. The best info I could find on the route was "It's a little flakey" and " I had a look from the top and it doesn't look nice".  With this wealth of info we set off at 5am on Saturday morning. Coliving Bansko

The Approach

We parked the car at the end of a dirt road just as the first light of dawn made it possible to see the path. The hike up Suhodol is just stunning. The path is little used and wiggles its way up and across a stream bed that in turn wriggles down through old forest. for three hours we climbed up through forest, then kleck and finally out into meadows filled with snow fields. From the first patch of snow we hacked our way up through cliffs and gullies thick with kleck until at 9am, just as it was starting to get hot we got to the bottom of the first pyramid. The Banski Suhodol ridge is made up of two main features. A pyramid of marble about 3 pitches high that rises alone above the boulder fields and then drops again to the foot of the main ridge. Then the main ridge rises in steep steps all the way to the summit at 2884m. coliving Bansko

The Pyramid

The pyramid was a pleasant little climb there were hints of the troubles to come but all in all it was fun. A few easy moves a little, scramble, the odd wobbly rock and some flakey pieces that came away in your hands but nothing to write home about. We had been assuming that the whole game would have been on good clean marble but were not really bothered by a few crappy hand holds and some loose rock. As we prepared to climb the main ridge we were joking about how nice it was to be climbing on rock that clearly never saw many people. A normal popular route is polished by many hands and feet. Belay spots are clear from regular use and hand holds are marked by patches of chalk. Here there was none of that. the rock was old and untouched, pristine and wild. There was a feeling that we were the first people to climb here and it gave us a thrill of excitement. co living bansko

The Route

Mr Davies is a little older than I and I am a little rounder than most. As a pair we are not a typical mountaineering team. We have done a lot together and understand eachother perfectly. Di leads and I carry! We swung back into the easy routine of moving up the rock pretty quickly. Di as always cursing and swearing his way ever upwards, mostly free climbing the first two pitches as there was nowhere to put in protection. Di is a slow and careful climber, even more so without protection. Many years of experience mean he can route find by smell and belay from rotten spots confidently. Old injuries and even older bones means he climbs slowly but very safely. I'm a strong climber if not confident enough to lead unknow routes . Our progress was thus a dance of slow analytical leads followed by me rapidly catching up once the route was discovered. I started to get nervous on the second pitch. The rock was rotten and there was nowhere for Di to put in protection again. My belay spot was exposed and I had no way yo build a hanging belay. If Di came off the rock we were both going to fall to our deaths. With the Mantra of "Well just don't bloddy fall" running through my head I made my way up the ridge. From there on every pitch was the same chilling nightmare. Di leading a route with no protection and me belaying with little or no protection. To find one piece of gear fixed as I climbed up was a joy. To belay with one nut wedged into a shonky crack , blessed relief! coliving bansko On or 5th or 6th pitch we found a shelf to rest on. The view was exceptional as the shelf curved elegantly round the ridge onto the more exposed steep eastern side. The next few pitches hung out over this cliff with hundreds of meters of near vertical wall plunging down to the rocks below. Loose handholds, loose footholds, the sound of cursing as Di found some more rotten rock, the sound of rotten rock crashing down the face. My memories of the next few hours are blurred. Checking every hand hold 3 or 4 times became the routine. Kicking every foot hold over and over just to make sure it would take my weight. The sinking feeling as something gave way, the ecstasy of finding holds that worked. Trusting your boots to hold onto smooth rock and your tired fingers to grip little cracks focuses the mind somewhat. After we had got up about a hundred meters it became clear there was no going back. There was no way we could set up an abseil on this rotten marble. Our only way out was over the top. The dread of finding a section that we couldn't climb hung over me for the rest of the route. The joy of completing each pitch ever more ecstatic. After 6 hours we came to the base of a tower of rock about 15m high. A little flat patch covered in grass made a lovely little garden at its base so here we stopped to rest. There was plenty of goat poo in the little meadow which is always a good sign and it looked like there were 2 routes around the tower as well as a little chimney over the top.  I sat and smoked, drank water and ate some flapjack. As my mind relaxed I realised quite how tightly I was wound up. Every failed hold had focused my mind tighter and tighter. No matter how calm and logical I had been, keeping my mind focussed on making good choices, I now felt this knot clenched in my gut, exhausted from the hours of concentration. As I sat smoking my second then third cigarette I could feel my muscles tightening, aching from the weight of our bag. Cuts and bruises I hadn't noticed now called for attention. Tiredness that I had kept at bay for so long now came flooding in. Memories of holds that had failed, rocks that had fallen footings that had slipped rushed up from the depths of my mind where I had burried them. I felt dizzy and weak, the world swam in front of me. I needed to get a grip there was no way I could climb out of here in this state. On autopilot I set up a hanging belay with a couple of nuts and before I could compse myself Di had set off up the cliff. By the time his curses were out of ear shot my head was still spinning the little chimney he had dissapeared up looked impossible and an incredible loneliness descended on me. After what felt like an age I felt the rope come tight on my harness and I started climbing again. I remember almost nothing of the next 25 minutes. Just flakey rock, hard moves and a bottomless cliff.  Crawling on my hands and knees across a chock stone, flowing up a pile of lightning shattered rock, a view of Di silhouetted against clear sky. The slope levelling out, walking without using my hands, tourists having a picnic. Suddenly we were stood on a path! The Tourist Path! Joy!!! So much Joy!!! I remember hugging Di full of so much joy just repeating over and over 10 years , 10 years, we did it! Trek in Pirin 2021 There are many ways up a mountain. Sometimes the hardest routes are the most joyful. I remember seeing the first edelweiss near the bottom of the ridge, I remember making sure I didn't touch any of the others along the way. I remember crushing one beneath my boot as I desperately scrambled to find a footing when the rock I was standing on gave way. Rightly this little flower is the symbol of mountaineers the world over.      

Trek in Pirin 2021

Trek in Pirin 2021Trek in Pirin 2021

Normally 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 ! 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. Trek in Pirin 2021

Banderitsa Hut to Kutelo 1

This 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! Trek in Pirin 2021

Alpine Pastures

The 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. Trek in Pirin 2021

Alpine

At 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!

Premkata

There 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.

Trek in Pirin 2021

High Alpine

The 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.

Trek in Pirin 2021

Hiking with Danny

Hourses 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. Trek in Pirin 2021

When is Bansko at it’s best?

calendar

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?

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?

When is Bansko at it's best? Summer

A 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?

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 Pirin

the-davies

The Davies peak bagging in National Park Pirin

The Davies is a game. Please remember it is just a game! Some people have taken it all waaaay too seriously. There is a small prize when you complete it but more than that it is a wonderful adventure. My friend and Mentor Di Davies have been pottering around Pirin for the best part of 17 years. As new arrivals in Bulgaria we knew little or nothing about Pirin and the information about the peaks in the park was very limited. We spent our first few years here climbing and hiking trying to find climbing routes and generally exploring the national Park. After a few more years we started to think we had climbed most of the mountains in Pirin and there started the discussion. What is a mountain? In Scotland the peaks were first written up by a man named Sir Hugh Thomas Munro in 1891. A peak was defined as being over 3000 feet high. Ever since that first list was produced people have been “Bagging Munros” and arguing about what constitutes a mountain. There are 92 peaks in Pirin over 2500m that we call The Davies. I have named the game and the peaks after Di as a kind of thank you for all the wonderful trips we have taken together in Pirin and for all the tireless support he has given me in climbing, mapping and exploring them.

spanopolski-chukar

The list!

The Davies peak bagging in National Park Pirin ! I’ve had a lot of hate about the list and very little opportunity to defend our definition of what constitutes a Davies so I am going to do that here. 1)A Davies must be over 2500m. 2)A Davies must appear as a marked peak or spot height on at least one of the recognized maps of Nation Park Pirin. 3)A Davies is included if it has a name and is over 2500m. This definition has led to a few strange inclusions. Peak number 63 is more a bump than a peak but is marked on every map as a spot height. Peak number 89 “Blaguncho” is commonly know as such in Dobrinishtay but isn’t really a mountain. Then there are the Strazhite, are there 3 of them? 4, 6, 9 or 12 the gods know but I’m not sure so we included the ones we thought were about right. Remember this is a game and a bit of an adventure! Tourism is both the life blood and poison of National Park Pirin. The idea behind The Davies is not just about fun. We have worked closely with the national park every step of the way. Encouraging tourists to explore areas other than the main trails reduces the burden of mass tourism on those main trails. Tourists in remote parts of the Pirin also discourage poachers. Win Win!

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Two Big Targets!

The Davies peak bagging in National Park Pirin 14 days or 12 years! As far as I am aware only 2 people have managed to stand on every peak on the list . This is not because it is impossibly hard or that locals can’t do it. The reason only 2 people have completed The Davies is because the game has only been around for a few years and that lots of the locals just haven’t been interested in some of the more obscure peaks. The fastest time to stand on them all is 14 mountain days, yes, he is a lunatic! For myself it took 12 years. The fastest time was spent running frantically between peaks my time was spent exploring every possible route up each peak to make sure they were all ok for normal people. There were also a few lazy days just loving the view!

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Can you do it?

Yes, you can! The Davies are all walking peaks except two (kind of two) The first difficult one is number 49 Mozgovishki Chukar. This peak is at the end of a ridge of 4 Davies and there is a little section in the middle that involves a little bit of scrambling. Nothing scary but a little scary!!! The second on is a climbing peak. Number 73, Golema Strazja. Yes, you can climb it without ropes I know. Yes, you know a guy who did Blah Blah Blah. But I couldn’t and didn’t. We took a light weight bit of climbing string and a sling. Di, my son Dylan and I climbed it easily and safely. Dylan climbed it twice! Having some climbing string on Strazhite is also nice as there are a few exposed sections that are on gravel. Hire a guide, take some extra kit do whatever it takes to allow you to enjoy yourself to the max! the-davies1 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

Ski Touring in and around Bansko and the Pirin

Ski Touring

Ski Touring

The ski season lasts only 100 days, some years even less. The normal routine is that the resort management do everything they can to get the pistes open for Christmas and then it snows and snows and keeps on snowing and no matter how much snow is on the hill the muppets close the resort around easter. This year was a perfect example in Bansko. With perfect conditions on piste until the 10th of may the resort shut up shop around the beginning of APRIL!!! For most tourists this is cool, they might ski Christmas, Feb half term or possibly a cheeky weekend over easter. For people who live in countries with skiing this annual moment of madness is very frustrating. With the snow at its deepest all the lifts close! ski touring in Pirin The solution? Ski touring, Randonne, Ski Mo, Earning your turns, Ski Mountaineering….. Whatever you want to call it, the solution is hauling your butt up the mountain with all your gear and then skiing down. The ratio of up to down is a little different to lift access skiing but the rewards are well worth the effort.  Because the off piste was so good this winter I spent most of my time skiing lift access backcountry lines. When the lifts closed the proper backcountry was calling and my god did we rise to the call. I’ve had some epic days this spring going places and skiing lines that just blew my mind for their beauty and general awesomeness. ski mountiaineering in the Balkans Bansko and Dobrinishtay have some amazing, easy access and sick backcountry lines (the link to the book below is a great starting point) Most of what you really want to do is within about a 2 hour hike. Lines that will transform your instagram reputation from ski bum to ski god are within the grasp of even the old, fat and unfit (yup that’s moi)

Golden rules of Spring touring:-

  1. Invest in the right kit.
  2. Know before you go. 
  3. Get home by 12 noon,  the snowpack can get a bit avalanchy in the afternoons
  4. Avalanche bag, I’ll do a blog dedicated to this in the near future.
  5. Merion merino merino
  6. Down down down
  1. Invest in the right kit, touring gear can be used for alpine skiing so next time you are buying skis why not make them touring skis. Tech has moved on so much recently that my go to piste/backcountry ski is also my touring set up. Buy Dynafit. Simple. I have destroyed a lot of gear over the years and Dynafit appear to be nearly indestructible, light and versatile. Go for a ski to suit your riding style. 88mm wide if you plan more up and piste skiing than pow. 108  beasts if you are aiming for the pow!
  2. Know before you go, as it sounds. Get local info about terrain and avalanche risk before you set off. Touring puts you in places a long way from help and in strange terrain. Get a book on local routes (link below) talk to locals about classic tours, get a local guide ; for ski touring  , for split board touring 
  3. Get home by lunch, spring  brings a new dimension to avalanche risk. A slope that is as safe as houses at 6am can be death on a stick at 3pm. Warm spring days and freezing nights play a significant role in safe spring skiing. As a rule of thumb you want to be in the pub by 12:00. Allow for some faffing, route finding and photo ops and leave early. |a head torch is your friend!
  4. Avalanche Bag, this is such an important bit of kit that I will dedicate a whole blog to it another time.
  5. Merino, you are going to get sweaty. There’s no nice way of saying this. Hauling yourself up the hill with all your gear is hard work. Merino is your friend, it keeps you warm on those early starts and wicks sweat away from your skin as you start getting moist!
  6. Down, this is the best investment you can ever make if you are into mountains. So work out how much money you can afford then double your budget. A good down jacket will last you for the rest of your life and is a godsend. At the end of a hike when you are tired and wet to wrap yourself in a -25 rated down jacket is heaven. We got to the top of a run an hour early this winter and had to wait for the sun to come up. Wrapped in a gore tex shell and my down puffy I was warm as toast even with minus temps and a howling gale.
Here are some links to gear I own and can vouch for 100% Everything below is something I would buy again and again. I know it all looks very expensive but do the math there is some serious value to be had in buying quality. Hestra gloves are a perfect example, in 25 years of skiing seasons I have owned a total of 3 pairs of hestra gloves. Two pairs partially destroyed and 1 pair still looking like new. That's 11 years per pair, it takes about 1000 days of abuse to destroy a pair of hestra gloves!!

Skiing the Balkans book, this is a great introduction to backcountry skiing and touring in Bulgaria. Classic routes with good descriptions and photos this is a beginners bible. :- 

Ski Boot, you will need a boot that fits a technical binding. Advances in tech now mean you can get the same performance out of technical binding as you can out of a normal alpine binding. If you are planning on hucking cliffs and skiing very agressively I suggest the Dynafit beast binding :-

Skis I bought these seven summit skis this summer, they came as a set as per the link. I was riding them in pow, crud, avalanche debris and on piste all winter. They did the job!!! in super deep pow they were a little bit narrow and on crust they were a little hard to control but most skis would struggle in both those situations:-

Skins there is huge debate about ski touring climbing skins and frankly I am not fit or fast enough to tell the difference. I really like the dynafit ones mostly because I can't afford the G3 ones that look so cool!!:-

Ski touring crampon, again there is a lot of debate about ski touring crampons. I love them, on crud or ice you have prefect grip. When things are a little laterally slippy they also help. They weigh nothing and are a huge help:-

Leashes, I used these for the first time this winter and they are a god send. I ski on super light technical bindings that really are a bit too weak for a 100kg man skiing agressively. When I have popped out of my skis these little beauties have kept my skis attached! If you want to be charging sweet lines rather than hunting for lost skis get yourself a pair. Down jacket, I love my puffy, I use it all year. from camping trips in the summer to -25 days in the winter. It is perfect in a tight spot when you need to survive the worst the weather can throw at you and as a little luxury at the end of a long sweaty ski touring climb.:-

Hestra Gloves if I was a poet I would write love songs about Hestra. They are just perfect. Warm, tough, durable and only get better with age. A pair of Hestra gloves will last you a lifetime:-

Icebreaker claim a lot about how good their baselayers are. Odourless, warm in the cold, cool in the warm, breathable, amazing wicking properties. To be honest I didn't believe a word of the advertising guff when I first heared it and frankly 75 euros for a vest is just nuts. I am now totally coverted. It is all true and more. My record is 30 days and nights straight wearing the same thermals and not a wiff of stink. Great sun protection and cool/warm depending on what you need. Those Kiwi sheep really know their stuff.:-

Head torch, I've had a lot of different head torches over the years, even wind up ones and not one has come close to this bad boy. For ski touring before dawn starts the Black Diamond Ion lights up the mountain beautifully. Lots of clever adjustments and pretty lightweight  considering the power this monster is just ideal:-

fresh spring tracks