The Davies, Route 5.

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The Davies, Route 5.

Pitel #44, Mozgovishki Chukar #45#46#47#49

 

Mozgovishki Chukar has proved to be one of the hardest routes to put together for The Davies.  It isn’t the most technically challenging route or the longest. Those titles probably go to Yalovarnika #55 and Golena #58. But route 4 poses it’s own unique chalenges.

After 10 attempts I finally made it with one of my strongest hiking buddies. After a very early start, with rope packed just in case. There are two possible start points, one is from Tevno hut  from where you will have to follow the red trail towards Vihren to the pass east of Pitel #44 and the other is from Damianitsa hut. The route I will describe is from Damianitsa hut.

To get to Damianitsa hut drive ( or be driven) by 4×4 up the dirt road to the hut. It is a long day so saving a couple of hours by driving is well worth it. We left Bansko in the dark and returned in the dark in October, this is a 10 to 12 hour day so allow Plenty of time.

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From the hut head due south on on the blue trail. Most of the way  the trail is also marked by black and yellow winter trail poles. These poles are on most of the main winter ski mountaineering routes and have distances to the next post on the little sign at the top of the pole.

The trail follows the valley floor towards the u shaped pass at the head of the valley. This is alpine pasture grazed all summer by the local cattle, you get some great views looking back towards Bansko and east towards Gazai#68 and Djangal#87. After you pass the yellow trail that comes down from Djangal to the east  there is the first little climb up to a small lake. From here on you are off piste and there are no trail markers until you come back to this little lake.

20181007_103112At the lake you will see a faint trail the heads due west up to the ridge, the trail gets fainter and fainter as it nears the top of the ridge. At the top you will meet the main motorway trail that goes the whole length of Pirin. This section of the red trail goes from Vihren hut to Tevno hut and is one of the most popular trails in National Park Pirin. Peak summer this is a busy motorway full of hut to hut holiday makers. Cross the red trail and head down towards the lake at the foot of Pitel. There is a kind of faint trail here but any route will do.

The valley below the lake leads to Sandanski and the hut at Spano Pole ( pronounced Spano Polay) From the lake you get a good view of Pitel. It looks impossible from here, don’t worry there is a way. From the north shore of the lake head straight toward the summit of Pitel. You will soon come up against a wall of impenetrable klek. Skirt round to the west and keep climbing up the north ridge, repeat this every time you hit klek and you will curve easily to the summit. The summit of Pitel is covered in “small”  boulders, It is pretty easy scrambling here. 20181007_112821

We spent a huge amount of time on the summit of Pitel trying to find a route onto the main ridge, as it turned out the most direct route was the best but it looks pretty grim from Pitel.   From the summit follow the ridge line due south dropping down onto the west flank to miss the worst of the klek. You will have to scramble at times but nothing too scary. You are aiming for the saddle where Pitel joins the Mozgovishki Chukar ridge. Just before the saddle you will have to skirt along the east flank then scamble back up onto the main ridge. The ridge is steep but easy scrambling. It took us about 45 minutes from the Summit of Pitel to peak#46 on Mozgovishki Chukar. 20181007_130329

From here the real fun starts. Simply put head west along the ridge until you come the summit of Mozgovishki Chukar about 90 minutes from this peak! In reality the ridge is nothing but trouble and at times technical scary trouble at that.

The ridge starts easily enough with some grass and the odd boulder or patch of kelk to circumvent. The further along the ridge you go the bigger the boulders get and the thicker the patches of Klek become. I’ve tried every possible variation of this ridge and even though it is a bit scary at times the best route is to follow the highest point of the ridge. It’s not easy. The boulders are huge in places and some of the moves are almost rock climbing.  The patches of Klek are a huge pain in the bum  but it’s better to fight through them than try to detour around them.

20181007_130339The summit is very very satisfying. We didn’t need a rope but I think some people would like to have one. We didn’t do any actual climbing but there are two sections, The Crack and The ledge where a good pair of shoes and strong fingers are essential.

The route home is back the way you came so you will get a chance to experience those exciting bits descending now! Go carefully, a buddy to spot foot holds is useful.

When you get back to #46 the peak next to Pitel carry on directly east along the ridge towards Tevno hut.  This is pretty easy going after the boulder fields you have just crossed.  Soon you will see the red trail below you and the little lake where you turned off the blue trail. At this point you can follow the faint goat trail directly down to the lake. It is almost a perfectly straight line. If you have not had enough excitement varry on along the main ridge towards Tevno. Descend here via the winter route marked with the yellow and black poles, there is also a chain to help winter climbers.

Follow the Blue trail back to Damianitsa hut. As I said at the beginning this is a long day. Added to that it is a dry route so you will need to carry lots of water and food.  Expect it to take you 12 hours at a good pace from Damianitsa hut.  The views are unique and you will get a real feeling of being an explorer adventuring in untamed lands. This almost untouched route, during the 10 recces I have made on this route I have only seen 2 other people on the main ridge.

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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

 

 

 

 

Climbing Mt. Vihren 2914m

Climbing Mt. Vihren 2914m.

Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m

Climbing Mt. Vihren 2914m , the north face of Mt Vihren, via the Kuloara route.

Dzhamdzhiev Rid

Climbing Mt. Vihren 2914m. It has become a bit of an annual thing for Di and I to climb an alpine route on Vihren.  We started off with Dzhamdzhiev Rid (pronounced Jamdjeiv rid)  Other than it being a long way the route is as basic as you want it to be. You can bypass the technical bits and just plod on up an steep faint trail. However if you follow the true ridge line there are some lovely technical rock climbing pitches and the odd bit of exposure. An explanation to the verbiage of climbing might be useful at this point. Exposure is  a technical term for scary, with lots of depth/space around you. Pitches are sections of the route with each pitch being the length of your rope, normally measuring 50m or 60m)

The technical pitches do require rope and some rock climbing experience. There is one point where you have to perch on a tiny ledge fingers gripping the top of the rock above you, depth plunging away below you, you reach around the end of the rock to some invisible hand hold and swing yourself up onto a saddle. Brown trousers time (technical climbing term again) and definitely not for the feint hearted! This route is very popular in the winter and has a bit of a reputation for trouble as people tend to underestimate it! Why people underestimate climbing routes in Pirin will become clear.

Dzhamdzhiev Rid on Mt Vihren, Pirin mountains , Bulgaria

Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m. Dzhamdzhiev Rid

Severen Greben

In 2013  we climbed Vihren 2914m via the Severen Greben route (route 11 on the image below) . In the topography guides we could find, this route was described as a little bit harder than Dzhamdzhiev Rid, (A LITTLE BIT!!!) but basically an easy beginners stroll across a field!!  Lots of rope work, lots of exposure and some proper climbing.  I counted 6 pitches. The top section was a real joy as we ended up climbing through a huge rock garden filled with Edelweiss . This little hardy alpine flower is a favourite of mountaineers. They only grow in truly wild  spots in steep rock faces and invariably appear when you are at your most shaken! . All in all a scary day with some proper climbing. However, said day was described as “a little bit” harder than Dzhamdzhiev Rid!

Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m

Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m Severen Greben route

Kuloara

Well this year our Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m trip was up Route 6 on the picture above. The Guide describes it thus:-

” Gully that separates the left side of the north face (triangle) on the right (funnel). Lightpath that is of interest primarily in winter. Some of the routes on the triangle out of the left edge of the sidelines and continue on it. For now just know the first winter climb – on April 14, 1952 by Encho Petkov and six mountaineers.”

A better translation of “lightpath” would be “easy route” Oh the joy that is Bulgarian Understatement, Mountaineers Understatement, Climbing Understatement. To make it really really clear THAT AINT NO EASY ROUTE!  O.k. in the winter when everything is full of snow and all the rock is frozen to the hill, it might be a little easier but you are still hanging off a vertical cliff, hundreds of meters up in the  air with nothing below you but certain death.

In the summer everything is exposed as its true self. A pile of shattered rock slide waiting to happen. A gutter filled with unstable, broken, horror held together with bird spit and balance. Looking at the picture you will get a pretty good idea of the route. You follow the vertical chimney up from the snow field until you hit the shelf that angles up to the left. The bulk of the climbing is going to be in the chimney and then a gentle scramble up the shelf. To be fair to you, the guide books agree, they claim the bulk of the climbing is in the chimney. They don’t even mention the shelf!

So up we went and for 4 pitches we muddled our way up the chimney, tough but nothing too unbearable as it’s not too long. I knew once we’d finished with the chimney the exit would be easy. ERROR! You guessed wrong, I guessed wrong, the guides were way way way wrong. The chimney is the easy bit. The shelf turns out to be a nightmare. We left the chimney behind and set off into what would turn out to be a pretty sustained climb (sustained being a technical climbers term for f-ing difficult, relentless and death defying).

The shelf is nothing of the sort, it is a very steep gutter. Sheer rock walls on either side offer little in the way of holds or places to attach safety equipment (protection in climber language). The floor of the gully is just rubble, smashed rock that has fallen in over the years, precariously balanced and just waiting for something to nudge it down the hill.

The shelf rises up in steps, 10 meters of steeply climbing gutter, filled with rock slide waiting to happen, ends at a 4, 5, or 6 meter high wall. These walls are mostly vertical and pretty technical. Some were over hanging and very technical. So we settled into a bit of a routine. Di would lead as far as he could. When he found a safe spot to belay me up to him I would climb up and then I would belay him as he climbed higher. At every moment bits of gully would slip and crash down into the depths below. I tried to only step on solid rock and then wedge myself under something to protect myself from falling debris Di kicked down.

Unfortunately there is very little solid rock in the gutter and sometimes nothing was solid. At these moments we would try and “Be The Mouse” tread lightly and disturb nothing. Even with all this caution and the constant pounding awareness that a mistake would kill us both, it was standing totally still the mountain that got me. Wedged in under a big overhang to protect myself from falling debris I was belaying Di when the gully floor started moving. Slowly enough to give me a chance to throw a leg up against the opposite wall of the gully and brace my back against the wall behind me.  Steadily the slow slide of rocks turned into a rapid crash, landing on and pulling away the coils of rope below me. Nothing caught on the rope but watching it slowly uncoil down the hill inside a wave of rubble was a terrifying moment. I eventually retrieved the rope from what was once the floor.

Meanwhile above me Di was struggling with a similar problem, there was no way for him to get up except through some unstable boulders that moved every time he touched them. The safe route was over an overhanging boulder but not an option with a left leg that does not bend. Slowly, carefully barely touching the ground he inched round the trap and onto solid rock.

Still wedged, muscles screaming I waited what must have been only a few minutes but for what  felt like hours until Di got somewhere safe. I hauled my way up to the overhanging rock. I’m not a rock climber, even in the depths of bar craptalk I wouldn’t claim to be much of a mountaineer but the next 4 meters were proper rock climbing. I tried to go round as Di had, but once again what looked solid wasn’t and the world just dropped away below me. With no plan B I had to go on.

Weirdly when I am about to die I get very calm, everything slows down, the moves became obvious, the options focused, crystallised. I could not go back so one leg  had to go here, the other as far as it would go over there. Both hands up onto that big rock , pulling all my weight onto my hands meant I could get my right leg much higher. Right hand up onto that little pimple. Push, pull, heave and Up I went.

On and On the gully climbed, it got narrower and steeper. We got so tight under the rocks we had to take our rucksacks off and haul them up on the rope as we just didn’t fit. At one point we were in a tiny tunnel full of shitty broken rock and nothing to hold onto. I’m not embarrassed to say it fear finally gripped me and I froze. I was above Di, trying to find a spot to belay him from and I just couldn’t do it any more. I wanted to see the rope above me, I wanted to be sure that I was safe and the rope just wasn’t there. Looking down all I could see was clear air all the way to the snow field at the bottom. I tied myself to something and Di climbed past me.  Things got a bit better after that but not much. There were still some moments where I climbed better than I ever thought I could. I did moves that a fat coach potato  really shouldn’t be able to. Finally the slope started to level out and the rock floor started to become stable rock.

I counted 8 pitches that were sustained technical rock climbing. Maybe another 8 that were just climbing. It took us 6 hours of near constant climbing most of which was spent in the sure knowledge that the ground could slip out from under us at any moment.

For more info about climbing Mt. Vihren 2914m click HERE

 

 

 

 

 

The Davies, Route 2.

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The Davies, Route 2.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Written by:-

James Hughes and Di Davies

The Davies, Route 10.

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The Davies, Route 10.

#22 Bim 2520m, #23 Georgiytsa 2589m, #24 Sinanitsa 2516m, #25 Peak 2520m.

The Davies, Route 10. It is certainly possible to do this circuit in a single day, We would recommend an over night stay and the beautifully situated but basic Sinanitsa hut. There are 4 possible approaches to the hut:-

  1. The clearly marked yellow trail from Vihren hut via Banderishka porta to Sinanitsa hut.
  2. Follow the description in The Davies, Route 7. After descending #19 Muratov Vrah, join the main Vihren-Sinanitsa trail.
  3. Approach Sinanitsa from the SSW, this is rarely used by people from Bansko but a beautiful walk up through the southern forests.
  4. The Davies, Route 10. The Gergiyski lakes approach which I will describe here. Very much an off piste route through some wonderful country. 20160714_151306

The Davies, Route 10. From Vihren hut follow the gentle and well marked yellow trail up the valley to Muratovo lake, in early summer this valley is full of wild flowers, an alpine paradise!  From the lake you will be off the marked trail but the path is relatively clear and easy to follow.

20160703_152624Circle the beautiful little lake until you reach the inlet stream to the west. The stream emerges from a gully filled with boulders. Follow the faint track up the right hand side of these boulders. Near the top the going gets a little steep but not difficult. You will emerge onto the ridge which offers a great view of Vlahinski lakes and #21 Gredaro. From the ridge pick your way down through boulders and rough ground heading for the obvious pass between Gredaro and Muratov. There are some cairns and a faint trail but it is a case of hike and hope rather than following a clear path!20160714_123512

From the pass there is a wonderful view of the Gergiyski lakes. This valley is rarely visited and a pristine little kingdom of wild alpine meadows.  The “path” passes between the two largest lakes and then south west between a fine rocky peak and the main Georgiytsa ridge line. Again there are some cairns and a faint trail. Keep SW under the magnificent rocky structures of Georgyitsa peak which you will climb tomorrow.

20160714_112944Turn west over lots of boulders as you reach the sharp rocky NW ridge of Georgyitsa. Once you have passed this ridge turn back sharply to the SE. Contour around the curves of Georgyitsa and then head almost straight south descending into the bowl shaped valley with two tiny lakes (sometimes they are dry). Climb up about 50m through rocks and a steep klek filled path that traverses to the west. From here you drop down onto the marked trail to the hut.  This last section feels a lot longer than the description but keep your bearings and push on and you will reach the path eventually!The hut is sheltered beneath the impressive cliffs of Sinanitsa in mixed country of meadows and klek, Sinanitsa lake is pretty and inviting but the water is very very cold! Swimming is only for the brave as it sees little sunshine. Di suggests a lazy start as the return journey isn’t arduous. I prefer to leave early and then take my time on the beautiful summits of the return.20160704_103538

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Descend the ridge line steeply down to the south and then east. Just above the pass you will cross Momin Vrah which doesn’t quite scrape into the Davies at only 2480m.  From Momin Vrah descend steeply through the rocks to Sinanitsa porta. From the porta the main blue trail to Vihren hut traverses almost flat beneath the ridge line. Ascend the broad stony ridge line NNE  towards the unnamed peak #25 2520m.  From the summit keep along the ridge line NNE descending through boulders and then rocks, diverting off the true ridge where you have to. There is a rocky saddle between #25 and Georgiytsa. Ascend again NNE to the summit at 2598m.

The ridge swings NE and then E after about 1.5km you reach #22 Bim at 2560m. Descend ENE over easy ground to join the main path before Banderishka porta.  Rest at the pass before you descend again to Vihren hut.

Allow 6 hours for each day.  The return route is dry so make sure you bring lots of water.20160704_093255

The Davies, Route 1.

Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m

Mt Vihren 2914m, the north face.

The Davies, Route 1.

Vihren #17 and Hvoinati #18.

 

There is no particular order that you should climb The Davies. Route 1, for most people, has to be the highest and most impressive mountain in Pirin. Over the next 20 or 30 posts we aim to describe our favourite routes to top of the Pirin mountains. Please understand these are not the best, the easiest, the most beautiful or any other superlative you care to mention. The routes we describe here are the ones we go back to time after time because we like them. If you prefer a different way please share on our Facebook page 

PirinThe majority of people will follow the obvious route from Vihren hut straight up the south face to the summit and back the way they came. This is the shortest, easiest and in our opinion least splendid route.

Route 1 has an extra kilometre or 2 of walking and 100 or 200 meters more ascent but it is well worth making the extra effort.

hija-bunderitsa Start at Bunderitsa hut. There is a spring in the garden here where you can fill your water bottles, this is a very dry route so take extra water. The start of the path is just up hill from the main building. There is a sign here marking the official start of the trail (it is hard to find) The sign reads “premkata”.

The path climbs steeply through mature pine forest and clearings are filled with lush vegetation. This is one of the official National Park trails and as such is well marked and well maintained. Green and white stripes painted on trees and rocks mark the path all the way to the pass.

Crossing the treeline you enter alpine pasture with the occasional patch of “Kleck”. This indomitable  bush will feature often in your adventures in Pirin. Kleck is Pinus Mugo a hardy pine bush that thrives in the Balkans.  It is possible to travel through Kleck but possible ….. not easy. Always try to go round patches of Kleck where possible. Over the years we have spent many many hours trapped in webs of Kleck and have learned to hate it with a passion.

kazanaUp to your right a few venerable pines keep a determined grip on the ridge. You are now in Alpine pasture proper, tongues of scree lick through the pasture, ridges of rock dominate the horizon. You will cross your first short section of rough ground and scree before the the landscape opens up.

At around 2200m the path drops into the amphitheatre of Little Kazana . This large open bowl of grass and wild flowers is beautiful in the spring and offers your eyes their last balm of green for a few hours. Looming up from Little Kazana you will get your first view of the awesome splendour of Vihren’s north face. This near vertical wall of cast limestone is a truly impressive sight. The horizon up and left  is the Djamdjiev ridge. Locally a very famous route up Vihren with some climbing sections.

Climbing Mt Vihren 2914m

Mt Vihren 2914m

Crossing the grassy bowl of Little Kazana you will start a steep zig zag climb, up the rocky gully and over the ridge into the main bowl of Kazana at 2400m.  Here you see the 500m north face of  Vihren in it’s entirety. There are a dozen or so routes up this  beauty most of which are best attempted in the winter when the rock is frozen together! We have tried 3 of them in the summer and they make for interesting climbing on unstable rock.

The main bowl of Kazana is filled most of the year with snow and often wild goats. They have become very relaxed around humans expecting easy pickings from tourists. Often you can get to within meters of them before they are spooked and run off.  Pirin eagles are starting to come back and can sometimes been seen here enjoying the cliffs!

You are now about 1/2 way up so push on! This is one of the finest view points in Pirin and it is tempting to loiter, the sun is getting hotter and the trail is bare from here to the summit. I normally try and get the majority of the climbing done before it gets too hot.

The Path out of Kazana is steep and rocky. The sandy surface on the steeper sections can be annoying so step carefully, the gully isn’t long and quickly you will be out into the grassy meadows between Vihren and Kutelo. It is worth wandering over to the Vihren side of the meadows for some lovely views into Kazana from above. It’s a short potter up the to main pass “Premkata” between Vihren and Kutelo.

IMG_20120802_161803At Premkata you have fantastic views West to Macedonia, South to Greece, North towards Plovdiv and East all along the main back bone of Pirin . Pause let it all sink in, Breathe, feel the magic and stride on. The summit is only step away!  the crown of Vihren is very distinct from here and you really get a wonderful sense of the forces involved in  building mountain ranges.

Follow the path up the increasingly steep and eroded zig zags until you come to the main band of rock that makes up the summit. Here a chain has been installed to assist the faint hearted. Scramble up about 25m until the path turns left. At this point turn right away from the main trail and head for a gap in the ridge. It is a difficult scramble for some but easy enough even if you have no experience. The views are spectacular and well worth it. After less than 5 minutes you will arrive on the summit!

The Trail down is shockingly eroded and surprisingly hard on the legs. Once you are back onto grass the walking becomes easier. The trail is almost due south until you come to the lowest point between Vihren and Hvoinati.  Carry on off the main trail up the slabby mess of rock that is the summit ridge  and soon you will be on the summit of Hvoinati. The views south south east to Moratovo, Ribno and Dulgo lakes  is lovely.

EdelweissFollow the summit ridge 150m due east and descend north towards the main tourist trail. Keep to the right of the ridge as the left side holds more scree. Once you are on the main trail it is under 2 hours walk until you reach Vihren hut.

We love this route. As you will see over the next few years Di and I differ slightly on timings. Di is a gentleman of advanced years and shockingly fit whilst I am an over weight recently ex-smoker! At the end of each route I will publish two times as below. One is the Davies route time, this is the number of hours a reasonably fit person would take to walk it not including their rest stops. The second is how long I normally spend on the hill doing the route including lunch, naps, rests and photo oportunities!

The Davies, Route 1. Di Time 5 hours, James Time 6.5 hours.

Written by:-

Di Davies and James Hughes

 

The Davies, Route 9.

spanopolski-chukar

The Davies, Route 9.

Peak#26 2504m, Peak #27 2506m, Peak #28 2508m, Spanopolski Chukar #29 2576m, Karaulite #30 2533m, Banderishki Chukar #31 2738m, Peak #32 2500m, Bashliyski Chukar #38 2670m.

The Davies, Route 9. This is a long and arduous day with lots of bouldering that will test even the strongest legs. Be sure to pick a good day. Any adverse weather will turn a hard walk into a dangerous one! One early autumn day the Banderishki boulders were still covered in ice and I was forced to retreat. In July a hailstorm turned the mountains wintery and we quickly descended for an early beer! There is an escape route to the north about half way round the circus which I will describe in due course.

The Davies, Route 9 is a hard day, take food and water, allow at least 10 hours. This is hard walking over difficult ground. If the weather turns run away! The route can be cut into two days by using the escape route as the exit from the first day and the entry for the second day

From Vihren hut follow the marked trail towards Sinanitsa hut  (blue trail / yellow trail).  The path follows the valley floor towards Muratov peak with the river on your left. As you depart from the river you will climb up past the pretty Muratov lake and arrive at Banderitsa Porter. At the pass you will leave the marked trail. Turn left here heading south east. There is a trail that ascends gradually over easy ground to the start of the boulder work which leads to the first unnamed peak, #26 2504m.  Keep to the ridge line for the best fun or follow the faint path to the south that runs along under the south side of the ridge. baderischki_chukar_end_donchovi_karauli

Hike up and down a little until the until a steep drop leads down to a very sharp notch in the ridge line. Follow the path round to the right  (south). After 75m or so turn sharply up to the left (north). A steep vegetated and gravely slope leads to the second un named peak #28 2508.

Continue east along the ridge for another 200m, turn right here (south) to reach the col before Spanopolski Chukar. This is a fine little excursion to a wonderful view point. Spanopolski Chukar #29 2576m, stands alone over looking the rolling hills to the south of Pirin. Do not linger too long as there is still a lot of work to be done!

Retrace your steps back to the col and then  contour round to join the main ridge. The climb up Donchovi Karaulite #30 2633m is short and uneventful, descend the east ridge of Doncho  to an open col. Here there is a large obvious cairn ( pile of stones) that marks the north bound escape route.  You are now about half way round in terms of distance but the hardest part is to come.

Traverse around a minor top (not a peak). There is a lot of Kleck (dwarf pine) that looks impassable but there is a path over and through it which is quicker than dropping down to the right (south).  The push up to Banderishki Chukar #31 2738m  feels endless, the boulders are large and hard work! At and near the main summit the boulders are massive slabs with impressive chasms between them. This is tough going! banderishki_chukar

From the summit descend almost straight south down through more boulders to the col and then up the north slope of Bashliyski Chukar #38 2670m. It looks close, it isn’t ! The final climb is up and over, around and under a mass of boulders and klek. A real sting in the tail at the end of a long day.The summit is at the far end of the ridge and offers fantastic views.

Retrace your steps to the col between Banderishki and Bashliyski, contour back to the ridge line. The unnamed peak #32 2500m is on the east shoulder of Banderishki chukar. The going is difficult. A short distance down the ridge from #32 a descent can be made directly north. Make for a small group of pools/lakes below the peak, just beyond the lakes you will find the main red trail from Vihren to Tevno. Join this path heading north west back to Vihren hut.

Breaking the day in two. Escape route.

The Davies, Route 9. Remember we mentioned that cairn at the col after Donchovi Karaulite? If you wish to break this trip into two descend north here. The first part of the decent is steep and the semi vegetated slope is slipery with sand and loose stones. Go carefully. After a drop of about 25m and slope eases, Descend vegetated then bouldered slopes to the little lakes that you could see from above. Pass the lakes on the west side (lakes on your right) following the stream that drains the lakes. The descent is again steep and boulder filled for another 25m. Now break right through a steep vegetated slope towards a flat area filled with giant boulders. Descend steeply again through large boulders heading towards the cliff that borders the stream that feeds Ribno lake .  Follow this stream down to the lake. Skirt the lake until you join the main path back to Vihren hut.

To continue your circuit retrace your steps on the second day up past the lake and onto the ridge at the cairn.

N.B. #27 2506m.

The Davies, Route 9. Unnamed peak #27. This peak looks eminently doable on the map and feels like it should be included in on this route. Sadly the route is just too long to add another diversion off the main trail.

I feel it is worth doing this little mountain as a single day trip from Vihren hut, the route is pretty simple. From Muratovo lake head in almost a straight line towards the summit. Skirting left (east) of the klek at the base of the summit you will find a steep rock filled gully that leads directly to the summit. Descend  east down to Ribno lake and the main path back to Vihren hut.

This is a short day, maybe 4 hours. Importantly it is a great introduction to hiking off piste. If you have never walked off a marked trail I would suggest this as your first wild adventure! The area is relatively easy to navigate and there is zero chance of getting dangerously lost.  The route finding and scrambling are all at entry levels of difficulty. spanopolski-chukar

Di Davies