Trek 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 !
A word of Warning!
There is still a load of snow around. We went up the route from Banderitsa hut to Kutelo. we crossed a few slightly sketchy snow fields, a couple of scary snow fields and saw some horrors on the North face route down from Vihren and the traverse to Koncheto. Steep snow in trekking shoes is very dangerous, mostly because it doesn’t look dangerous. If you slip you can get up some serious speed and then chrash into the rocks below causing serious injury. Be warned, be careful and as much as possible do not cross snow fields.
If you have to cross steep snow, traverse in an upward direction digging deep foot holds with your heels. Use a trekking pole as a brake if you slip and wedge it under your armpit pushing the tip hard into the snow to slow down.
Banderitsa Hut to Kutelo 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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.