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Atlas Mountains - 6 days independent trekking in Morocco

Video report on concurring Jebel Toubkal - Africa's highest peak in winter and exploring valleys and passes of High Atlas mountains independently.

snow -10 °C

The route: Imlil -Refuge Toubkal- Jebel Toubkal (4186 meters) - Imlil - Tizi Mizik - Tizi Oussem - Imlil (via a loop) - Oukaimden - Asni.

Posted by dima.safr 11:39 Archived in Morocco Tagged mountains snow winter trek imlil gite independent tizi high_atlas jebel_toubkal oukaimden tizi_mizik oussem Comments (0)

Kazbegi - Georgia

Exploring mighty Caucasus mountains

Marshrutka from Didube bus station takes about 3 hours up the windy mountain roads and costs 10 GEL, you pay to the driver and they leave when full.

If you are planning to climb Kazbegi (5033m) you will need a guide or at least someone with solid mountaineering skills. Mostly because you will have to cross Gergeti Glacier at 3000m.

We had a much less ambitious plan, just to reach the Holy Trinity Church and get to a view point of the glacier.

As soon as we got out of marshrutka we were surrounded by old women offering a room. We picked one and got a room and food for 70 GEL.

You can get a jeep up to the church, or hike up to Gergeti and take a trail bending the hill on the left side.


It takes about 1,5-2 hours to reach the Church, there are only couple of spots where you can refill your water bottle. Once you get to the top this when you get to enjoy the view.

The church is very pretty and it gets rather busy with both tourists and pilgrims. After a quick photo session we decided not to waste any time and push on to the view point.
The trails is not too steep and easy to follow, it only took us another 2 hours to get there and see this thing of beauty. Mighty Kazbegi towering over the glacier. We could see some tents camping just below the glacier, we were told that this was the only place you could refill your water after the Church.

Posted by dima.safr 08:31 Archived in Georgia Tagged mountains trekking glacier kazbegi stepantsminda gergeti_trinity_church Comments (0)

Mazeri to Mestia - an adventure of our lifetime

An overnight trek from Mazeri to Mestia

The Plan

To hike from Mazeri to Mestia and onward to Ushguli. Mestia to Ushguli part is very popular with well-marked trails and lots of home-stays along the way. We decided to make it more fun and supplement by an extra day of less populous Mezeri - Mestia trek.

Mestia is a capital of Upper Svaneti region and a major tourist destination in itself. People come here for trekking, to see Svan towers and just chill in the beautiful setting among 4700 meter peaks.

Mazeri is much less visited, but it's popular with climbers who tackle Ushba. To get to Mazeri we took a marshrutka from Zugdidi towards Mestia and asked to let us out at Becho. From there we hiked 7,5 km on a jeep track up to Mazeri. As you hike up you get the first glimpse of Ushba being wrapped in clouds.

We quickly found a place to stay in a guest house of Yuram and Djamala, negotiated price down to 35 GEL for half-board.

Yuram and Djamala took really good care of us, we stayed with them for 3 nights, talking a lot about how Svaneti and Georgia overall changed over the last few years, and drunk some really strong Cha Cha (moonshine) Yuram used to be a boarder guard so he knows the area very well and can tell you all about the surroundings.

It's about 16 km from Mazeri to Mestia and should take about 8-9 hours. Altitude start/end: 1600/1420m; highest point is Guli Pass - 2960m. The trail is marked by quite a common marking of red and white stripes (just like Indonesian flag). GPS on my phone has been playing up lately, the day before it showed that we were in the middle of the Ushba glacier when we were about 5-10 km off mark. It wasn't a problem at that point, but created a concern that I couldn't fully trust the GPS reading.
We left about 7 am planning to make it Mestia by 4 pm.

We followed the markings and occasionally checked GPS map on my phone. I use RMaps and MapsMe, both work offline, and Rmaps allows you to download Open Cycle topographic maps. By about 10 am we have reached a small clearing which had a few shepherd's plywood cabins and a small fenced off area for cattle.

Following the marking we have turned left and carried on walking along the creek coming down the Usba glacier. This was the point when I remembered Yuram saying that apart from the place with the cabin's there wasn't any water on the way... so what is the deal with the creek?
I checked my GPS and we were going way of course towards Ushba, but than there were markings so what to trust? Could it be that my GPS is wrong again and we are on the right trail? or the map is wrong? or the old trail is no longer there and the marking lay the new trail?
We could see something ahead of us which looked liked Guli Pass. I got really disoriented and ran up a hill (didn't even drop my backpack), to get some sense of what was around us and if there was an alternative trail to the right that we could cut to. But there were just more hills and gullies and nothing looked like the map.

I decided to carry on following the marked trail. It must be leading to Mestia, and in any case, it's easier than trying to cut through the mountains off trail, especially when we couldn't trust the GPS.
After another hour the clouds cleared and I could see something that looked very much like Ushba glacier, we were right at the bottom of it. At this point it was clear that GPS was right and we were way off our course. I saw a small tent on an edge of the glacier, dropped my back pack and went to see if I could find someone. The tent belonged to 3 polish climbers. The day before we saw a chopper circling Ushba, Yuram told us that a climber died on the mountain. The guys told us that the chopper was one of their mates and he only broke a leg and was fine.
We checked their map against my GPS and it all made sense. The markings were leading right to the middle of Ushba glacier, and if we carried on in that direction we would end up in Russia, and that wasn't part of our plan.
Turns out that Georgians mark all the trails in exactly the same way. That wouldn't be a problem if the trails didn't cross... Marking two interconnecting trails with the same mark is like:

It was already about 4 pm, was clear we wouldn't make it to Mestia, and we burned far too much energy going up and down the mountain. In theory we could have gone back back to Mazeri, but a thought of telling Yurama and Djamala how we messed up was a bit to much. We decided to go back to the cabins, which must have been the place where the trail splits, and stay there overnight.

The cabins were really thin, they had some metal-framed beds and one even had a wood-burner. As we were going to have late lunch and a dinner in Mestia, we didn't have much in terms of food. Luckily Jamala packed us some bread and cheese, we had one pack of pot noodles and a whole field of blueberries!

After collecting the blueberries, eating cold water-soaked noodles and leaving the bread and cheese for breakfast we looted the area for wood, ransacked the fence and fired up the wood burner.
At midnight a herd of bulls showed up. They started fighting among themselves, than must have smelled us and started to circle around that cardboard hut, occasionally giving it a nudge. That lasted for good couple of hours until the bulls lost interest and moved on.
As the hut was so thin the heat was escaping and it was getting really cold as soon as the fire died down. We spent the whole night burning the rest of the fence and cuddling next to the fire.

We decided to leave as early as possible, and hit the road around 6 am. From the huts, we hiked up until we reached the top of the pass. We have wasted quite a lot of time and energy on trying to find a marked trail or align with GPS. There isn't really a trail, there are occasional markings pointing you in the right direction. But basically you just have to negotiate your way up until you reach the top of Guli pass.

This is where it gets really difficult, the way down the pass is very steep and guess what? there is no trail either? We have tried to align with GPS trail, but it quickly became obvious that it must have overgrown or otherwise disappeared. At the end we had to take bearings using a compass and descend down some very steep hill being knee-deep in slippery grass and loose rocks. This was our first hike on this trip, and I really didn't want it to be our last one...

Once we came down to the bottom of the valley it was easy to find and follow the trail. We bumped into a few people hiking around the area. It took us about 2 hours to get to the top hill hanging over Mestia.


We were so exhausted that we decided to cut our loses and abandon the trip in Mestia. Afterall we still had 2 months of trekking in Nepali Himalayas ahead of us.

Posted by dima.safr 01:32 Archived in Georgia Tagged mountains glacier treking georgia homestay svaneti mestia ushba wild_camping mazeri Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Adam's peak

Hiking Adam's peak from both sides in one day!

The plan

A pretty ordinary actually... To hike Adam's peak - Sri Lanka's holy mountain from Dalhousie. Adams's peak is the most holy place in Sri Lanka and a major point for both tourist and religious pilgrimage. From Dalhousie it's only 5000 stairs... easy right?

Practicalities - it's easy enough to get to Dalhousie - the most common starting point. I took a bus from Kandi to Hatton where at the bus stop everyone knows where you supposed to be going and will put you on the right bus only a couple of hours away.

Dalhousie is no more than a base camp. It has a bunch of guest houses, market, bus stand and a monastery. Fairly easy I found a guest house for 800 rupee.
The plan is to be on the top for sun rise which in March is at about 5:30 am. I decided to do an "under 2 hours challenge", there isn't really a challenge, but it wouldn't be fun if I haven't made one up for myself. So there it was.
I left the hotel at 2 am and rushed down path. It's a beautiful feeling when you leap step over step as if you were flying up the hill, but it only lats about 5 minutes.... Than it gets hard... really hard, you have to work out a comfortable pace and make frequent stand up breaks and at least one sit down.
Having said that, there were some 80+ grandmas who were hiking up like terminators- unstoppable!
If you don't challenge yourself (spelled - make your life difficult) it can be quite an enjoyable walk, there are tea stalls and shops all the way through.
Well, I did it in just 1 hour and 50 minutes!
There is a temple on the top. You can make a donation and have a prayer said (or sang) for you. Sunset from the top is brilliant:

I was about to go down, but than I saw a staircase leading in the opposite direction and a sign saying "Ratnapura". It'd be silly to go up and down Adam's peak the same way, wouldn't it? Especially because this is exactly what everyone else does.
It took me about 15 seconds to make up my mind and decide on the following plan. I'll go down the Ratnpura route, which I knew was longer, but it's downwards, hence no biggy. Than I'll take a bus and get back to Dalhousie.

I was down by about 10 am, took me not more than 4 hours. Was quite a pleasant walk and a drastic contrast to overcrowded Dalhousie route. The idea is is that the harder it is to get to the top the more karma-points you get, hence the only guys who do it the long way are monks, well and me, but I'was going down so it doesn't really count.
There is a bus stop at the bottom of the trail-head and a shop with a few very curious locals. Wasn't long before I got on a 1,5 hour bus to Ratnapura town from where I was going to get an easy connection to Dalhousie.
I got of the bus just to realize there was no bus stop toward Dalhousie, which wasn't a problem. It's often the case the destination name isn't written in English or you simply have to change buses, been there done that, all fine. I tried to ask around, and that's is when I realize that I'm well of the beaten track. No one speaks English, literally no one. Oh yeh - that was 2010 and I had dumb Nokia so no GPS or Map, and I didn't take a Lonely Planet with me, since it was a simple up and down jog. I try Dalhousie, Dauhooise, Dal-house, Dalhooisee, until I remember the little of Hindi that I learn on the road Sri Pada (Holy Mountain) - BINGO. The guys put me straight on the right bus, and I switched off almost instantly.

I got of the bus rubbing my eyes and being ready for a nice Lankan curry... just to realize that I was exactly at the place where a bus picked me up some 5 hours ago.
At that point it was already 3pm. I had a choice to get back on the bus and take my chances finding a ride from Ratnapura, which worked out so beautifully last time, or hike 10,000 steps up to the top and 5,000 down. This is what I call a "Impossible dilemma"...
After conducting in-depth assessment of my options I rationally decided to toss a coin.
The coin said - "you are walking up mother f**er", you can't argue with a coin can you?

This pic is taken on the way down, on the way up I have run out of battery.

So here it began, 6 most painful hours of my life...
You start pushing up the stairs, just to run out of stamina i about 15 minutes. Then you work out the system:
1- count your steps - makes muscular pain easier to take.
2-break you step. do 20 lefts and 20 rights, otherwise your right (if you are a righty) knee takes all the damage, and you fall. I know, I fell and couldn't get up for 15 minutes or so.
3-don't eat, stress and overexertion can give you stomach ache. You can walk on hungry with a bad stomach it's much harder.
4-watch out where you sheet. That's an odd one... but there are leaches everywhere and they are after your arse...
5-have 2 cycles. A short one - 5 min stand up break every 15 minutes, a long one - 5 minutes - sit down break every 4 short cycles.
If you master all of the above you turn into a robot and there is nothing that can stop you from having curry for dinner!

As you get closer to the top a hand rail starts... This was a beautiful site, I knew I was close! I grabbed it and pulled myself up, I haven't even realised how much strength I had left in my hands... It was so much easier than walking, just pulling myself up the rail. Why did I bother to walk at the first place?

By 10 pm, I was on the top. I dropped on my knees and praised Lord Budha for about 15 seconds. After that I was flying down the stairs like an antilop. It took me lest than an hour to reach my place, and surprise everyone big time.
My host told me she was about to warn police as she realized I wasn't back, as everyone gets back by 8 am latest. Cooked me some of that carry I craved for and sent me of to bed.

The metrics:
15,000 - steps up and 15,000 steps down - an equivalent of 750 floor building.
24 - kilometers walked - just... felt hell of a longer!
23 - hours on the trail (includes 3 hours on a bus)
1 - knee - well messed up.

If you liked or hated this post please leave a comment!

Posted by dima.safr 11:51 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged mountains hike lost sri_lanka adam's_peak ratnaputa Comments (0)

Macedonia - 5 highlights

5 top things to see and do in Macedonia

About Macedonia

Reasons to visit:
1 - it is beautiful country, and one of the very few unexplored gems of Europe.
2 - it's very small and easy to travel. In 1 week you can cover cities, beautiful lakes and mountains.
3 - it's cheap. A beer for €1 in most places.
4 - budget flights from London to Skopje... and now straight to Ohrid!


For History
Macedonian cultural capital and one of the most beautiful towns I ever seen. Ohrid is located on a shore of Ohrid lake, which is split in half between Macedonia and Albania. The old town is full of churches and other relics dating back to 11th century, the new town has good selection of bars and food joints for any budget.


For Beauty
A small idyllic village just 30 min away from Ohrid. You can take a bus from the main street (towards St Naum Monastery), when you stand on a bus stop a taxi driver may show up and offer to take you there for price of bus ticket. This is not a scum, he will just get more people to fill up the car.
Trpejca is a great place to chill for a day or two, has a few beach-side restaurants and a shop. The lake is at an altitude of 800m and up to 600m deep, and this makes it seriously cold.
Every house in town doubles as a guest house, we payed €10 per person for a studio.

Pelister peak

For views
Pelister (2600m) is the highest and only peak in the center of Pelister national park. There are a few well marked trails and the views from the top are magnificent. We trekked from Brajcino to Molika hotel, 35km across the entire park, that was one of the most strenuous treks we ever done.


For cafe culture
Second largest city in Macedonia. It's a home to Heraclea - ancient city and archeological site.
Shirok Sokuk (Marshal Tito street) is the heart of the town, full of bubling bars and restaurants. You may also want to visist bazar for some more traditional scene. Great for people-watching.

Vodno/Matka canyon

For ease of access
I love mount Vodno. It towers right over Skopje and is a perfect choice for your last day before you have to catch a flight/bus and move on.
You can either hike up, take a taxi, bus or a cable car right to the top of Vodno for great panorama of Skopje. But even better is to take a 2 hour hike in an opposite direction to Matka Canyon. An artificial canyon formed in very beautiful setting, with a monastery on one side and a restaurant on the other. A great place to grab a cold beer after descending some very steep steps. Than just grab a bus back to Skopje.

Posted by dima.safr 10:26 Archived in Macedonia Tagged mountains canyon trek lake ohrid macedonia matka bitola pelister trpejca Comments (0)

Australia-Blue Mountains - Katoomba circuit trek.

30 °C

The plan - to walk from Katoomba to Tarros Ladders than to Kanangaroo Clearing and double-back to Dunphy's camping area. Very easy hike which would let us to enjoy the beauty of the Blue Mountains without much strain. Or was it?

We went to one of Sydney's sports superstores and made the following investments: 2 - sleeping mats @ $5 each, 2 - sleeping bags @ $20 each, 1 superior quality tent @ $20 (please don't rain!!!). We bought a large plastic sack, moved all of our non-essential stuff and left it in Elephant Hostel in Sydney. I recommend the place, they have a bar with $3 beers!

Day 1

We woke up early and grabbed a train to Katoomba from Sydney Central. Katoomba is within Sydney's transport network hence you can use same pre-payed travel card to get there for under $6.


We stocked up on Aldi's finest beans, muesli, snickers, potatoes, boiled eggs and 2 liters of water each we set off on this adventure.

The first day you walk on a nice leveled fire trail, we made a couple of detours to Castle Head view point.

We met a guy who was there for a day walk with his kid, and he told us that water situation wasn't great. But we were planning to go down in the wooded area hence we were going to be ok.
We found a little trickle on a side of the road, I have topped up one of the bottles and we went onward to our camping spot. A couple of kilometers before our designated campsite there was supposed to be a creek which unfortunately happen to dry out. There was another one on the map, but it was below a steep cliff and hidden in a canopy so we have decided to move on.


What a view! I have realized we had only 2,5 litters of water to share. This was OK for the night, but when day breaks and sun goes up you start to sweat water by pint.
I actually found 3 bottles of water stashed in the camp. But they were dated 3 years earlier, how long can water stay safe in a plastic bottle for? Of course its possible that bottles were reused, but you hardly ever reuse bottle more than once, and probably straight after the first use. I've decided we shouldn't risk chemical poisoning and left them alone.

And this is what we woken up to!

Day 2

Next morning we were going to walk to Kanangaroo Clearing some 10km away. A really easy day.
We found the trail by the info sign behind the camp and quickly reached Tarros Lader.
Good job I bought a synthetic rope a couple of weeks ago!
Climbing Tarros Lader with a backpack on your back could be a quite dangerous endeavor.

From there we hiked towards Mount Mouin. By the time we reached the hill we realized 2 things:
1-there is no water anywhere near and we are down to one litter to share. We only managed to save that much by rationing and you could seriously feel dehydration.
2-there was no trail. I mean it was on my GPS but not in the real life.

We have bushwhacked along imaginary trail, climbing over loose rocks, bushes and watching out for snakes. I remember Dovile asking "how long till the trail head" me saying "600 meters", than her asking the same thing again half an hour later and me answering "600 meters", as if we were walking backwards! Not it was only hard work to fight your way through the bush, we were also burning a lot of water. Personally I was mentally prepared to do Bear Grylls and drink my pee. I thought that would make for a great facebook video too:-)

Than after covering slightly more than a kilometer in 2 hours we have reached Mount Warrigal. We found some compressed ground at the foot of the hill, which could have been remains of a trail, or just wishful thinking?

Mount Warrigal is a square rock which you can traverse on the left side. There is some shelter from sun and or miracle ...... a small drop by drop trickle of water. I don't have a picture, but here is a video of Dovile collecting water (don't mind my commentary):

By using sardines tin, a mug, bottle caps, sweaty hut and a hanky we have managed to collect just under a liter in about an hour. Great success!

At this point it was clear that with a speed of 1 km/h there was no way we were going to reach Kanangaroo Clearing, so we decided to get to Mobbs Swamp which was marked on a map as a campsite and tomorrow reverse back to civilization.

The liter we have collected did us little good, we drunk it in an instant and were still feeling dehydrated. Hence the Bear Grylls thoughts came back.

Then by some miracle we found a trail, it's only a couple of kilometers to Mobbs Swamp, and on a trail we can make it in no time. And the place is called Mobbs Swamp so there must be water!
Oh some local fauna blocking the trail...

We stayed on a trail for about 7 minutes, than it turned into proper mangrove. A waist-deep grass with god only knows what beneath. And yeh, I am afraid of snakes, there I said it! Normally I would strike me pole on the rocks and trees when I walk in a snake territory so they can get out of the way, but now I'm a waist deep.... oh just keep on bushwhacking...

At about 6 pm we reached Mobbs Swamp site just to find out that Mobbs Swamp was well a swamp.
Well, that was literally it, a meter long half-meter wide swamp, full of worms and what not unsavory...
We have deliberated for about an hour. Should we drink the swamp water or should we ration the last 0.5 litter we have and walk tomorrow back to civilization dry. We had to take into account that we were hugely dehydrated, that the walk to Dunphy's camping could be much longer than we anticipated and that we can minimize the risk by doing all of the below (Here I have even narrated a little video on how we dealt with the situation):

In case my video was too shite. We have tried charcoal filtering the water (gave up right away, too slow), than boiling it and than putting 4 times the dose of chlorine tablets so it smells like swimming pool!

Than a two caps turned up. An Aussie and and his Irish mate, they asked us if there was water as they were running short. I said "sure here it is, seems alright I drunk it", they looked at the swamp and said fuck that! We still have a liter each and should make it back. They were only on an overnight trip. They came from Dunphy's camping area via Knights Deck trail which they said was completely overgrown and very difficult to navigate and fight through, so a word of warning to all brave souls out there.

We stayed up until 10 pm going through process of boiling the water in a one cup that we had than cooling it off in a Hainz beans can until it's cold enough to be put in a bottle and than chlorinated. We also filled up our 5 litter water-proof bag.

I have never ever ever ever ever ever tasted water that good!

Day 3

I hate to abandon my plan, but this time we really bit more than we could chew and we definitely got more adventure than we bargained for. So we decided that it's time to go back to civilization to Dunphy's camping area.
Was a pretty strait trail, but look at this baby!


Shortly we reached Black Horse Ridge. Lookout, there is a trail, but it's far too easy to lose, if you have a map on you phone or a GPS gadget, keep checking it.

Shortly after we got to, or heaven Breakfast Creek! Water - clean water...


There we had our first encounter with Kangaroo, and shortly after we reached Dunphy's camping area.

A well equipped place with a barbecue, fire places, water catcher. We boilled some pot noodles and carried on to the next camp site just an hour down the road.

Day 4

Generally uneventful day, you have to walk quite a lot along the road and than you join the "Six Foot Track". You have to walk up the steps closer to Katoomba, and than we picked a place on a cliff just minutes away from the motorable road.

A final look over the Blue Mountains....
P.S. Please comment on this blog if you liked it, this will be superbly helpful!!!!! Thanks!

Posted by dima.safr 02:40 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes mountains trek blue wild camp hike drought Comments (2)

Crossing Perin and Rila mountains - Bulgaria June 2015

We were meaning to do this trip for quite a while, but something would usually pop up and we would go someplace different. First time I went to Bulgaria was back in 2011 for a skiing trip. Sadly I've broken my arm a week before that, hence couldn't ski and spend quite a lot of time hiking around the snowy hills. My first impression was that Bulgaria has a very good trekking infrastructure with marked trails and mountain huts. This made it possible to go on Nepal - style tea house trekking, or at least we thought so.

==The Plan==
To hike from Ski resort of Borovets to the smallest town in Bulgaria - Melnik, just by Greek border. This trail follows European Long Distance Route -E4, that streaches from Pyrenees to Greek coast line.
Carry as little as possible, sleeping in Huts and getting all our meals there.

===The team===


===Day 1===
Sofia-Borovets (1200m) -Musala hut (2400m) - 9.1km
We arrived at our destination. About 2 hours on a bus from Sofia to Borovets with a change in Samokov. Bus leaves Autogara Yug - Southern Bus Terminal in Sofia.
Borovets is a ski resort, hence a bit of a ghost town in Summer with only a handful of places open.
During the weekends you can slice the trip down to 1,5h by taking a gondola lift to Yastrebets station.

Quite an easy hike, mostly on a jeep or a bike track. In just over 3,5 hours we got to our first destination - Musala hut.

We had Lecha for dinner - Lentil or Buckwheat soup, Bulgarian ultimate mountain food.

We were the only people staying in the Musala hut that day. A few words about the hut. It's a very small wooden two store structure. Generator powered and you have access to sockets so you can recharge your stuff. They build a new one just next to which looks like a 4* hotel. Toilet is outside and is quite toxic.

Costs: Bed - 15 Lev per person, 3 Lev - Soup, 1 Lev - Tea

Day 2

Musala Hut (2400m)- Everest Hut (Ice Lake) (2800m)- Musala Peak (2925m)- Grynchar Hut (2400m) - 11km

It was supposed to be a quick and leisure-like day. Only 11km hike, picking up some 400m to the highest peak in Balkans - Musala. Well a lot can go wrong in the highlands, and it did...

To start with, as we were the only people staying in the hut, the keeper didn't bother preparing any food for breakfast. I guess they pre-cook a large pot and then keep it worm through the day.
Well not a problem, we had 10 snickers bars each, which is one a day to keep our sugar levels up. We had a snickers each for breakfast, washed down with a cup of tea, and off we went.

One thing that we realized very soon, is that mid June was still pretty much winter up there. We have reached Everest hut in 1,5h but it was closed and snowed in. Soon after hit a point where snow has blocked the trail to Musala peak turning it into some 500m -long steep slide. Without ice axes (and skills to use them) there was no way that you could arrest a fall. We had to get up on the ridge where there was steel cable installed. I guess it's used by weather-station staff to get up and down in winter.
As if it wasn't hard enough it started to snow and hail big time. This was the point that we realized that we left our gloves at home. Holding on to a freezing metal wire and being pounded by ice it took us about an hour to cover 400m and reach Musala peak.
What a view!

Well, luckily the weather station was open. The keeper let us in, put the heater on and gave us some tea. The guy spoke surprisingly good English too.
When we got out of the station we were welcomed to what is called white-out, this is when fog and snow blend into one and you loose seance of direction.
From there it was another 4 hours to cover 8 km. There are some ups and downs, but you still walk much slower than expected covering 2km/h.
We could see Grynchar hut from miles away, it's a massive complex with a bunch of structures and a website. We were getting hungry and couldn't wait to finally get there!
Here it is looks more like a village by the lake.

We met another Czech couple by the hut who were camping and looked really heavy. The bad news again, the keeper wasn't there. Luckily they leave the hut and one of the dorms open so people like us could use it for shelter. But there is no food. I had to take stock of our Snickers's and start to ration them. This is the point where you start to get worried, are we gonna get food in the next hut, is it gonna be even open... bummer!

Costs: Bed - 0 Lev, Food- 0 Lev!

Day 3

Grynchar (2400) - Ribni Ezera (2200) - 16km

After having a delicious Snickers breakfast we were full of energy to climb up the hill again!
It's a quite nice walk to Ribni Ezera, mostly on a plateau with some great views.

Well up until one point where there was a snow blanket blocking our way again. We decided to climb down the rocks and get around the snow. You couldn't see far ahead as the hill was steep, every time when we thought we would get pass the rocks and onto grass we would found more rocks. Until we got to this....
The orange dot on the bottom is me :-)
God our knees were killing us!


From the very top of the ridge we could see that the hut was open and there was a little purple dot moving around - which was a grandma!
She cooked us some Lecha and Shopska salad. We met the Czech guys as well, they were on the way to Rila Monastery the next day.
You don't need much for happiness!

Costs: Bed - 15Lev, Soup- 3Lev, Shopska salad - 4 Lev, Omlet - 4 Lev. Beer - out of stock!

Day 4.

Ribni Ezera hut (2200m) - Makedonia hut (2200) - 11km

It was so good to start your day with a breakfast and not just sugar rush!
And we also picked up a new Friend

Well soon the things gone terribly wrong...
There are two trails to Macedonia hut, one is via a ridge, and a shorter one via descending to a lake and than climbing up. We picked the shorter trail as it would allow us to avoid the risk of being snowed in again.
Do not pick the lower trail, it does not exist!
We descended to the lake off trail thinking that it must have overgrown. than we started to climb over massive rocks and snow-traps trying to find the trail, my GPS was telling me that we must be on, but 2 hours into the climb we had to admit that there must have been some sort of fuck up with the map and the trail is simply not there.
Climbing over the rocks slows you down to about 0.5km/h, takes a lot of energy and kills your knees. Our dog couldn't keep up and left us to our demise.
Here is Dovile fighting her way through the rocks.

We decided to start climbing off trail right to the top of the ridge where we would find the other trail.

On the top we got a first glimpse of the Perin range.

And a Macedonia hut in the vicinity

That was the hardest day on this trek, and also a good reminder that a lot can go wrong in the mountains, and you can't measure distances in kilometers.

Well if it wasn't hard enough... Macedonia hut had no keeper, no food, but thankfully was open to stay.
A really solid new hut, recently renovated, equipped with decent bathroom and a wood-burner in the dorm.
Well Snickers dinner again....

Costs: Food - 0, Bed - 0

Day 5.

Makedonia Hut (2200m) - Bio-Hotel Moravske Selo (1100m) - 25km

Usual Snickers breakfast, we are down to 5 to share. I guess this means 2 each and one we will have to fight for.
I tried to comfort Dovile by saying that one can go for 5 days without food with no damage to health to which her response was and I quote - "I don't wanna survive I want to be on holidays"...
Oh dear...

It's an easy well marked trail all the way to Kopathik peak, where you have to start a steep descend.

That's where trouble hits. It looks like there was some sort of a storm which has knocked down a lot of trees and destroyed the trail down. You just have to guess your way down the steep hill until you come to some fields. From there it's 3km on a jeep track through the forest and 5km on an asphalt road. That final descent has killed my knees completely and we have decided to take a day off by taking a bus to Bansko and picking up from Vihren hut the day after.

Moravsko selo is a beautiful place. We had a good dinner, hot shower, few beers and a first night when we didn't have to sleep in our clothes under 4 blankets.

Costs: Room - 50 Lev, Dinner and Breakfast with lots of beers - 60 Lev
God Bulgaria is cheap!!!

Day 6

Bansko - day off
It's so weird to come to a ski resort in summer. A ghost town, with a massive Carrefour open and abandoned a 4* hotel for £20.

Day 7

Vihren Hut- Vihren Peak - Vihren Hut

Our original plan would be getting to Vihren hut via Vihren peak, Konchetto and Pirin peak, but we decided that we already got more than we bargained for and took a day off.

We took a taxi from Bansko to Vihren Hut, on a meeter it was 45 Lev, you could take a gondola lift as well.

It's only 3,5km to the top of Vihren, but it takes about 3,5 hours to do that, a really demanding and steep climb.

Well 2 out of the 3 highest peaks in Balkans are under our belt and it took us less than a week.

Costs: Bed-12 lev, Lecha-2 Lev, Salad/Omlet - 4 Lev, Beer - 2 Lev

Day 8

Vihren Hut (1800) - Tevno Ezero (2400) - Pirin Hut (1600) - 20km

The plan was to stop over nigh at Tevno Ezero hut, but we decided to try and win a day that we could spend in Melnik lazing by the pool.
Quite an easy walk, mostly staying on the ridge with some stunning views around.

Than we reach Tevno Ezero hut for some soup and tea - about 6 hours.

And from there it's all the way down!

We arrived at the Pirin hut to find the keeper sleeping in the dining room, and it took a lot of coughing to wake him up.
Than a bunch of local guys, fisherman and border guards turned up and they all had a party :-). we just wanted some sleep and food of course! It's nice to get fed every day!

Costs: Bed=10 Lev, Food dinner/breakfast 12 Lev- got to love Bulgaria 2 people can eat and sleep for less than £15

Day 9.

Pirin hut (1600m) = Melnik town (600 m) - 20km.

We got lower -we got warmer. But things can go wrong can't they? Well they can, we have lost our way even with the help of GPS (god bless Maps.Me app), and found ourselves on the top of some sandy cliff.

And this was the first time it felt hot!

Melnik is a really nice little charming place, officially the smallest town in Bulgaria.
We deserved that extra day staying in by the pool, drinking beer and Melnik Wine. A bit of trivia, apparently Melnik 20 was favourite wine of Whinston Churchill!

There is a 9:00 bus which will take you to Sandalski where you can get an easy connection to Sofia.

Budgets: you don't need more than 60Lev-€30 per day (€15 each) while in the mountains. You may want double that for when you come down to civilization.

Posted by dima.safr 02:26 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains snow hiking trekking long route bulgaria european distance rila perin musala vihren e4 Comments (1)

Annapurna Base Camp

A second leg of a 16 day independent trek - Annapurna Circuit (to Jomsom) & ABC from Tatopani

==This is a chapter 2== We have just completed Annapurna Circuit in 10 days, and decided not to loose any time and head straight for base camp!

Day 11

Tatopani - Ghorepani - 15 km

This was the best start of the day on out trip so far. Why? Because Tatopani has hot springs! Broken into a few pools and showers of different temperature. It's a pleasure that can't be explained... to have a hot bath after 10 days on the road and finally feel clean. The pool costs 200 npr for foreigners and they also sell Beer and Pop Corn for 400 npr.
Actually we came across the Beer + Pop Corn package several times, weird combination. I don't know that came about. I guess someone just came up with the idea that western folks like Beer and they also seem to like Pop Corn,and than everyone else just copied it.

It was one of the hardest days on the trail. You have to consistently pick up altitude. Overall 1600m altitude gain. You pass through some really nice villages, great views and a couple of waterfalls. Unfortunately I have lost most of the pictures of this day.

One thing I can say - this day will kill your muscles! It will hurt and you will be glad it's over.

The other thing that was killing me were my hands, thumbs if to be more precise. Two days ago when we were getting over Thorung La at 5400 m, I have taken my gloves off on the way down. Man, you can't underestimate sun intensity at that altitude. I didn't even realize that the top of my fists (as you hold waking poles) got sun-burned as hell. How can your hands burn, this just doesn't happen, well @5400m it does.
If this happens there is nothing you can do but suffer through it. If your burned-hands exposed to even week sun they will hurt as hell. If you put gloves (or socks) on, they will warm up and hurt even worse.

Well that was our day...


Day 12

Ghorepani - Sinuwa -18 km

We decided to skip Poon Hill as we were quite tired from the day before and had a long way before us.

This day has a lot of ups and downs as you have to get over the hill at Deurali to the valley below and than up to Chomrong and back down and up to Sinuwa.
The first part of the day you pass through some vert humid forest, than you hit a well populated area with endless rice paddies.

Chomrong is a solid town with a proper shop where you can buy biscuits, chocolates and drinks at reasonable prices. Beyond Chomrong is a plastic-free zone, you can only buy boiled water for about 100 npr.





Day 13.

Sinuwa-Machhapuchhare Bace Camp -14 km

This is much longer than it looks. It took us 8 hours to cover just 14 km, mostly because you are moving constantly up picking up 1500 till MBC. You pass a lot of bamboo grows and thick forests. By the time we got to MBC the mountains around us were engulfed in fog, we couldn't see further than few meters ahead. If it wasn't for the fog we could have pushed to ABC. You shouldn't gain that much altitude in a day, but we were well acclimatized from the previous leg and didn't struggle.

Machhapuchhare - this is what we have woken up to!

MBC was the most expensive place so far. We have payed 300 npr for a room and 550 for dal bhat.

Day 14

MBC-ABC-Sinuwa - 20km.

The thing about ABC trek is that you actually don't see Annapurna until the very last moment. Some 1,5-2 hours and we got to this!

It's so close, so big and so white. ABC is only just over 4000m hence you see 4000m rock towering right over you. This is probably the best view of the trip!

The rest of the day we had to retrace our steps back. It's long day but walking down does help. A good 10 hours later we got back to Sinuwa for Dal Bhat.
I look really washed up in this picture. It also looks like I have lost about 10kg, this is what not eating at the 4000m+ altitude does to you (this is covered in the chapter one).

Day 15

Sinuwa - Tolka 15 km

This is another day full of up's and downs.
The highlight of the trip is of course Jhinu hot springs (50 npr). We have actually debated if we should do the hot springs as this involved walking down from Jhinu to the hot springs and than obviously back up. Well we have decided that we won't get another chance to lase in hot springs hence...


In few hours we have reached the New Bridge (a very old bridge) and crossed over to Landruk. In Landruk we saw jeeps, hence I guess you could take one down from there. They also were busy building the road and it might be that it will be properly linked to civilization sometime soon.

Day 16

Tolka - Kande - Pokhara - 9.3km

You can feel civilization creeping in, garbage, shops, jeeps. However, I can't deny I was happy to Jump on that Bus and onto Pokhara!

P.S. the bus drops you on outskirts of the town, taxi drivers will take you lake side for 200 npr - take it! Getting a local bus/walking is not a good idea as we learned :-)

Posted by dima.safr 06:15 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains trekking himalayas nepal annapurna altitude independent Comments (1)

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