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.
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.
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
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!
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!
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
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"...
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!!!
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.
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
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
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.