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Jebel Toubkal and High Atlas

6 days independent trekking across High Atlas, ascending the highest peak in North Africa- Jebel Toubkal in winter.

Prologue
Souks, Sahara Dunes, Beaches and hot Sun - those are the words that come to one's mind when planning their holiday to Morocco. Well for me it's more like snow, ice, Alpine peaks and high passes.
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The plan was to spend 7 days in High Atlas doing something like Himalayan tea house trekking that you experience in Nepal. The dates 17-25th of March 2017.

The planned route was: Imlil-Refuge Toubkal-Jebel Toubkal-Azib Tamsoult-Tizi Mizik-Imlil-Oukaimden-Imsker-Asni.
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The funny bit was from Refuge Toubkal to Azib Tamsoult via Aguelzim Mountain pass at 3,560m. It was after I booked my tickets I realized that March was a bit of a funny month to trek High Atlas, it's too early for the snow to melt while it's late enough to accumulate all the snow that fell during the winter. If that was not enough in itself just as was getting on a plane a forecast showed 45 cm of snow fall over two days including the day of summiting.

It also might be worth mentioning that it was my first time wielding an ice axe and the second time wearing crampons. Well there is nothing like learning by doing!

Day 1
London - Imlil
After landing at Minara Airport I took an airport bus straight to Jama el Fna, with a plan to take a bus to Imlil via Asni from Sidi Mimoun Garden. Firstly the buses leave from a slightly different place than marked on a map. I guess it must have moved, as I remember buses leaving from a different spot 5 years ago.

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After hanging out at Sidi Mimoun for about 15 minutes and asking around for Asni some boy turned up and took me to a place a few blocks away. The guy by the bus quickly quoted my 50 dihram to Imlil and asked to pay before I got on the bus, which did sound dodgy but I was way to weak and bargain after having to wake up at 2 am in London, so I just accepted and payed up.

After getting on the bus I had to wait for about half an hour for it to fill up like a can of sardines and off we were.

Upon arriving at Asni I was wondering if I had to pay again to transfer to Imlilm, but the bus man got me on a grand taxi (shared taxi) and slipped 10 dihram coin to the driver. in abot 1,5 hour I was in Imlil, right at the foot of High Atlas!
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I stayed at a place called Dar Atlas, a small guesthouse across a stream from Imlil that I booked on Booking.com. Room with breakfast was only 75 dihram and I was the only one staying there.

As soon as I dropped out of a taxi I was surrounded by a bunch of scruffy-looking locals all claiming to be guides as well as being able to help with everything else. I quickly brushed them off and proceeded to my guesthouse.

On a way there are a few places renting equipment. I was going to trek for 4 days before coming back to Imlil and than onward to Asni, hence I decided to rent Ice Axe and crampons for 4 days - 300 dihram, and buy one walking pole for 100 dihram. With that I was all set for summit.

Day 2
Imlil to Refuge Toubkal - 11km; from 1800m - 3200m. 6 hours.

This may seem like an easy day as it's only 11km. However, 1400m of altitude gain is no joke.
I left Imlil heading in direction of Arnoud which is the next village south and in the direction of Toubkal. It might be difficult to figure out the pass due to a bunch of local trails leading in all sorts of directions. I used Maps.ME app, but anyone will point you in the right direction.

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It takes about 2 hours to reach Sidi Chamharouch which is an isolated market village that lives of the trekkers. It's a great place to break up and have a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice - 15 dihram.
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After Sidi Chamharouch it is another 6km and 900m of altitude gain. This is where it starts getting tough and I found myself moving slower and taking close to 4 hours to reach the refuge.
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At about 3000m I hit snow line, the snow was fresh and powdery. I didn't need to put my crampons on and just followed the trail broken by a bunch of guys caring skies on their backs.
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There are two refuges I have picked the further one, which was managed by French Alpine Club, and I heard it was better than the other.
I checked-in by about 2 pm. Unsurprisingly enough they didn't have my booking, but that wasn't a problem I got a bed in dormitory and a full board for about 300 dihram. Dormitory is the only option in winter, in summer it might be a better and cheaper idea to pitch a tent.

Here is my simple but nutritious lunch.
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I spend the evening chatting with fellow trekkers, one of whom was a crazy English guy leaving in Austria, who once skied cross-country from Lake D'ifni and approached Toubkal from the other side where there is no trail. He also bivouacked on the ridge. He had his skies and was planning to ski right down the summit...

Day 3
Refuge to Summit and back down to Imlil.
19km-1000m of altitude gain and 2400m of descent. You may a change of route here. I was planning to return to Imlil via a loop crossing Aguelzim pass at 3,560m and staying at Azib Tamsoult. But the guardians at the refuge said that that pass was no longer open due to recent snow, and frankly I was relieved as it looked scary on the map and I had no idea of what was on the other side of the pass.

As we were sitting in the common room and chatting with fellow trekkers from around the world a few expressed surprise when heard that I was on my own. I don't think you really need a guide on Toubkal. Firstly the trail to refuge is like a highway, secondly from refuge to the summit is kind of obvious, and you are starting with about 30 other people who are heading the same way, and there is always a GPS (I use Maps.Me on my mobile-free). I kind of felt some negative vibe from the guides as I was casually blabbing about their jobs being pretty much redundant. No harm was intended.

I woke up to have breakfast at 5am. As forecaster it snowed as hell all night. After breakfast we all cramponed-up and went for the summit.
The snow was knee-deep, but it was dry and powdery snow so didn't cause much trouble and wasn't snowballing my crampons.
15 minutes in I met an american guy with his guide descending, apparently he was struck down by altitude sickness, his sight went dark and he decided do descent. That was quite surprising as we were only at about 3300 or so, but my position always was - don't mess with altitude, it gets bad before it gets terrible, so don't let it get to that.

As you leave the refuge you have to cross a small gully and head straight up. I guess when the snow is off there is a trail, in winter you have to break your own trail every time fresh snow falls. I let a few people ahead for the glorious task of breaking the trail and humbly followed them on. In about an hour I noticed that I was letting more and more people through. Clearly I wasn't in my best shape or maybe just rusty and altitude didn't help either. A half way up a crazy British guy on skies taken me over, oh man that guy was like a machine.

I used layering system for closes. 1 woolly t-shirt, 2-synthetics, 1-soft shell and waterproof windbreaker. It was cold, but luckily for the most of the climb you are shielded from the wind. Couple of times I sat down to break up and took my gloves off, the fingers would freeze in a matter of minutes.

about 3,5 hours later I arrived at this coll which from below looks like a summit.
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You get a brilliant view towards Anti Atlas and Sahara, and it's amazing to see where the desert ends and the snow begins.
The real summit is just over an hour away, here you are looking at it. It is much closer than it looks.

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It'a steep ascent from the call to the summit and there is one point where you traverse along a narrow ledge that could be a bit hairy if it's iced and the trail is not broken. Luckily a lot of people walked before me and shredded the ice with their crampons. You do start feeling the altitude on that stretch, it didn't cause altitude sickness, but you feel yourself getting weaker and slower, having to break every 5 minutes or so.

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From the top it only took me 2 hours to come down. The sun was high, the snow was getting soft and you just slid through the snow, sometimes following somebody else's trail and sometimes just making my own.
In hindsight I should have taken the crampons off. They are no good on soft snow, tent to get clogged up and actually make it far more dangerous since you loose all the grip.
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I summited at 11 and was back down by 1pm.

After grabbing a quick lunch at the refuge I set off for the 11km descent back to Imlil.
It is a very pleasant walk down, the weather was perfect and without uphill struggle you really enjoy the views.
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I managed to get back to Imlil just before 6pm. I gave back my crampons and ice axe two days earlier. Than grabbed an egg sandwich and went to my guesthouse, I was so exhausted that I couldn't even eat.
As if my day wasn't hard enough I decided to take short cut on a way to the guest house and got lost ended up scaling up a hill while burning my last fumes.

Day 4
Imlil - Tizi Mizik - Tizi Oussen Gite - 8,8km. 750 m of altitude gain and loss.

The plan was to get over the Mizik pass and descent to a village in a valley that runs parallel to Imlil valley.
I was tired in the morning so I decided to have a lay in and start to trek at about 10:30. It was going to be a relatively quick and easy day.

There a few trails marked on a map leading to the Mizik pass. They all start at the end of Mizik village which is a village adjacent to Imlil. I picked the one that runs along the stream. In a hindsight it would probably be better to take the pass that traverses the mountain on the right hand-side.
The pass that runs along the stream wasn't as obvious and would appear and disappear on both sides of the stream. In short it made it a difficult task to navigate as I had to keep being on a lookout. Still it's kind of impossible to get lost as you see Tizi Mizik right in front of you.
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One our into a hike I realized that I forgot to bring sunscreen with me. I saw some tourists ahead of me, I thought I would catch up with them once they take a break on the top and ask for some sunscreen for damage control.
It's a very steep climb over a short distance to Tizi Mizik, I believe it took me 3 hours to reach the pass.

Here is the view towards Imlil
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and here towards Tizi Oussen
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I savored the views, had a glass of freshly squeezed Orange Juice sold by entrepreneurial locals and seeded downhill totally forgetting about the sunscreen.
On my way down I was taken over by a group of Dutch trail runners...
In just under an hour I was down in the valley. I was fairly certain that there was a Gite (basic guesthouse) as there was market on the map and also the presence of other tourists looked reassuring.

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Once I was down I could see the other side of Aguelzim pass, and it was clear while crossing it, as in my original plan, was a bad idea, it was steep and covered in heavy snow. Taking into account my limited experience with ice axe it was definetly not a place for "learning by doing".

Upon entering the village I have asked around for a Gite and was quickly approached by a man called Hasan, who was running a Gite on the left handside of the village. If I carried on walking along the main street I would have bumped into a more developed Gite just pass the "hole in a wall" shop. But I guess that Gite gets all the business anyway.

Hasan spoke only French, using my limited extent of the language we have quickly agreed on 200 dihram for bed, dinner and breakfast. After having an obligatory welcome tea I have gone to the other Gite where I have found the Dutch guys to ask for some sunscreen as the skin on my face started to really shrink...

Here is the best I had in Morocco
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Day 5
Tizi Oussen - Aguersional back to Imlil (not via Tizi Mizik), 15,5 km. 600 m of altitude gain and loss.

This was going to be an easy day. The only thing I had to do is to get over a semi-steep pass, descend into Imlil valley and come back to Imlil along the asphalt road.

I have woken up at about 7 am had a quick breakfast, payed my bill and was about to get on my way, when Hasan volunteered to take me to the start of the pass. Sure as hell, and well expected, before saying goodbye Hasan asked me for baksheesh. I thought it was uncalled for, but I decided that it's best to start my day with positive emotions and gave Hasan 20 dihram which made him really happy.
I descended from the village to a dirt track and headed north (towards Marrakesh) about 2,7 km until next village.
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From this village (which also has a Gite) I turned right and started to climb up. The pass might not be as obvious but GPS and friendly locals will point you in the right direction.

At this point the sun rose high and my sun burn reminded about itself. Below is my before and after...
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This was a bullet-proof solution!
I was just thinking how reckless and stupid I was yesterday when I didn't simply cover up my face.

I riched the top of the pass following a quite well walked pass at about 10 am (2 hours after the start).large_20170322_105139.jpg

From there it was all the way down. Very pleasant walk for about an hour until I riched this village. large_20170322_110439.jpg

This is where trail stops and a jeep track starts. I followed the jeep track in scorching heat and with hardly any cover for about 4 km until I riched the
asphalt road. I was gonna stop and grab a drink, but I really wanted to get home (or rather to a pharmacy) so decided to brave another 3 km to Imlil.
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I reached Imlil at 1:30 pm

This day wasn't technically difficult and 9 out of 15 km where on a track/road, but I still felt very tired and I think sun burn played its part. I went to a pharmacy and bought all they had for "before" and "after".

Day 6
Ilil to Oukaimden, 19 km, 1200 meters of vertical altitude gain.

I was quite looking forward to this day as this trek would take me away from Imlil and hopefully show the other side of Toubkal massif.
I left the house at 8:30 and started a steep climb to towards a cafe which I marked as a waypoint located on the motorable road to Tacheddirt.
It was only 3,3 km but involved 440 m of altitude gain. The trail ran across pine forest and crossed asphalt road several times, it got me to the cafe at about 10 am.
This the view looking back at Imlil.
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The cafe was open, I grabbed a coke and sat down to rest and savor the views. I so one couple with a guide who appeared to be on a day trip and another guy roaming the mountains on his own. From the cafe I could see the range I had to cross to get to Oukaimden and it looked a bit intimidating...

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I could have technically descended into the valley in front and ascent to Tamguist as I could clearly see the trail. However, I didn't have this trail on the map, also it seemed mode demanding than my original plan which was to follow asphalt road down to Ouanesekra and than switchback to Tamguist.
Cafe to Ouanesekra stretch is about 5,5 km and descend of 200 meters. I am not a big fan of asphalt roads of course, but I new that the most demanding climb was ahead. Luckily there were only 2 or 3 cars in the whole time. And the views of the other side of Toubkal were amazing!
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I got to Ouanesekra no later than 11:30 and found a small shop. I was going to get myself a drink, but when the owner offered me Tajine I thought it was a good idea to break for lunch since I had enough time. I negotiated for 60 dihram and sat down on a terrace overlooking the village.
The owner told me that it was about 3-4 hours to Oukaimden which matched my expectations, my plan was to be there no later than 5 pm.

It took way over an hour for Tajine to arrive, which I didn't expect, but in hindsight it wasn't a restaurant and the lady of the house must have had to cook it from scratch.
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I payed 90 dihram for the meal including Tajine, Coke and Tea which I didn't ask for, felt like was ripped of somewhere, but probably not by much. It was nice to have some hot food in belly.

From there I had about 1 km to Tamguist on a relatively flat path and than the fun would start. To reach the top of the pass I had to climb 700 vertical meters over 2,8 km, im my books anything which is more than 150m/1km is seriously steep.

On a way to Tamguist I met a local guy waking back from Imlil who was very surprised to hear I was on my own and of course offered me his services as a guide. To which I replied that I have GPS for a guide and added Je ne suis pas un turist, je suis voyageur to make my point!
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The pass is not immediately obvious, but with a few fingers pointed by locals and GPS it's quite easy to find. More over this is the only marked trail in Atlas mountains! At least the only one I found. See this pink marking? Not the obvious choice of color. They probably marked the trail by walking from Oukaimden, you could see it as the markings were all on the same side of the rocks. In fact the only way I could spot any of these markings was by looking back :-). Still beggars can't be choosers.
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The climb itself wasn't as hard as I expected. I guess I must have shaped up over the last 6 days and was moving up the hill like a machine. large_20170323_133744.jpglarge_20170323_141835.jpg

2,5 hours later I have finally reached this pass at 3,000 meters above sea level.large_20170323_151142.jpg

Once I was over the pass I knew it was a job done. Mostly because from there it was all the way down and because there was motorable road leading from the pass down. My guess they are building that road to connect to Tamguist and other villages on that side.

I choose to take a shortcut following this time blue markings!large_20170323_155347.jpg

It took slightly longer than an hour to get to Oukaimden, probably could make it faster if I did follow the road.

A few words about Oukaimden. This place is located at an altitude of 2700 m and is Africa's the highest and most famous ski resort!
When I entered it looked really weird. One hand you could see abandoned ancient villages and shepherds' huts on the other newly build hotels and ski lifts. It was made even weirder by the fact that the season was just over and the place was abandoned. Well at least it will be easy to get a room, right?large_20170324_080957.jpg

There is a French Alpine Club refuge where I was planning to stay the night. To my surprise they told me they were full! Apparently they had a group from British army, Moroccan police and a school group. The hotel next door was closed for the off-season. This is just what I needed after 10 hours on the trail barely dragging my feet.

On the way to CAF refuge I saw a hotel called Chez JUJU that claimed to be open all year round, it looked like it was my only option.
It was open, but there was no one except for some very sleepy workers. It turned out that the cheapest, most basic room there was 900 dihram (€90), and of course cash only.
Before leaving Marrakesh I have withdrawn just enough money for my journey + an extra day. This was the end of my journey and by spending less than I expected I ended up with about 1000 dihram, just enough to pay for the night and get a bus ride back to Marrakesh. Breakfast was 200 dihram extra so that was out of the question.

Somehow I think the boys binned my registration form and split the money as soon as I left.

I don't have a picture of the room, but it was not Hilton I can tell you that much! There were 2 beds one single and one double, and the fun part is that there was no door for the toilet, i mean it had a curtain for door! I would get it if it was a single room, but it was made for 3 people: 1 shitting and 2 listening?

I ate my last nuts and the final Snickers and was off to bed.

Day 7
Oukaimden-Imsker-Asni-Marrakesh. 19 km, 1500 meters of descent.

This was going to be a cake walk. 20 km all the way down...
Of course not having a dinner or breakfast didn't make me any stronger.

I had left at about 8 am, was beautiful day. The only disruption was the British army team, they left just before me and I have caught up with them really quickly.
The plan was to descent down to Imsker, have some lunch and be off to Asni.large_1893983BC15BC463728EC6D7F97533D9.jpg

At first I started steep ascent cutting the corners and crossing a jeep road several times. I was following GPS route, but soon found some markings, this time green and decided to give it a try.
Moving down was definitely much easier, but wasn't hell of a lot faster. Shortly I noticed that the markings were deviating me from the GPS trail, but I wasn't too worried as there wasn't anywhere I could go that would take me totally off track. It was the same valley after all.
I figured out where I had to go as I could see a village on my and worked out that if I get to a field it should connect to a village somehow. and Surely it did, I was down at the first village (halfway between Oukaimden and Imsker) just before the Brits, could see them up on the hill.

It's a much more demanding descent to Imsker that I imagined and definitely was not the cake walk. There are a few steep descents, villages and point where you have to walk along the mountain stream. It's amazing how quickly scenery changes; I left that morning in a freezing cold, and now I was walking under the scorching sun.
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It took me 5 hours to descent 11 km to Imsker. Much slower than 3 hours I though it would take. I lost the British army team at Imsker where they were picked up. They had 3 guides, yes - there were 15 of them but still how come you need more than 1 guide to lead a group? Well I don't wanna take anyone's job away...
Getting a lunch in Imsker clearly wasn't gonna work. As soon as I entered the village all the local kids swarmed around me. I was a local celebrity! I got through Imsker without spotting a shop which meant the lunch was delayed till Marrakesh.

From Imsker to Asni it's about 7,6 km, where first 2,6 are on a trail and the rest is on a proper road. where the trail end the fun ends. I was happy to get make the road though, I just wanted the journey to be complete and I could see Asni stretching below.

Once IO got to the Asno bus stop, which was more like a bus stretch I was swarmed by a bunch of entrepreneurial bums who really wanted to help me to get on a bus. The advantage of departing a destination is that you can act as if you know it. they were delighted at my donation of a walking pole, and kept asking if there was anything else I wanted to trade. That included swapping my waterproof coat, softshell and even fake Oakley shades! I return I was offered a lot of "silver" junk. I did fell like an Indian being cheated by Columbus and his conquistadors back in 16th century.

The real cost for a bus was 15 dihram and 20 for a grand taxi. So I was ripped of by a factor of two which I rated as acceptable. In less than an hour I was in Marrakesh. All the buzz and hustle of the city, it was so different from serendipity of the mountains...large_20170325_115221.jpg

Posted by dima.safr 13:31 Archived in Morocco Tagged snow winter trekking morocco imlil march tagine independent crampons high_atlas jebel_toubkal oukaimden tizi_mizik giti asni tizi_oussem Comments (0)

Armenia - Aragats

Climbing Armenia's highest mountain!

On this day we have decided to climb, not more not less, Armenia's highest mountain - Aragats is a single peak and dormant volcano towering at 4090 meters above sea level.

There is a long and a short way of climbing Aragats. The long way involves a 3000m ascent from the town of Aparan and makes it for a very long day. The shorter way is starting from town of Artashat which is easily reachable by public bus from Yerevan in about an hour. The second step is to get a ride up to Cosmic Ray research station at about 3200 meters. We found a local taxi driver who agreed to take us there and wait for about $35 in his old Lada. It's about 40km up windy and beat up roads, so all in all is a good deal.
After about an hour and a half we were at the research station and agreed to be back at our taxi in about 5-6 hours.

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We started to walk cheerfully up a slightly steep hill, just to stop in 2 minutes grasping for breath. At that point we realized that we flew up 3200m in a taxi, which put us straight into altitude sickness zone. This was the first time I really felt it, you don't feel tired or exhausted, you just feel suddenly weak.

After about an hour, you pass by a small pool of ice. That gets you thinking, we were doing it in September so it mush have survived the entire summer. The temperature on the top must drop way below zero at night. There are a few trails, but it's kind of obvious where to go.

After about 2,5 hours of slow determined walking we have reached the top. The scenery looked like surface of Mars or something from a post apocalyptic film.
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After a mandatory photo-shoot we picked an alternative trail to come down along the ridge. We followed the trail half way, than it kind of disappeared and we simply followed the ridge. I guess we have missed the point where we had to decent of the ridge, so we had to climb down the rocks, and than walked for couple of hundred meters until we reached a trail taking us back to our taxi.

By 7 pm we were back at Yerevan for a warm shower and a cold beer!

Posted by dima.safr 12:40 Archived in Armenia Tagged volcano mountain trekking climbing yerevan armenia aragats 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.

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

Tenerife-climbing Teide

Tackling the highest peak in Spain!

Normally when you think of Tenerife or Canary Islands you think of a beach, a pool and an all inclusive resort. Needles to say this is not out theme...
However, Tenerife is also a home to the mighty el Teide - Spain's highest mountain at 3,718 m.
Teide is a very special mountain as it's on an island its prominence equals its altitude. You can standby the pool wearing a tea-shirt and observe a snow-capped peak. Hence it was only natural that for our winter break in Europe we decided to pick Tenerife and take on Teide.

Teide is open to climb all year round. In summer it gets unbearably hot and in winter it's often covered in snow. You can do it the easy way and take a cable car practically to the top, than you need a permit (arrange in advance on-line) to climb the last 100 m to the actual summit. Well that is the easy way.
Our plan was to hike it up in two days with an overnight stay in Altavista refuge @ €25. Don't fool yourself thinking it's Canaries, Teide is a 3,718 m. mountain and you have to deal with some serious weather in winter. Well this is where we got lucky this time. It sowed heavily in January, the roads were closed for a couple of weeks and were just cleared for our adventure.

Practicalities

Transport: There is a bus going along TF1, it reaches foothill station (from Las Americas side) in early afternoon and than goes in the opposite direction at around 4 pm. I guess you could use it, but this would mean starting your first day pretty late and than hanging out waiting for the bus on the way down.
Most convenient and cost effective way is to drive up. We hired a car for about €100 per week.
Permit: If you stay in the Altavista and get up and down before the cable car starts operating there is no need for permit.

It takes from 1 to 1,5 hours to make the journey, mostly because of sharp curves and steep ascent that you will struggle to tackle in your economy rental car. Once you reach the cable car station carry on for a kilometer or two until the next parking lot where the trail starts.
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On your way don't mind the idiot who think it's a good idea to stop at the middle of a narrow road for a photo opp.

First thing that surprised us is the number of people in Tenerife who own skies and snowboards.

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It could get confusing at the beginning s there are a few jeep tracks, but they eventually all meet, and if in doubt just take the turns towards Teide.

It's a bit of a steep ascent and we had to alternate from snow to scree which takes additional energy and stamina to keep up pace.
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These boulders are lava bolls, Teide is still an active volcano. Once we past them we had to take a steep trail up, the snow got knee deep and we drop our pace. We met a few guys who went up on a cable car and now were jogging down in shirts and flipflops :-).
We were just happy to have a nice sunny day!
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It took us about 5 hours to ascent 1000 m. and reach Altavista. Last 30 min gets hard as you start to feel altitude at 3000 meter mark.
Altavista is a simple but solid refuge they provide hot water and have an expensive snack vending machine. The dorms are small and can get claustrophobic, but they are well heated.
We had a dinner of some oranges and pot noodles (you can boil water there), and were off to bed.
You have to wake up at 2 am to have breakfast change into winter gear and put on crampons.

At the top temperature was around -5C, but the wind chill factor took it down to -15 - -20C. We were wearing thermal layers, our skiing trousers and jackets, skiing gloves and I had a balaclava, which is a great thing to keep you warm at night. Basically you have to be kited out rather more than less and treat it as seriously as you would a similar mountain in Alps.

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We joined a caravan of Spanish climbers, put our head-lamps on a headed out. There isn't a trail really, may be there is one in the summer. But frozen snow and crampons make it quite easy to move in pretty much any direction. If you lucky and the day is crisp you get an amazing sunset.
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As we came to about 200 m below the summit we had to traverse the peak on what is to put it simply: a very steep sheet of ice. This is where your crampons save your life, and it's not a bad idea to have an ice-pick too. Well since none of us used an ice-pick before we decided that it's safe not to have it and risk taking your own head of.

The very top of Teide is actually free of ice, hence you have to take your crampons off. This is because Teide is still active and there are steam vents which let out some really toxic gasses. Sulfur smells like rotten eggs and made us feel a bit sick, it's not too bad just don't stay over a piping vent.

It's a beautiful feeling to be on the top of the world at sunrise.
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And it was Dovile's birthday too! So we cracked up a small bottle of champagne and enjoyed the views over the endless clouds and peak Viejo's crater below.

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4 hours down and by early afternoon we were drinking cold beer, taking a dip in Jacuzzi and basking in sunshine.
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Posted by dima.safr 10:13 Archived in Spain Tagged snow winter volcano mountain trekking spain climb canary teide tenerif Comments (0)

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===
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===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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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!
http://www.granchar.net/

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.
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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....
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The orange dot on the bottom is me :-)
God our knees were killing us!

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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
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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.
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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.
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We decided to start climbing off trail right to the top of the ridge where we would find the other trail.
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On the top we got a first glimpse of the Perin range.
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And a Macedonia hut in the vicinity
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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"...
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Oh dear...

It's an easy well marked trail all the way to Kopathik peak, where you have to start a steep descend.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Than we reach Tevno Ezero hut for some soup and tea - about 6 hours.
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And from there it's all the way down!
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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.
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And this was the first time it felt hot!
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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!
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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...

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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.

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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.

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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!
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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.
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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...

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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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