SSS October (Sleet, Snow & Sun)

After a long wait I managed to convince some 3 good friends to come with me on a late autumn trip in the Fagaras Mts., the highest range in Romania. I always enjoyed the late autumn hikes in the high mountains as the clear air lets you see clearly far away in the horizon.

This being said on a chill and wet Friday morning we took to the road towards Victoria, a small town on the foothills of the Fagaras Mts. Our plan for the 3-day trip included 2 new itineraries for me which made me really anxious to get out of the car and onto the trail. We managed to get to Victoria at noon and took our backpacks on, heading for the Tarata crest pathway, which I’ve seen many times from the crest and read many articles about. It was supposed to be the most interesting part for me, yet the clouds hanging at low altitude kept my spirts in check. As it often happens on new itineraries we had to change our climbing plans as a local told us that there has been extensive deforestation on the Tarata crest and the pathway is not practicable this time of the year. So we switched to plan B and decided to go up on the Arpas valley, a track that I’ve used before when climbing down the mountain and I remeber deciding back then that I would never use again as it was really really long. πŸ™‚

Friday can be summarized briefly like a muddy, rainy, sleety, cold, damp, tiring, 19 km walk from Victoria to Arpasu chalet (1520 m) much lower than Podragu chalet (2136 m) wich was our goal for the day, but since the valley path is much longer and we were extremely tired due to the weather we decided we would camp there for the night.

Saturday morning came with a welcomed change. The rain stopped during the night and snow was visible at higher altitudes. We ate something fast and we were on our way towards the Podragu chalet where hot tea with rum was expecting us. The landscape got whiter and colder until the wind started to make us think about frozen ears and fallen noses πŸ˜› This made us renew our efforts to get to Podragu chalet’s warm dining room. After 2 hours of hard trek we finally got to the chalet which for our desperation was closed. πŸ˜€ Nothing to be done there, after redistributing some of the heavier loads in our rucksacks we were on our way towards the main ridge. Halfway we met a group of tourits that started earlier in the morning from Arpasu chalet with the goal of reaching Moldoveanu peak (2544 m), the highest in Romania. They only got to the main ridge and decided to go back as the weather and snow conditions were a bit to severe for them and they also had to return to the chalet unlike us which camped in our tents and would sleep in a refuge for the next night.

Once on the main ridge the views kept us in continuous awe so that the chill of the wind and the hardness of the trek through deep snow didn’t get to us as much as it did during the first hours of the day. Winter seems to have struck the wildlife unexpectedly as along the way there were many frozen birds on the ground and feathers all along the pathway. Besides a few tricky traverses where the snow was really frozen and it was hard to make a proper step so that the others would step in safely the path was not difficult, with easy climbs and descents… that is until we got to the foot of the Vistea Mare peak (2527 m, 3rd highest in Romania).

I’ve already climbed this peak several times during the past years, always in the summer and it was always an exetremely hard hike, especially with big backpacks. I was sure it won;t be easier this time, meter-deep snow, heavy backpack, a little hungry, leading the way (which basically meant creating steps on the snow wherever there weren’t any). The first half of the climb went pretty well and we thought faster than during the summer, as I had the help of the steps left behind by a group of 3 Moldavian guys that we met on the way. As we continued going up, the steps disappeared and the tiredness accumulated, now I had to create steps continually, which meant left foot up and stuck hard into the snow, followed by the same with the right foot, then both hands with the trekking poles went up and into the snow for a little bit of balance. This made my calfs really sore as I was always supporting my weight and the rucksack’s just on the tips of my boots on an 80 degree slope. However all of my efforts were rewarded when I got to the top as the view was really breathtaking, the clear, fresh, cold mountain air allowed us to have a 360 degree panorama that stretched for tens of kilometers. We also knew that this was the last climb of the trip, from now on we would only descend, 300 m at first to the Vistea refuge where we would spend the night. And eat as much as we can, and drink hot wine and tuica (brandy), and also a beer for me πŸ˜€ Life’s so good when you are with friends in the mountains, far away from the worries of the modern world. (some booze doesn’t do any harm either) πŸ™‚

Our final day in the mountains started with a clear amber to deep blue sunrise over the ridge of the Iezer Mts. The magnificent view was completed by the Moon still hanging over the Vistea-Moldoveanu ridge. After taking a few early morning shots we started the descent on one of the most dangerous passages of the trip.from Portita Vistei (2310 m) to the Vistea Mare Glacial Circus and Valley. The main difficulty consisted in the lack of deep snow on the slopes, due to these being to steep. This made every step a carefully calulated action, always looking ahead for the deepest snow areas, probing with the trekking pole and then taking the “plunge”. πŸ™‚ After 1 1/2 – 2 hours we were on the valley floor safe and sound, feeling excited about the great trip that was nearing its end and relieved to have it done without any incidents.Β Still the day’s trek was not over as there were still about 4 hours of walking through the forest and muddy roads until we got to a local road where we took our backpacks down and allowed ourselves some well-needed rest. However there were still abou 6 km to the place where we left the car and I and Sebi went ahead to get the car and bring it to the backpacks. The weather here was really hot (25 degrees) compared to the temperatures below freezing that we left just 6-7 hours ago, so we enjoyed our walk, also keeping an eye on the Fagaras ridge rising steep to our left. We’ll surely be back!!!

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