Hike to Romania’s highest peak

With John having become a motorcycling Tetsuo and with the DRZ gutted in the garage, it’s time to use our own human feet. At 2544m, the aptly named Moldoveanu is Romania’s highest mountain. It’s located in South-Central Carpathians Mt., in the Western Fagaras range, which is notoriously beautiful and challenging to explore. Remote and rugged, Fagaras boasts several 2K+ peaks. So it’s rather evident that climbing its highest is something that any Romanian mountain buff wants under their belt. How about a quickie outing in the mountains then? The timing is so and so: it’s been ten (OMG!!!!) years this month since we started dating, and less than 4 weeks since John’s complicated wrist surgery. But fellow adventurer Alastair Humphreys quips everyone should make time for micro adventure, which must include people with a titanium wrists, too.

Now, which route? Moldoveanu peak is reachable from either sides, requiring a minimum two day hike along the ridge of Fagaras, or from the south, on a route that can be doable in one day for the early riser. More information here and here, and this is a map and a zoom-in:

To do the latter, first you need to [highlight color=’#393939′ background_color=’#ccff00′]drive from Bucharest to Pitesti on A1, then on DN73 and DJ731 up to Slatina village[/highlight] (the 180km take roughly 3 hours). When you see the sign pictured below, turn right on gravel. For the next 40 or so kilometres you’ll see nothing but gushing waterfalls, a dam and – if you’re particularly lucky – a brown bear. Don’t forget to replenish you water reserves:

The landscape here is already dramatically different: vapid waters run over light caramel boulders, evergreen trees fringe a glorious sky, and the road twists and turns like a furious snake. Come once, and I promise you Fagaras mountains will steal your heart. If you’ve already been to Romania and missed it, there’s your reason to return. In typical ITW fashion, we have decided to leave Bucharest on a whim so we don’t arrive at the end of the gravel until 5 p.m. The road stops right where the actual climb begins, at the foot of the steep Evil Valley, carved by the river that bears the same name. The abandoned wood cabin sitting across the creek (an old sheep pen I presume) puts everything up to scale. From this point it’s a good 4 hour hike to the top, so too late to reach Moldoveanu before nigh time. But of course that we have a plan.

The hike

We cross path with a couple of hikers returning from the top: 50 year olds in short shorts and boots, with big backpacks and muscular legs; a humming teenage girl with thick braids; a guy and a gal carrying a bunch of aromatics gathered for tea. Under ‘normal’ circumstances we would not even notice each other. But I love how people stop and chat when they meet on a mountain, with genuine joy, as if in this feral environment we are suddenly able to see beyond prejudices and connect. Bare rock demands respect and humbleness. Man, the top predator, suddenly becomes physically aware of how transient he is, and is relieved to recognise another member of their clan, which is a funny thing, considering how much effort we normally put into avoiding other people when we are going about our daily lives in the city!

A few hundred meters into the climb, the path narrows and steepens. Micah glitters through the rock. The mountain wall is infested with purple flowers and medicinal plants: wild thyme (anti-fungal, also good for colds), yarrow (a powerful wound healer) and St John’s wort (known antidepressant, but in my family we simply add it to regular winter tea). At places one needs to crawl their way up, so John finds himself between a rock and a hard (titanium-enhanced) place. If it looks like he’s stepping outside his comfort zone it’s because he is.

The highest waterfall marks the ridge of the Evil Valley. On the windy plateau a flock of sheep scatter. These are the final days of July, but there are still patches of snow yet to thaw. We’re gonna set camp a couple of hundreds meters further, at the triangular glacier lake (aka Iezerul Triunghiular). This time we are using a 3-season second hand tent received from a German cyclist in Ulaanbaatar. It did the job in Siberia as John was riding the BAM, so I reckon it’ll be splendid for a night at 2159m in Romania.

The bivouac

Our camping ritual includes foraging, trying not to stab each other, and bowing to the mountain gods while praying that they bestow eternal happiness to that anonymous German cyclist. The next scene finds us playing #Thermarest, camper’s choice of bagpipe when there’s no bagpipe around.

Mattresses in, sleeping bag in (it’s the same since 2010, having survived over 800 nights by now). YES. This is the perfect crib. Soon temperature drops below 10 Celsius. We devour our food and we retreat ‘indoors’ to spoon.

Moon shines brighter @the Triangular Lake. We wake up with a glorious view. We share the spot with 3 more tents: one is shared between 2 German hikers, and inside the other 2 slept a Czech and a Slovak who are travelling together.

Our target is visible to the left. The next section is a bit steep again and the rock is crumbly. Should we decide to hike to the right, we would pass by an alpine refuge. We have business on the other crease. On the way to Moldoveanu we pass Romania’s third highest peak, Viștea Mare (2527m).

The top view is spectacular, with abyssal valleys and the unmistakable Fagaras silhouetted in the back. The kind of landscape you’d find on a bucket-list road: the Transfagarasan.

On the way back I feel proud again of my titanium-enhanced man who’s killing it on the mountain. John is such a critter magnet, and this time we are rewarded with the brief encounter with a baby viper.

I wonder why is this place called the Evil Valley, when it looks like the land of fairies. Evil fairies perhaps?