Normally I try to squeeze an entire hike into one blog post, but my first multi-stage trek of the season was way too eventful to do that. So I’ve decided to split it up. So here’s Part One: hiking in the Vladeasa Mountains. Sprinkled with a good dose of snow and peppered with adventure and beauty!
Starting from Bologa
On Monday morning I take the train from Șuncuiuș to Bologa. My host, Elena, has made sure that my pack is even heavier than it already was by adding two sandwiches, two hard-boiled eggs and a small cucumber to it. She wants to sneak in some cake and ‘extra good napkins’ too but I refuse, explaining that all these little bits do add up. And I’m not a good light packer in the first place: somehow, I always end up with too much food at the end of my hike… Although arguably, the Romanians are partly to blame for this phenomenon. Because when I arrive in the village of Bologa after a little detour via the completely overgrown Roman ruins, two retired couples happily volunteer to point the way to Bologa Fortress, and look after my pack in the meantime. ‘You speak Romanian quite well, don’t you?’ one of the men says. ‘In that case…’ A little explanation follows: ‘The fortress is officially closed, but you can just slide past the gate.’ I grin, and feel kinda proud. Because that’s the kind of perk you only get when you speak the local language. In fact, I find the gate to the fortress wide open: construction workers are doing restoration work and don’t mind letting me walk around the place. So I climb the very narrow tower (too narrow for my hips and shoulders in fact!) and get rewarded with gorgeous views over Bologa and beyond. Back down, one of the men beckons me: ‘Would you like a coffee?’ I explain that I’m allergic to caffeine, but actually, I wouldn’t mind a break. So I join the two couples for tea, ice cream and a delicious creamy pie. I get a tour around the renovated house and we chat a bit about our lives and my itinerary. At which point I get offered a ride towards Săcieu; the first 10 km or so are over tarmac so very uninteresting. Stefan (who is actually Hungarian) drives me there, but almost misses the turn. He regrets that I won’t get to see the sequoias this way, so he takes me there first. It’s quite a sight: two twin sequoias with a circumference of several metres towering above the rest of the forest. He then drops me off at the trailhead and I’m on my way again.
Are you just looking for trail info? Click here.
To Cabana Vladeasa
Finding my way isn’t all that easy. The waymarks are old and faded, and few and far between. Early on, the trail is much too overgrown to be followed, so I improvize a detour over a higher, parallel path. Slowly but surely, I climb up to the village of Rogojel, which spreads out over a large area below the Vladeasa Mountains. Dogs scare the shit out of me several times, but there are no sheepdogs around: it’s too early for that. The weather is gorgeous and the views equally so. I get one more scare: the bushes rustle behind me and I half expect a bear – but it’s just George, a cyclist and maths teacher. We have a pleasant chat and on he goes to Cabana Vladeasa. Which is my destination too, but I’m a little bit slower. Except for the cabaniers there is no-one else there. It’s getting a little late and I still have one of Elena’s sandwiches, so I pitch my tent, ask for a bowl of ciorba (soup with sour cream), call Wilbert and call it a day. Day one is in the books! I feel immensely proud of myself; after all this lockdown misery I didn’t feel all too sure about my physical capabilities. But I did well and I don’t feel exhausted, so feel pretty confident about the rest of the tour and sleep like a baby in my beautiful green palace.
Cabana Vladeasa-Piatra Talharului
I wake early the next morning and gobble up a plateful of scrambled eggs. The trail is easy to follow: it’s marked blue stripe and basically I just need to follow the ski lift up. But soon the waymarks disappear: snow! I’m not too worried though since the trail is a broad track and the snow isn’t too deep or slippery. Soon, Vladeasa Peak comes in sight: at 1836m, it’s the highest point of the entire tour. I have a break on the bench in front of the meteo station and revel at the glorious panorama that stretches out in front of me. Refreshed, I descend again towards the forests.
White forests and white rocks
Forests are usually nice because they provide shade and are beautiful and mysterious – but today, forests bring an extra challenge: more snow. Winter has been particularly long and persistent this year, and snow fell until late April. Whereas it has all melted on Vladeasa Peak, I struggle to make my way through half a metre of snow in the forest. Besides, the trail is harder to find here: waymarks are often covered and the path winds its mysterious ways. Thank God for gps! I sink through the snow multiple times: snow starts melting from underneath, so the top layer isn’t exactly reliable. But it goes fine and after a while, I hit a forest road from where I can make a little detour to Pietrele Albe: the White Rocks. I hide my pack behind a tree and cover the 1 km or so to the Pietrele Albe circuit, where I do a little exhilarating clifftop walking. I’d love to do the entire circuit, but today’s trail is long enough as it is, plus the forecast doesn’t look too good. So I want to make sure I’m out of the Vladeasa mountains by Wednesday night. Some other time.
More naughty forests – and crocuses!
After this little detour I continue towards Padis over an easy track. It’s easy just for a little while though: soon, the trail dips back into a forest, and it isn’t all that much fun. It’s easily one of the most maltreated forests I’ve seen in my life. On top of the snow and mud, I have to cope with hordes of fallen trees, which block the trail more often than not. And I manage to lose my sunglasses in the process. Fabulous when traversing blinding snow fields. So that discourages me a little, but I decide I’m not going to throw in the towel just yet – for various reasons. With the bears waking up from their hibernation and probably grumpy, I’m definitely not going to pitch my tent in the forest. But most importantly, I just want to go up, up, up. I love forests but ultimately, I want that view and that victory. That reward. And I get it: after the umptieth fall in the forest and crossing a wild stream, I suddenly find myself in a seemingly endless meadow with millions of purple crocuses below Micău Peak. It is stunning and goes on for kilometres. I still have some distance to cover until my destination for the day, but this definitely keeps me going.
The sun is setting and the crocuses started closing their chalices, but I press on: just to find that perfect spot under the sun. Three big deer cross the path just 100m ahead of me. The birds announce that evening is here. And then, with a final push, I climb above the treeline and find myself on a perfect plateau for my tent – in between an old rugged wooden cross and Piatra Talharului (the Thieves’ Rock). There is no doubt in my mind that things are not going to get any better than this (despite the absence of a spring), so I throw my pack on the ground, quickly pitch my tent, and cook a cheesy pasta while the sun caresses me with its last rays. This day was as hard as they come – but also as beautiful as they come.
The Vladeasa Plateau
Despite the ordeal of the previous day, I feel well rested the next morning – and wake early. Which is amusing because I am far from an early riser at home. But the mountains do that to me. There’s no water but there is snow, so I take a snow bath; the snow also turns out to be perfect for doing the dishes. It slightly scours surfaces so nicely removes any grime without much effort. I expect today to be a little less challenging and that turns out to be true: I’m crossing the Vladeasa Plateau to Padis and will only gain 250 metres or so. Yes, there is a lot of snow here too, but it’s much easier to navigate through than in the forests. I just need to look out for the firm snow – if it looks dark then that’s suspicious. In many places I can hear the melting water running underneath. When in doubt, I try to follow deer prints – there are many – assuming that they are smarter than me when it comes to navigating through the snow. So I get through relatively unscathed. The glorious scenery – more crocuses, blue sky, potent sun – definitely helps.
Descending to Padis
After 6km or so, I see a welcome signpost: from here the trail dips down to the Padis Plateau! I’ve been seeing it all along; a green circular area sandwiched in between the snowy Vladeasa and Bihor Mountains. I’m just ahead of the clouds: I catch a few raindrops but nothing serious, and arrive in Padis ‘village’ – not much more than an ugly cluster of houses, cabanas and sheepfolds – before all hell breaks loose. I pitch my tent in the courtyard of Cabana Turistica Padis and watch the thunderstorm and rainbow from my cozy little shelter. I’m well pleased: I made the most of these three sunny days. There will be rain tomorrow, but tomorrow should be easier. At least, that’s what I think. To be continued!
NB The hyperlinks will take you to my (unedited) gpx files on my Wikiloc profile. I didn’t add timings since yours are likely to be very different if not dealing with snow. So I suggest you upload the gpx files to your favourite planner app (I love Komoot) and calculate your timings there.
Day 1: Bologa-Cabana Vladeasa | 23km (hitchhike the first 10km or so) | +1100m – 200m | blue stripe
Day 2: Cabana Vladeasa-Piatra Talharului via Pietrele Albe| 21km | +800m – 580m | blue stripe (plus yellow circle to Pietrele Albe)
Day 3: Piatra Talharului-Padis | 15.4km | +300m – 630m | blue stripe
Want more? Buy the guidebook!
My guidebook, ‘The Mountains of Romania’, contains 27 multi-day treks, 10 day walks, free gpx files, detailed route descriptions, a useful glossary and a wealth of information. You can buy it straight from the publisher here, or ask at your local (travel) bookstore.
Like what you’re reading? Subscribe and receive an email notification for each new blog post.