WHY THE CARPATHIANS?

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Diversity

Maybe the best word to describe Romanian Carpathians is diversity: diversity from all points of view, but especially diversity of landscape.

You want to experience the Carpathians as you experience the Alps, albeit at smaller scale?! Well, Fagaras, Piatra Craiului, Retezat are the best choices.

You long for milder slopes with grazing sheep and old way houses spread over each mountaintop?! Relax, because you are in the right mountains.

You would like to go deep into the woods and try some big wild fauna watching, like bears, wolves, wild boars, deer?! You must have heard that Romania has the biggest bear and wolf populations in Europe.

Ruralscape

The Romanian Carpathians have a side I did not experience in any other mountains of Europe. They have a rural soul. Even the biggest mountain range of Romania, Fagaras is crisscrossed by shepherd trails and sheep and dogs are as familiar in the summer in the Carpathians as climbers in Chamonix. The mountains here defines rural and rural define the mountain. Take for instance Cernei Mountain, in South-West Romania. The river valley there is guarded by big vertical walls where you cannot find a path but they are and they are all leading to mountain villages atop the cliffs where electricity is yet a luxury. In Buila-Vanturarita, in Central Romania, you will find beautiful orthodox monasteries merged into the mountain landscape, but only if you hike for some good hours, because you cannot reach them but by trail. It worth!

Fast access to alpine landscape

The point is that you get the same Alpine landscape but in a good deal of shorter time than in the big ranges of Western Europe. From the lowest points where you are starting a route, no matter the mountain, in three to four hours you should reach the Alpine landscape. In some cases, the roads will take you already high, at the edge of the forest, so you can start the day’s hike directly in the Alpine area. In the case of Fagaras, for instance, the “most beautiful road in the world” will take you at 2000m and you are already in a touching distance from the ridge trail.

So, let’s just imagine you do not have much time but a day for going to the mountains. In Romania it would be possible to start in the morning from Bucharest, low in the plain, hike or bike to the Alpine floor, and end the day back in Bucharest, wonderfully exhausted.

Remoteness

As rural as they are, there are a lot of mountains here and some of them are not on the list of many. This is not a bad thing, quite the contrary. Even in summer, there are mountains in Romania where the chances to meet fellow hikers or bikers during the day are low. You might meet a shepherd or more but this is something you will be glad about it.

This is one of the paradoxes of the Romanian Carpathians. You can be so close to the inhabited areas, just a couple of hours away and yet be and feel so remote from civilization.

Wildlife

If you take a map of wildlife in Europe, for sure Romania will stand out of the others. Danube Delta aside, the wildlife is still an integrated part of the Carpathians landscape. Watching shy wild goats on the steepest cliffs or coming back home with stories, not necessarily others, about bears is common.

Your chances of seeing wolves or wild cat without specialized assistance are slimmer but this is because these animals are shy and stay away from trodden routes not because they are there.

Useful information for wandering in Romanian Carpathians

Did you know that almost one third of Romanian territory is mountain terrain in all forms this can be found?! And, using European country size standards, Romania is a reasonable big country. So we are talking about quite a respectable area covered by mountains.

Basically the Romanian Carpathians are split into three large groups: EASTERN, SOUTHERN and WESTERN. We don’t have a geographic Northern branch because this is already in Ukraine so we simply do not count it. Unfortunately, the geography here is still taught more on a national basis and not on a truly geographic border-less perspective.

On their insides, the three segments of the Romanian Carpathians surround Transylvania, the most known province of Romania. On their outer edges (East for Eastern ones, West for Western ones and South for Southern one) their slopes descend, gently in most cases, towards the old plains of Romania. All of them are crisscrossed by roads which connect the outer plains with the inner core, which is Transylvania and all their streams rush to gather in larger rivers which are collected in the Danube basin. No exception to this. As with other mountains, their geography defined the history of surrounding places and of the communities living nearby them.

Siriu_Poarta Vanturilor_2007_2The Eastern Carpathians start, arbitrarily if you look only at the geographic perspective, on the Northern border of Romania with Ukraine, Maramures being the mountain shared by the two countries. They end in a weird overlap with the Southern ones around Brasov city. For instance, if you are skiing in Poiana Brasov, the most known ski resort in Romania, you will be in the Eastern Carpathians, while, if you are hiking just South of this massif, in Bucegi, you will be in the Southern ones. But I guess this will not cause you any dizziness. Maybe a little confusion!

In terms of outdoor activities, the most visited Eastern Mountains are Rodnei (the highest with 2303m), Ceahlău (the most legend surrounded mountain of Romania), Ciucaș, Piatra Mare, Baiului and Postăvaru, these ones because they are so very close to Bucharest.

Southern CarpathiansThe Southern Carpathians are the very focus of Romanian mountaineering activity (that does not mean the others are not beautiful or appealing from an outdoor perspective). Because this group includes all the highest peaks (over 2400 and over 2500m) and the rockiest mountains of Romania and its mountains are easy accessible from big towns of Romania (Bucharest, Brasov, Sibiu). Fagaras (also known as the Transylvanian Alps), Piatra Craiului (the Kings’ Rock), Bucegi and Retezat are the most appealing mountains of Romania. Glacial landscape is maybe their defining geological feature, with glacial lakes making for best summer hikes.

At their Eastern end is Bucegi mountain, the most crowded mountain of Romania, and their Western end they reach the banks of the Danube, just across Serbia, where the big river dug up through rock making a splendid landscape out of the surrounding mountains.

The Western Carpathians are like no other. Starting from Poiana Rusca mountain and following a direct North line they close the arch close enough to where we started the description, close to the border with Ukraine. They are not that high but they are full of gorges and caves, some of them with glaciers inside, and spanned by villages where you will never expect one.Western Carpathians

For instance, Cheile (Gorges) Turzii in Trascau Mountains is one of the big climbing arenas of the Romanian Carpathians.

All mountains of Romania are part of the Carpathians chain. All with a quite valorous exception. MacinClose to the Romanian Black Sea seaside, in Dobrogea province, there is the one of the oldest mountain chains in the Europe. It is so old that the winds cut it during the last millennials that now it has only under 500 m in height. It is called Macin Mountains.
It could not be a more different mountain than the Carpathians. It is more like a Greek landscape than a Romanian one. But low as they are, these mountains are beautiful and unexpectedly rocky and, raising straight from the Danube plain, they give the impression of higher altitudes.

These general elements of the general topography of the Romanian Carpathians might be of help before planning any hike in Romania for the first time. They should not be taken as specific features of any mountains of Romania but rather as generalizations:

  • Romanian mountains are densely forested. Up to now at least. Because heavy illegal and legal cuts, in the last decade, unfortunately made their mark.
  • Up to 1400-1600m altitude you will be in forested areas, starting at lower altitudes with broad leave woods and finishing with coniferous woods. That is way, each time you start a hike from at the foot of the mountain, which is most of the time around 600 to 800m high, you will have first to climb up some two to three hours to get out of the woods.
  • The lower mountains are thus almost completely forested with only their highest peaks protruding from the woods.
  • At higher altitudes than 1400-1600m, the alpine landscape starts, which usually mean alpine meadows, walls, lose rock, boulders and juniper which go as high as more than 2100m.
  • Romanian Carpathians present a highly glaciated landscape. As a result of the glaciers activity, the Northern slopes and valleys are always steeper, rockier and with more lose stone than the Southern ones. But they are also shorter compared to the Southern ones which are gentler but at the same time longer.
  • The glaciated landscape of the valleys generally includes two different floors of glacier beds, one above the other, separated by steep or vertical drops. In these beds, in the highest mountains, the glaciers left behind lakes. A lot of them. Maybe some hundreds.
  • Apart from the glacier based landscape, in the Eastern Carpathians, some mountains are of volcanic origin.
  • Apart from the natural pressure, the topography of the present Romanian mountains is also the result of human pressure. This changed the natural landscape in two ways:
  • Dam lakes and there are quite a few of them and they are quite lovely.
  • Mountain roads mainly built for the exploitation of wood on every mountain of Romania. Most are not in a good shape but nevertheless they are used as avenues for the hikers for getting as close to the mountain as they can or for excellent mountain biking.
You can see in this picture some of the topographical elements of the Romanian Carpathians: Alpine landscape (easy slopes in the foreground and rocky walls in the background), the forested level (seen in the background), mountain road.

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Romania is a country where you can still see in the wild lots of animals, including big mammals. Here is a list of the most interesting animals you may see on the mountain:

Brown Bears Plenty of them. Over 6000 based on the official records. Largest population in Europe. You have reasonable chances of seeing them. If they still do not show up while you are here, you may pay a visit to a special bear reservation near Brasov city. They host there around 80 bears.
Wolves Around 3000 wolves.

 

I do not know how they counted them. I never managed to see one in the wild in 20 years of hiking. Just some paw footprints in the winter. They are very shy so your chances of seeing them are quite low. If you do see one than you are a blessed person.
Wild cats and lynxes Largest population in Europe. Around 1300 lynxes. Seeing a wolf in the wild is a lot easier. So you have 0 chances of seeing one unless you do not go with a local especially for this and you do not have the several days’ patience to wait for them to show up.
Mountain goats About 10.000 of them. In Piatra Craiului and Bucegi mountains you have a reasonable 50% chance to see them on some of the routes. In Romanian they are called capre negre/black goats although it is hard to notice on them something black. Compared to their West Europe relatives, these ones are much shyer and will keep a respectable distance from you.

Aside from the above mentioned animals, you may meet in your mountain trips marmots, foxes, wild boars and deer.

About Flora, well, I cannot tell you too much. I never got to know the names of the trees, flowers and mushrooms in my own native language, not to mention in English. I can distinguish them though by their color J and I can say for sure the flora here is rich, lush and diverse and its season specific.

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As elsewhere in Europe, Romanian Carpathians enjoy a temperate four season climate. You should take into consideration the following climate tips:

  • In Romanian Carpathians there are no permanent snows. So, from April-May to late October you won’t need snow equipment.
  • Big snow falls usually starting with November and will keep falling till March. You will still find snow on the narrow alpine valleys, especially those with Northern exposure, up to May-June.
  • Springs in the mountains are rainy.
  • Summers are hot also in the mountains. Evenings and nights are cold.
  • September and October are the driest months of the year but, apart from winter months, they have the clearest skies.

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If you take a look at the map of, lets’ say Central and Eastern Europe searching for the highest peaks of every country you will notice that Romanian Carpathians are towards the bottom of the list if not the least highest mountains. But hey, more mountains for less height sounds like a good deal in any case.

View to the North from the highest peak of Romania (2544m) - Moldoveanu.
View to the North from the highest peak of Romania (2544m) – Moldoveanu.

14 peaks exceeding the height of 2500m are in Romania. We climb them all without supplementary oxygen, just like the 14 eight thousanders from Himalaya and Karakorum J … just kidding.

Their list, from the highest to the lowest is the following:

Name of the Peak Altitude (m) Ref. Mountain
1 Moldoveanu 2544 18 Fagaras
2 Negoiu 2535 18 Fagaras
3 Vistea Mare 2527 18 Fagaras
4 Parangul Mare 2519 39 Parang
5 Lespezi 2517 18 Fagaras
6 Cornul Caltunului 2510 18 Fagaras
7 Peleaga 2509 49 Retezat
8 Papusa 2503 49 Retezat
9 Omu 2507 7 Bucegi
10 Vanatoarea lui Buteanu 2507 18 Fagaras
11 Hartopul Darei 2506 18 Fagaras
12 Bucura Dumbrava 2503 7 Bucegi
13 Dara 2501 18 Fagaras
14 Capul Morarului 2500 7 Bucegi

As you can see, they belong to only 4 mountains out of 63 and, as the winner takes it all, Fagaras claims 8 out of the 14. It is easy to see then why anybody wants to go in Fagaras / Transylvanian Alps. These then make for the Roof of Romania.

Picture 491
Peleaga (2509m) – the highest peak of Retezat

Then, going down the pyramid, there are around 47 peaks of more than 2400m, 46 over 2300m, 76 of more than 2200m, 64 over 2100 and 8 over 2100. So, in total there are around 250 peaks over 2000m. So numbers compensate for height.

But as you must know, beauty (natural or not J) is not necessarily a matter of height and we did not put eyes yet on an ugly mountain anywhere in this world. The difference between them is just a subjective floating degree of beauty.

View to the South from Omu (2507m), the highest peak of Bucegi
View to the South from Omu (2507m), the highest peak of Bucegi

In Romanian Carpathians you can do just about anything it could be imagined as adventure travel:

  • Hiking

QualityWhere there is a mountain there are also lots of trails to be hiked. No matter the season and no matter the type of terrain! You need to plan, document, prepare, check the conditions on the mountain wherever and however you can and just go. An hour in the outdoor worth a day in the city, two hours trade for two days and so on.

In winter there is still a lot of activity in the mountains. The huts are full of hikers. A lot of less high peaks are easy to reach even in winter and the view is all the more beautiful as in summer. For the higher ones, the game becomes different and you need to be better prepared in terms of equipment, experience, fitness, will. But is so much more rewarding!

  • Mountain Biking

P1010403As with the hiking, because of the tremendous network of mountain paved and unpaved roads as well as that of rural roads you can mountain bike just about any mountain in Romania. It is only about choosing the level of difficulty and matching this with your skills and your bike. You can bike on asphalt roads with hard to gain elevation, on rural roads covered in dust in summer or on meadows between houses. You can test your brakes on downhill technical trails or you can choose the flattest terrain you want. You can reach peaks by bike or you can go round them in their shadow.

Inform yourself, wake up in the morning and bike then!

  • Climbing

P1050297Not all mountains allow for classic rock climbing or for sport climbing. But there are plenty of areas which are well known as climbing focus points. For instance, the mountains around Brasov city (Bucegi, Piatra Craiului, Postavaru) are maybe the most developed in this sense.

The sport climbing routes are equipped either with bolts or with iron pegs. There is a growing tendency to replace the old pegs with bolts. The tops are usually prepared with two bolts linked together with a chain with ring but you may find as well older versions of tops (two pegs only, two pegs linked by a piece of old rope etc.).

As regards classic rock climbing routes, most of them are equipped already with iron pegs (sometimes bolts as well but they are less common), most of them being put in place some decades ago. They should be checked before entrusting your life to them and on some routes you might need as well mobile protections. If the route is easy, then the anchors are not that often. The harder the route gets the more anchors you will find.

Traditional climbing, using only mobile protection, is not that developed in Romania although the interest for this style of climbing is growing.

Most of the routes have between 3 and 6 pitches, but routes with up to 10 pitches are not uncommon and you will find among these any degree of difficulty that matches your climbing skills.

The most important thing though is to document you a little before starting any route. And there are good sketches of the routes. You just need to ask!

  • Cross-country Skiing

IMGP4789In Romania there is a community of cross-country and free-ride skiers which is growing fast. But the sport is still not a popular one. There are no dedicated clubs; there are no equipment stores at the bottom of the ski slopes from where you can rent skis, ski boots for special bindings and skins. Basically you must have your own.

But once you have them you have two choices:

  • Use the cables for on piste skiers (like in Bucegi, Baiului) to gain elevation and start skiing off-piste.
  • Choose other mountains (any mountain in Romania has some very good ski routes in its store) or other routes which need to be climbed up on skis and enjoy the physical effort and then the all snow type descents.

In April and May you may freeride on the technically difficult alpine valleys of Bucegi.

  • Rafting and Kayaking
  • Trail running
  • Paragliding
  • Horseback riding

In Romania there is an old hiking culture which is still preserved by the younger generation. In general terms, the Romanian hikers are educated, friendly and, I would say normally, caring about the environment.

When you meet other hikers on the trail, people here say hi and wish to each a good hike. It would be nice to respond in kind. Also, we are curious of nature and like to have trail conversation about where from you are coming, where are you going, what other routes you did, etc. So do not be surprised if this type of ad-hoc conversations pop-up in a middle of a difficult slope while you still breathing heavy due to the physical effort. Sociability on the mountain is something special.

I would add that Romanian hikers are also helpful. They will share with you their food and help you out read the route and giving you the precious indications you need. Do not be shy and ask about what you need! It is a high probability you will receive help.

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Where I am allowed to hike and on which trails? Are there any restrictions?

Atop Vanatoarea lui Buteanu (2507m)
Atop Vanatoarea lui Buteanu (2507m)

In Romanian Carpathians, with some notorious exceptions (like in parks where, in some case, you may be fined), you may wander on any direction of your choosing, with or without a visible trail. Nobody will tell you not to go.

Thus being said, when going to the mountains everyone talks, given the level of experience, about going on marcate (marked trails) or nemarcate (unmarked) routes. Marked routes are the ones where you follow a sign for orientation and usually there is already a well-defined trail. Unmarked routes designate all the other paths you may take on the mountain and lack a sign for orientation. Be careful though with these ones: usually they are more difficult and/or they lack a well-defined trail so it is harder to orientate yourself and easier to get lost.

All the marked routes should be indicated on a mountain map.

Orientation while on the route

In Romania is used a system of combinations between colors and geometrical shapes. Thus, during your hikes you will find 12 different signs which are the results of the combinations between red, blue and yellow colors (with a white outer edge) and vertical stripes, triangles and circles. Generally the red stripe stands for main ridge sections of the mountains the other marking connecting routes.

The signs are painted on trees, metal or wooden posts or on rocks. In winter, take care because you won’t see those painted on rocks because most probably they will be covered by snow.

From time to time, especially at cross – routes places there will be arrows pointing towards the destination while indicating the remaining time and the sign to follow.

Estimating duration of a given route

The duration of routes in Romania is indicated on maps and on sign/arrow posts in time units (quarter of hours, half hours, hours) and not distance or elevation difference to cover which take into consideration summer average time for average person carrying average backpacks. Take them as a useful indication not as the exact time you will make until you reach your destination. You might go slower or faster depending on your own physical condition or the terrain conditions on that particular day. Do not count yourself on these indications while hiking in winter. Usually it takes more and sometimes a lot more.

Difficulty of a given route

You should know that in Romania there is no system (yet) for indicating the degree of difficulty for the tourist routes (there is a standard system for alpinism routes). Neither on maps nor on the sign post along the routes will you find information regarding the difficulty of a route. So you need to document yourself in depth about a given route so as to know precisely what kind of emotions are in store for you: exposure, scrambling, cables for safety or leisure trails.

For winter, almost on every map and description of a more challenging route you will read the following text: Interzis iarna! (This means Forbidden in winter!). But don’t take this to heart; it is just a way to keep unprepared persons away from real dangers. Read it more like this: do not go on this route unless you are adequately equipped for winter, unless you are experienced on winter hikes and unless you are prepared to assume full responsibility for any accidents that may happen to you. Nobody will chase you on the snow route for giving you a fine.

Pensions, motels and hotels at the foot of the mountains are not the topic here. You will find them at the foot of every mountain. What we think of interest here is where you would sleep if you go hiking high in the mountains, summer or winter.

Generally we can categorize the accommodation mountain facilities as follows:

  1. Mountain huts
Buta Hut in Retezat Mountains
Buta Hut in Retezat Mountains

These are usually situated close to the upper edges of the forests and are very good starting points for higher altitude routes. You should know about them the following:

  • all the huts, with some exceptions (like Omu hut placed at 2500m in Bucegi mountains) are open all year long, including in winter.
  • you will better check before going if all the available places are booked or not so as to spare you of unpleasant surprises.
  • most of them have common bedrooms so you will sleep in the same room with lots of other hikers.
  • they all serve drinks, hot or not, and food.
  • generally, the rooms are heated with wood stoves so some smoke is to be expected but not cold, quite the contrary.
  • you will be provided with blankets so you do not need a sleeping bag but a summer light one might be of help.
  • in most cases you will find the toilets outside and not inside the huts.
  • the evening atmosphere is quite a happy one with usually some guitars playing for fun.
  • in Romanian Carpathians usually there are no early starts on the routes so breakfast is served starting around 8.00 in the morning.

2. Tourist’s Shelters

Tiganesti Shelter in Bucegi Mountain
Tiganesti Shelter in Bucegi Mountain

These are permanent wood, fiber or metal constructions which serve as shelters for hikers in bad weather or for the night and are usually to be found high on the mountains. Such shelters are mostly to be found in Fagaras, Bucegi, Retezat and Piatra Craiului. For all the other mountains they are not that common. You should know that:

  • there is nobody there to meet you up and you cannot find and buy anything there. They are just that: shelter to stay and sleep.
  • usually they are small and can accommodate up to 10 hikers at once.
  • because of this, in summer vacation especially, when planning staying overnight in one of them, make amends for a contingency plan in case the shelter is already full by the time you arrive.
  • they are usable in winter as well but having a shovel with you might help because sometimes the door is stuck with frozen snow and you must dig it out.
  • they are not heated so sleeping bag is mandatory if you plan to spend the night in one of them.
  • not all of them are placed near a water source, so be careful and carry the water with you.

3. Shepherd’s shelters

Shepherd shelter used in winter for hiking purposes
Shepherd shelter used in winter for hiking purposes

You will find lots of these in Romanian Carpathians. It is actually a feature of them. These are not actually for touristic use. These are situated almost without exception at the edge of the forests, around 1400-1500m, close to a water source. You should know:

  • during June-September time of the year they are inhabited by shepherds so basically, if you are not asking them about it you cannot stay there.
  • in summer it is maybe wiser, if you are not invited, to put some distance between you and the shepherd shelters because of the guard dogs (which may be quite a pack of them).
  • starting with September and until June they are abandoned by their former inhabitants so they are available as shelters for tourists (sleeping bag alarm bell again!).
  • expect earth floors with hearths in the middle of some room, heavy sheep smell, little order and, most important for you, wooden benches to sleep on.
  • some of them are well protected against wind, rain or snow but others are in bad need for some repairs so check the walls and the roof first before deciding to book one for the night.

Picture 170Campers are still a privileged species here in Romania. Except some easily identifiable locations, such as reservations and parks – which have their own rules you need to consult beforehand – and private properties, you may raise your tent in just about any location you might consider suitable for you. It does not matter if you raise it in a clearance in the woods, on the valley floor next to a rivulet or on an alpine meadow, camping (summer mainly) is at the heart or Romanian mountain tours. So, feel free to put your tent in your backpack and go about camping.

Camping in the vicinity of mountain huts or in parks it is usually allowed and in some cases you may need to pay either a small tent fee or a fee per person.

There are though some rules you should observe while on the mountain. They are rather universal in character:

  • Do not throw the garbage on the mountain and in the water! Carry every waste you produce while on the mountains and bring it down to where special collection facilities are in place. Thus we all can enjoy a clean landscape.
  • Do not cut trees or bushes for the evening fire! Usually you should be able to find dry branches fallen during the last autumn and winter and they are better.
  • If a hearth is already in place do not make another one.
  • Fellow campers go camping because they like being in the wild and to escape the crowded and noisy cities so it is not at all appropriate to a noisy city like atmosphere.
  • While camping near huts or in the woods, if the camping places are not fence protected, put your food bags in some tall trees around. The dogs won’t steal it and the bears will steal it (but will leave you alone). The chances for these to happen are low. But hey, do you really want to test them?

So, the point here is to leave as little trace as possible of your passing and keep the mountains clean as they should be.

P1010647I do not know how you manage your drinking water while in the mountain. Here, in Romanian Carpathians, we do not have that many restraints and drink it directly from most of the rivulets we found on the mountain. It is clean and cold.

So here are some rules to guide you as regards the drinking water while on the mountain:

  • Do not trust the large rivers at the foot of the mountain for drinking water, especially those in highly circulated tourist areas. But you will inevitable find small springs on their banks or rivulets flowing from their sides. Generally this would mean fresh drinking water.
  • Trust the water sources with a fast flow.
  • The higher you climb the more trusted should be the water sources you find on the way.
  • In the summer months, take the water as close to the main water source as you can. Sheep usually use the same rivulets for drinking and I guess you do not want to drink sheep tasting water (this being the smaller evil).
  • With some exceptions and in the very dry months, as regards the drinking water, the low height of Romania’s mountains is a blessing. Generally water is close at hand on every possible valley bed. Even in the ridge trails you will find water which will last you up for a few hours. And if you do not find it on the ridge trail, you always have the hard way option of descending a couple hundred meters in altitude and you will almost for sure water.

No matter how often you may find water sources on the trail, it is always good to carry some bottles full with water with you. Better some extra weight than some extra thirst.

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The individual mountain equipment you need to have with you in Romanian Carpathians is no different from any other mountain. The main focus for you should be its adjustment based on the season and the type of terrain you are going to hike.

Some pieces of equipment should never be missing from your backpack:

  • water bottle;
  • headlamp with spare batteries;
  • survival blanket and survival kit;
  • dry spare clothes;
  • breathable water repellant jacket;
  • hat;
  • wind stopper jacket.

Boots

For warm weather, snowless hikes, three season mountain boots are mandatory. Low ankle shoes or trail running shoes also work for most of the mountains but if you are inexperienced, boots are better in order to avoid twisted ankles.

Starting with late October or even sooner the paths may be covered in snow so check out before leaving for the mountains. If your intention is to get to a mountain hut, you will still manage to do it with three season mountain boots. If you have higher objectives in mind than winter mountain boots with rigid soles on which you can fit crampons start to be a good decision. The winter temperatures in the Romanian Carpathians are low but they do not stay continuously low so expedition mountain boots designed for high altitudes may be used but most of the time the ordinary winter mountain boots are a better choice.

Clothes

Summers are usually very hot in Romanian Carpathians especially if your trail is in the alpine floor of the mountain. It is then advisable to dress as light as you can but having in mind that you have to take some measures to protect you against the sun. Do not forget though to have in your backpack the cold weather clothes because the weather may change in a minute. Keep your clothes in the backpack in a plastic bag so as to have them dry even your rucksack gets wet.

In colder seasons prepare accordingly by dressing using the following principles: multi-layers, synthetic and breathable, water repellant and wind stopper. Do not forget hat and gloves, because starting with September and up to June you might need them badly. Gaiters for protection against snow should be one of your pieces of equipment once snow has fallen in the mountains.

Winter equipment

Winter is more fun but usually requires more material to carry with you: crampons, trekking poles, ice axe.

Technical equipment

For more exposed/technical trails carry with you at least a 30m rope, harnesses, locking carabiners, and anneaus or cordellete. Know in advance how to use them.

As a thumb rule, troubles in the mountains happen not because the mountain is dangerous and unpredictable but because we either are unprepared or we are unprepared. So, in order to stay out of the trouble, we need to know in advance what are the risks we need to deal with on the mountain, to relate them to our level of preparedness (in terms of physical capacity, mental capacity, technical skills, equipment, etc.) and choose our trail accordingly.

Coming back to Romanian Carpathians, first of all they are simply mountains alike any other mountains in the world. Thus, the risks you take let’s say in Scotland’s highlands are more or less similar to those you need to take into account in Romania’s mountains. It is just a matter of lesser or higher probability. I am referring here to the risk of falling off from a cliff, the risk of being injured by stone falling, the risk of exposure to storm and cold, the risk of being struck by lightning, the risk of getting rolled by an avalanche, the risk of breaking a cornice and the risk of getting lost due to bad orienteering in the woods or on white out fog.

Some mountain risks you will not find though in the Romanian Carpathians. These are:

  • Glacier related risks like falling in a crevasse and being struck by a falling serac; that is simply because Romania does not have glaciers.
  • Altitude related risks, again due to the low height of these mountains.

But there some risks which are highly specific to the Romanian Carpathians:

  1. The sheep guarding dogs.

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This is the single biggest risk you will take in your summer mountain hikes. And the fun is that it actually is not that big. During the summer months almost all mountain slopes are home to flocks of sheep which are inevitably guarded by some dogs … or more than just some. Actually you will enjoy very much the flows of sheep on the mountain watched as they are by dogs and their shepherd. Most of the times the dogs will bark at you from the distance and nothing unpleasant will happen. Sometimes, especially when you are too close to the sheep and the dogs outnumber you (especially if you travel alone) and your fellow hikers by at least 3 to 1 than you might be in trouble.

So here are some tips to avoid bad ends to this kind of encounter:

  • Try to keep some distance between you and the flock of sheep the dogs feel to own.
  • Do not count (at first) on the shepherd calling back his dogs.
  • Hiking poles/sticks are wonderful for keeping the dogs at bay.
  • Do not get scared and do not try to run, chances are they will run faster than you will ever will. Stay and face literally the dogs; guard your back with the backpack because the dogs’ tactic is to surround you.
  • Having some biscuits on you could be your salvation. Identify the leader and throw to him/her some biscuits.
  • Back up in the opposite direction from where the dogs came, but do it slowly and always watching towards the dogs.

2. Bears

P1070443One discussing about adventures in Romanian Carpathians, the talks inevitable get to bear face to face encounters in the mountain. It is always like in the fishing stories, some boasting, even for second hand tales, is included. But stories should be nice to tell because otherwise they would be boring.

Nevertheless at their core they must be true. The Romanian brown bear is a relative of the grizzly bears, carrying just about the same body weight so they should be taken seriously.

There are three let’s say standard situations you might meet them in the wild:

  1. At the edges of mountain resorts coming for garbage. These will look quite familiar with human presence but stay put: they are still wild animals. Be content to take photos from the distance.
  2. While on the mountain trails. The chances are not too big you know. It is not like every time you go on the mountain you will step right into a bear. Not at all actually. These are rare events. Usually the bears avoid the tourist circulated paths. Make sure you help them doing that: if you know you are in a bear area, talking loud and making some noise will scare them away.

While camping near mountain huts known to be visited often by bears at night. Some bears are used to easy food from the camping areas so they pay their visit regularly to these areas. This actually the most probable type of bear encounter. So ask before camping if the case is for such visit. If you do camp, put your food high in a tree. This does not guard your food against the bears but lowers the chances for being visited in your tent in the middle of the night.

One last remark about getting lost in the Romanian Carpathians! Of course, having a compass and a map and the knowledge to use them is of tremendous help. Having a GPS is even better. But let’s assume you have neither of them. And most of the mountains in Romania are still devoid of phone signal so it is a high probability you won’t be able to call for help. In these cases, once again the low height of the Romania Carpathians works to your advantage. No matter how high you are you will never be too far from an inhabited area. A full day to reach such areas should be enough. The best thing to do is to follow little river valleys (try to choose one which is not too steep) which for sure will take you to bigger river valleys and so on, until you will reach a mountain road. Take mountain roads on the river valleys as a certainty. Follow them and the rivers that flow beside them until you reach inhabited areas. They usually are 20 to 40 km long. You just need to keep going.

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P1070198In Romania each county with mountain terrain has a permanent mountain rescue service backed up also by volunteers. This professional service is called SALVAMONT.

In case of emergency (injury, getting lost, exhaustion etc.) you may call for help from Salvamont:

  • By calling directly at 0-SALVAMONT. The trick here is that you don’t need to remember a number but you have just to dial by choosing the letters which are easier to remember. Each letter represents the actual number you need to dial.
  • By calling to the national unique emergency number. That is 112. They will then redirect your call to the emergency services, including Salvamont.

When calling or being called back, try to be as clear and specific as you can. These guys know English so you will be able to communicate using this language. Being in the mountains, any rescue is always difficult so understand that precious hours will be necessary for the Salvamont teams to reach you, especially if you cannot offer clear data regarding your exact location and they have to search for you in wider areas.

Remember though that the phone networks still do not cover extensive areas of the Romanian mountains so there is a high probability that you won’t be able to call at all. Thus it is advisable that you should never hike, bike, ski, climb alone but with at least one partner so as one can go and ask for help in case of emergency.

Romania has a network of diverse and sometimes confusing areas designed for nature preservation: National Parks, Natural Parks, Natural and/or Scientific Reservations, Natura 2000 sites, natural monuments. It does not matter, the point here is that the EU standards for nature preservation apply here too and the difference between all this confusing terms is one of degree of preservation and allowance for human activity and, of course, one of scale.

If some mountain in Romania is designated with one of the above mentioned terms, then:

  • You would guess quite correctly that it should be a more beautiful mountain than the rest, with a lot of diversity as regards the rocks, flora and fauna; otherwise they would not have bothered.
  • There should be some rules regarding your access into this area, where you are allowed to camp, to hike, to make fire etc. and you should know of them in advance, for avoiding any unwelcomed fines, by consulting the parks websites; these websites were financed mostly by EU funds so they have an English page incorporated.
  • You might expect in some cases entrance fees but not big ones.

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This is the list of Romanian National Parks with links to their websites:

  • Buila-Vanturarita
  • Calimani
  • Ceahlau
  • Cheile Bicazului – Hasmas
  • Cheile Nerei – Beusnita
  • Cozia
  • Defileul Jiului
  • Domogled – Valea Cernei
  • Macinului
  • Rodnei
  • Piatra Craiului
  • Retezat
  • Semenic – Cheile Carașului