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:
- The sheep guarding dogs.
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.
One 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:
- 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.
- 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.