“Beyond the green swelling hills of the Mittel Land rose mighty slopes of forest up to the lofty steeps of the Carpathians themselves. Right and left of us they towered, with the afternoon sun falling full upon them and bringing out all the glorious colors of this beautiful range, deep blue and purple in the shadows of the peaks, green and brown where grass and rock mingled, and an endless perspective of jagged rock and pointed crags” Bram Stoker : Dracula
Vârful Turnu (Tower Peak)
I get a Whats App from a Transylvanian known as Ovi who is going to be our guide for the mountains tomorrow. I know the usual is for the guide to take unfit tourists only as far as the mountain hut. Which is fair enough if you are not much of a hiker but we didn’t come this far for half a job. So I message Ovi back letting him know we do a lot of mountain walking and scrambling and we are up for an actual adventure. We both cross our fingers hoping he’s as mad as we are….
The next day he turns up outside our rented apartment in Brasov. He’s dressed in all matching proper mountain walking gear which is good to see, if he had turned up dressed in sandals and jeans we’d have been worried. As soon as we get in the car he starts blasting out heavy metal which might put some people off but not us… now I know we are going to all get on well!
We talk about what we are going to do in the mountains, Ovi speaks really good English which will be useful if we get into any trouble. It also turns out he is a qualified mountain guide with a ton of experience. The mountain we are off to hike up it turns out is Vârful Turnu which means ‘Tower Peak’ which sounds pretty epic. And we are going to start the route walking through the mountain gorges.
Starting at the foot of the mountains and walk up through tall, dense ancient forest like we have never seen in the UK. This landscape makes you feel truly tiny and at the moment there’s a trail but it won’t be long until it turns into real wilderness. We soon enter into a vast and steep sided limestone gorge.
After walking some distance up this gorge we turn off onto a barely visible dirt trail straight up into the forest that me and Andy barely notice. I’m really glad to see this bypasses all of the other tourists and is best described as right up the side, which of course is my favourite way to approach a mountain climb!
The forest we are now in is steep and incredibly wild. I have to turn around occasionally just to make sure Andy hasn’t been eaten by any of the wildlife. I don’t hear screaming and chewing sounds so I reckon he’s all good.
After climbing for about an hour we enter a mountain pasture with a shack which opens to a vast landscape. It’s here we get a proper sight of some of what we are going to tackle today. Above us is the huge ridge line of the Piatra Craiului which comprises of many peaks, and according to Ovi this ridge-line would take about two days to hike as a whole and it is very exposed.
From the mountain pasture and we ascend again to the foot of the mountain hut. Here there’s fresh water here just running out of a pipe in the side of the mountain. As this is coming straight from a spring this is ok to drink and fill our bottles with. At this point Ovi gives us the option to stop here and finish at the mountain hut which we immediately turn down, or to continue. He’s more than happy with the choice to keep going to the summit.
As we head up through the steep ascent of yet more forest this is when we ask Ovi about bears. He tells us has only ever seen one from far away as they are actually very shy, and what would should actually be concerned about is the snakes (snakes??) apparently that’s what he uses his trekking poles to search out! There’s a few species of viper with a venomous bite in Romania apparently. Luckily we haven’t bumped into these any Lynx’s, Wild Boar or Bears at all this trip.
The way gets steeper as we begin to scramble up loose limestone scree rock. Ovi who as a mountain guide talks us through the flowers we can see as we make our way up the scree strewn gully.
We pass through mountain meadows full of colorful flowers and I stop walking, thinking for a moment that I’ve just seen a bee almost the size of a golf-ball. Andy and Ovi see what I’m looking at and it dawns on me this thing has a beak . This is really rare, we are actually seeing a humming bird in flight feeding on a flower. I try and take a photo of it but it’s just way too tiny and it just looks like just a blur with two eyes and a beak to my camera.
We eventually climb up onto the ridge-line and the cloud is still down but is clearing slightly and we get a glimpse of the sheer cliffs of this mountain as the clouds pass over. I think Ovi gets a bit worried by how close I’m standing to the edge. As far as I’m concerned as long as I’m looking at those two instead of up at them then I’m ok.
We walk through tall weathered bushes on either side of the ridge-line and then start to scramble again towards the summit. Considering how exposed it is up here it’s surprising just how thick the shrubs up here are. Ovi assures us we can use them to hold onto and they will take our weight, which they do.
Finally reaching the summit is a great feeling (it always is!), especially as Ovi has said he doesn’t take most tourists all the way to the top, because they are either unfit or unprepared. On this occasion he has taken us to the top as like he’s told us: he knew we were capable from how prepared we were and the pace we have kept up for the whole trek. We both take this as a big compliment as we do quite a few mountain hikes. At the moment we are standing at 1923m (in perspective the highest mountain in the UK is Ben Nevis which stands at 1,345m). The clouds are clearing and we are treated to an epic view of the surrounding area, we can see for miles around, huge valleys and mountains shrouded in cloud. This is everything and more than I’d expected to see and I can see just why this beautiful but unforgiving landscape inspired so many horror writers.
At this point I’m expecting a bit of a relaxed descent at least until Ovi ask’s us if we want to try and summit the next mountain, this will involve climbing down onto the saddle between the two mountains and then back up again. Of course we are up for so we set off. He explains to us how the descent is very steep and there’s been cables put in by the local mountain rescue for people to climb up and down, a little like Via Ferrata. (This translates to ‘the iron way’ in Italian and refers to mountaineering using metal cables and staples bolted into the rock) . Soon enough we find out just how steep… we are also met by some even more epic scenery on the way down and lot’s of breathless Romanian hikers.
The way is steep and it looks pretty intense, well it is really intense but I’m getting some proper adrenaline off it in places. Andy is asking if I’m ok as he knows I only started really combating anxiety a few months ago and this is a real test.
Especially this bit where I’m holding onto a cable with a good few hundred metre drop behind me with a tiny flat bit to bounce off before my body hurtles down the mountain. (Obviously it didn’t but I get the image in my head)
Along the way we bump into lots of hikers, who Ovi seems to know about 90% of and there seems to be quite a few people out at the moment, literally in the middle of nowhere. A few people try and start conversations in Romanian with us which is slightly awkward as so far we can only say ‘Excuse me do you speak English?’. At this point it seems like the right moment to ask Ovi what has been bugging us (mainly Andy) all trip. ‘Ovi! Doe’s anybody in Transylvania drink tea?’ Guess what…tea isn’t a thing in Romania. Damn……
We stop part way down and snack on some mountain strawberries which are just poking out of the floor. These things are tiny and vary from tasting super sour all the way to strawberry ice cream.
Unfortunately it;s at this point Ovi points out that with the time we have left there’s no way we will manage to get to summit the other mountain. We have been hiking now for the best part of five hours now. So we make our way down through super steep trails snaking through the ancient mountain forest until we pass through the mountain pastures.
We briefly stop at the mountain hut for a beer and I get a really simply spicy sausage stew (which tastes amazing) and admire the view for a bit.
The scene here is such a great way to finish the hike, the suns out and the sky is sapphire blue. The sound of bells from hundreds of cows ring and bounce through the valley, echoing around while we get checked out by a Transylvanian sheepdog.
Further down the valley we hear people singing in the car park which we find a bit weird, and asking Ovi apparently it is a thing to ‘Sing to the mountain’ after hiking up it. At this point it’s probably a good time to head back to Brasov before we end up chanting Iron Maidens ‘Fear of The Dark’ at the not so distant peak….
Full video at follows at the bottom of this post.