Summer weekends are a thrill!
There is no better way for recharging your batteries than a short outdoors trip after a busy week. It energizes you, takes your mind off work & stress and (If done right) it also gives you a chance to get a good workout: by swimming, hiking or taking up extra physical activities.
The last weekend has not only fitted well into the whole concept of “Relaxing while being active” – for me it brought a whole new meaning to the word “hiking”. As a couple we enjoy outdoor trips but we are by no means professional mountaineers and for both of us this has been the most strenuous hike so far. It felt like a really exciting (and painful) challenge to put behind us more than 20km (12.5 miles) of rocky mountain terrain and “conquer” 5 peaks within a single day (10 hours, to be more precise).
We started with Musala: the highest peak on the Balkan peninsula (2925metres). It owes its name to an old Arabic expression which means “Close to God”. The peak is in the gorgeously beautiful Rila Mountains and depending on your pace it takes about 3-4 hours of hiking after you get dropped off the lift [see some additional practical details on the hike].
One of the best things about the route from Musala to Zavratchitsa hut is that you get a lot of variety: different levels of elevation, beautiful nature, picturesque mountain huts, gorgeous lakes and a mixture of very easy hiking and some challenging steep slopes.
The last part of the hike up to Musala offers two options:
-an easier path, accessible both for seniors and young children, and
-a steep route up with a metal rope to help you with your balance
The second option is slightly faster and it is not completely impossible even for beginners. However, it can be a bit more physically challenging and downright dangerous along the way so proceed with caution and always stick to the rope: especially when there is thick fog along the way (i.e most of the time).
Many tourists are satisfied with climbing only Musala – the hike is pleasant and it can really get your heart racing. Some athletes and local sport clubs even organize mountain running and race to the top (the photo below)
This weekend we were even lucky enough to see the preparations for a one of a kind mountain rock concert at the top, organized by Tangra Radio. Unfortunately, Musala was along 1/3rd of our route, so we couldn’t stay and see the bands: we still had half a day of hiking in front of us!
We actually heard most of the music on our way to the other peaks due to the great mountain acoustics. The monster zoom (x45) of my mirrorless Panasonic Lumix even helped us see some of the crowd in front of the scene from hundreds of meters away (the photo above).
The gorgeous scenery on our way to the other peaks (the two Twins, Marishki and Mancho) really reminded me of the beautiful Seven Rila Lakes but without the crowds and the exploitation of nature, caused by uncontrolled touristic access to glacial ecosystems.
As you can see from the photos I took during the trip (all images in this post are copyright protected, by the way, please use proper attribution if you want to repost them): the scenery was breathtaking.
The hike was literally breathtaking as well: I strongly advise you not to try it if you don’t have any physical training whatsoever. Even if you do: if you want to survive the thrill I definitely recommend stacking on water, raw nuts and some Johnnie Walker for motivation to “Keep walking” 😉 It worked quite well for us.
Reaching Zavratchitsa mountain hut was like finally reaching a oasis in the desert: after about 10 hours of hiking, our feet, knees and empty stomachs stopped enjoying the view and just kept on moving forward, hoping for a place to rest.
The hut is old and it is a low maintenance place. If you are a picky traveler, perhaps it isn’t the best place for you: the toilets are outside and there are no showers, so it isn’t an option for spending more than one night. The scenery around it, however, is absolutely amazing and it is something you wouldn’t get in any fancy hotel. So buckle up, come with friends and just deal with the bear necessities of mountain travel. The hosts also offer some lovely home-made rakia to help you cope with the thought of the outdoors bathroom.
Another benefit of the hut is that early in the morning you can also see beautiful horses gathering at the hut for food and water.
On the next day we had “only” about 10km hike to the Sitnyakovo lift: two-way tickets are 12lv per person and are valid for a week so you can go up the mountain via one Borovets lift and go back via another. From Zavratchitsa we took the path to the Maritsa 1900 (note this is not the Maritsa hut) and then a lovely forest path to Chakar Voyvoda hut.
Don’t worry if you have issues finding it on the map: local people are very helpful and will give you guidelines how to get from one place to another. Having a GPS device is also a good idea – especially if you suspect you will be in the area after dark. Don’t count on phone reception: there is none in this area, so plan your trip safely and make sure you have paced the route in a way that leaves you enough time to get from one hut to another.
This last part of the route (from Zavratchitsa to Chakar Voyvoda) was my favourite one: the forests of Rila mountain are absolutely beautiful and some hills along the way offered breathtaking views across the valley. Plus it is only a three hour hike which isn’t demanding at all.
After Chakar Voyvoda where we had a quick lunch with lentil soup and beer, it was all a joy ride. It takes about an hour to get to the Sitnyakovo lift- a popular spot for mountain bikers. As you can see from the photo- these guys were no less tired than us.
In a nutshell: a challenging, beautiful and really rewarding weekend. I feel like I can endure almost anything after this hike.
✓Bring water, nuts & energy bars, suncreen and rain gear just in case. Good shoes are an absolute must because the hike is quite demanding and the terrain is tricky: forget about sneakers/chucks. Good hiking shoes will be a life-saver. Also for the thoughest (and most painful parts of the journey) several drops of good whiskey or rum can go a long way for warming you up in the mountain.
✓ If you want to do the same hike: you need to take the Yastrebets lift, otherwise you will not be able to get to Zavratchitsa before nightfall. It opens at 9.00 am but there are huge lines (especially on weekends), so arrive a bit earlier if you want to save yourself some hassle
✓You can get a roundtrip pass for the lift for 12BGN (6 EUR): the ticket is valid for more than a week so you don’t have to come back within a tight time limit
✓Take the Yastrebets Lift from the central part of Borovets on your way up. From the lift drop-off point to the Musala summit it took us about 3 hours – including a short break for soup at the hut underneath. Of, course, depending on your skill level and pace this estimated time might vary greatly. From Musala to Zavratchitsa you will pass along the two Twins (couple of peaks), Marishki Peak and a lovely picturesque scenery.
✓The hike is long and exhausting so make sure you have at least some level of physical preparation and if you are new to hiking make sure you go prepared for a not-so-easy hike. It took us a total of about 9 hours and over 25km (15.5 miles)
✓From Zavratchitsa: take the path to Chakar Voivoda hut which will take you through the beautiful forest you see on the photos and ultimately to your ride back via the Sitnyakovo lift (going to Borovets). Make sure you get to the lift before 5 p.m because it doesn’t run afterwards.