What is different in the Carpathians
Contrary to many other long-distance hikes, in the Carpathians you find few ranges where you can meet scores of tourists – Strážovské vrchy, Tatry, Východní Beskydy, Muntii Rodnei, Piatra Craiului, Fagaras, Retezat – but mostly you walk trails, ridges and forest roads where you are the only hiker in a day, a week or two. At some places there is no trail visible and you need to make a trail on your own.
To make the point, in Slovakia I met only 1 multi-day hiker on 200 km between Slovenský raj and the Dukla pass. Apart from Polonina Borzhava I met only 2 hikers in Ukraine but could see 3 tents at Polonina Svidovec. The number of multi-day hikers I met between Rodnei and Piatra Craiului was 2 (two) on the distance of 500 km.
This does not mean there are no humans in the mountains. A settlement is rarely more distant then a day walk and the mountains are inhabited by shepherds along with their herds and dogs in summer. Hikers are visitors in their land and it is better to avoid Carpathians unless you want to accept this fact. Hiking trails follow the paths shepherds have been using for centuries and that is why the shepherd-dogs attacks are so frequent in Romania. At many places a walking hiker is treated as a being that appeared out of thin air and the locals simply do not know, how to react in this situation. On the other hand, you can be sure the locals help you, when in real need.
Apart from Slovakian E8 it is very unlikely you meet any long-distance hikers. I almost met with Michał Kulanek who was walking across Carpathians in the same direction and we connected through Facebook.
The other side of the coin of isolation is freedom. Freedom to walk and camp, collect forest fruits one hardly experiences in other European mountain ranges today. This of course does not apply to strict national parks (Tatras, Bukovské vrchy, Rodnei, Ceahlau, Fagaras, Piatra Craiului, Retezat), where hikers should stick to the designated paths and camping areas.
Bears, „wild“ dogs and thunderstorms are the dangers you cannot avoid walking across the Carpathians. Ticks, fleas and bedbugs are looking forward to meet you along the way. I plan to write more about each.
Unlike in the Alps, outdoor shops are far, far away from the mountains and you can easily tear your gear while elbowing through bushes or new growth at places where once might had been a path. The „land management“ has been changing significantly in Romania and Ukraine since 1990s. After clearcuts and thunderstorms paths are blocked by logs and overgrown by high grass and bushes. Often old paths diminish in the new growth as they are not used so frequently today. This means lot of improvisation and preparedness.
My gear was not the lightest one for I knew I might not meet a person for days and wanted to be prepared for all sorts of troubles. Thinking back I did not use about 450 grams of repair kits, first aid stuff and pepper sprays but I would not give up more than a third of it next time to keep on the safe side.
The backpack base-weight at the start was 9,3 kilos but I reduced it later to 8,8 kilos. Along with water for a day and food for 7 days I tried to be always below 15 kilos of total weight. I could go below 8 kilos base-weight without my Epipen medication, solar panel, keyboard, Leatherman knife and reducing my cookware. However, water and food management play the important role at the end of the day.
I promise to share more about the gear later, however, my advice would be do not apply experiences from popular US trails to Carpathians and mind that the guys out there making videos about ultralight backpacking earn their money from your clicks.
However much I did not considered my journey a sport performance but a pilgrimage, I must admit that the fact I wanted to walk all the Carpathians in the given time turned the hike into kind of a contest. Unlike during my previous journeys I felt I lost the feeling of freedom once I was comparing my advance with the schedule I prepared before.
But in other aspects I followed the philosophy I had embraced 25 years ago: local sources + less comfort = less weight = more experiences. The philosophy I learned in the book Carpathian Games by Miloslav Nevrlý.