Going westwards

The turning point

Morning near the shelter

When started hiking from the shepherds‘ house to the south on Monday 5th August, I noticed fresh wolf’s tracks at the same place I spotted older ones the day before while searching for water. Some blueberry pickers were harvesting the nearby hill and there was even a tourist marking passing by my last night’s shelter. The joy from these touches of civilization drained soon. Though there were tourist signs telling that „the meteo station is 15 minutes closer than it was at the previous one“ built with the support of EU funds, the trail was soon hard to recognize in juniper and blueberries and then it led through a forest damaged by a windstorm.

The EU supported signage was frequent but the trail poor

I regretted I had not put the rain overcoat for my trousers (not talking about shoes) were totally soaked so I needed to wring water out of them. My speed was frustrating 1 kilometre per hour as I needed to be careful not to make an injury while crossing the fallen trees.

Penteleu (1772)

The peak of Penteleu (1772) is a real landmark that can be seen from distance. For me this was the point where from I started walking westwards. The peak offered beautiful views on south-east Vrancea mountains but I did not wanted to stay long as the clouds were moving fast and I feared a thunderstorm might come.

The much advertised meteo station is just below the peak to the west. This one was in much better shape than the one I visited at Rețițiș peak in the Călimani mountains. I asked the officer if I can charge my devices during the lunch break and ended up in a kitchen boosting my lunch ratio with bread and cheese from the good man. Unfortunately I could not wait till my socks and shoes dried at a large ceramic stove and continued my journey.

Though there were lot of panels and a picnic spot, the meteorologist told me tourists are scarce

The trail from Penteleu was well marked so I went fast to the valley of river Basca Mare. I could imagine this turns into superb kayaking experience at higher water levels. From there I needed to cross Podu Calului mountains to the valley of Buzău river. It was a long walk on a gravel road used by logging trucks. I passed by some run-down mines and industrial structures reminding me of 1980s Romania.

I wanted to be in the Buzău valley for the night so I tried to walk fast but my mood was down. At that point I knew I could not finish the hike to the Danube in the given time, maybe if I hitch-hike from Petroşani to Baile Herculane. The road was dusty, only few cars passed by and I was listening to some existential music (for Czechs: Radúza, Plíhal, 80s Nohavica). I wished a truck or a car stops and picks me up but I did not wanted to hitch-hike and spoil my hiking effort.

In the late afternoon I turned to the north from the road and started ascent some mountain range. A stream exposed layers of sediments while carving the valley. The trail marking disappeared somewhere in the dense forest so I rather followed a forest road and after climbing up to a poiana I made wild descend towards Buzău valley whilst it was getting dark. Fortunately I came to a forest road and found great camping spot a mile from the valley.

A screaming tourist

Great advantage of my camping spot was a stream few meters away so I used this opportunity to have hot shower and make laundry in the morning of Tuesday 6th August. It was a good decision not to go the the Buzau river valley as there was a settlement with wild dogs and the valley was quite busy. Soon I learned why the tourist trail goes a mile to the south. Crossing to the settlement was a ford that seemed too deep to me so I rather found a place further upstream where I crossed the river. The stream was strong and at some points water reached my belly.

I admit I look scary in certain light conditions (the scared lady is behind me)

I continued on a marked trail to Siriu mountains. The ascent of 900 metres is quite steep and I soon met the first tourists on a day-hike. Actually the first tourists I had met in 10 days! A man was about 30 meters ahead of a lady behind a curve of a forest road when I greeted her „Buna ziua“ (Good morning) from about 15 meters behind. Before continuing the story I must admit I had learned to walk very silently while passing shepherds‘ houses. She yelled then turned towards me and screamed for about 30 seconds her arms stretched. The man ran to calm her down. I felt embarrassed, apologized and continued walking wondering if my appearance is really so bad that I scare people.

Siriu (1657) to the left, Malaia (1662) to the right

Up under the Siriu peak I entered a different world. There were tourists (making one-day tour to the Siriu lake), grazed grass and the mountains looked great in the sunshine. After losing the trail for a while I continued to Munții Tătarului.

Munții Tătarului

I walked fast through the grassy mountains with easily recognizable trail. This was completely different experience from those of previous days. I soon learned it was the Romanian national day as there were many people coming to the mountains to picnic. One family watched my fight with about 10 dogs while grilling. This was an interesting fight because I met the shepherd 80 meters from dogs and he told me „the dogs are wild“ and went his way. So what? Shall I wait for him to return or change my way or wait for the dogs to leave? This was a close range fight but I learned a new trick. I took a big stone to my hand and shouted a nasty Czech word and all the wild dogs calmed down in a second. I spent some time wondering what could work well in the fights with dogs and came out with the idea of fireballs.

Bucolic evening in eastern Ciucaş

Late afternoon I started ascending Ciucaş. I felt my energy reserves are empty. I wanted to make it to the mountain hotel under the most visited part of Ciucaş, fill my stomach and hopefully laundry the rest of my gear, not just socks and the shirt I made in the morning. I was stopping frequently to make photos of beautiful vistas that opened behind every curve.

Eastern Ciucaş
German carmaker is popular with shepherds near the Ciucaş hotel

I was not sure if the tourist marking seems funny to me because I am missing blood sugar or it really seems more like an exercise in physics. Counting every meter, I finally made it to the hotel exhausted. I ordered a meal of 4 courses and drank 3 colas. Although they had no vacancy, they showed me an empty dining room where I could stay in a sleeping bag. I was also promised they made the laundry but later at night I was told that „it is not possible to make laundry on the national day.“ So I went to the sleeping bag a bit disappointed as this meant I would need to start later tomorrow waiting for my garments, however generosity of the staff was remarkable.

Long walk through Grohotiş

I did not hurry on Wednesday 7th August since the breakfast was served from 8 am and I needed to wait for the laundry anyway. At 7:30 am an older lady came to my room with all my stuff washed, dried and probably even ironed. I could not comprehend how she made it and was keeping myself not to hug and kiss her.

So after the breakfast in the hotel with such a generous staff I walked the most beautiful part of the Ciucaş mountains. The weather was great offering stunning views on the conglomerate sculptures these mountains are famous for. There were lot of blueberry pickers and no tourists but this changed as I was coming closer to the Bratocea pass (1270). However, all the tourists were one-day visitors only.

The only person I met at Grohotis apart from shepherds and blueberry pickers

I followed my pre-planned trail through the Grohotiş mountains. A decision I later regretted. I was at the Bratocea mountain pass at about noon and at 5 pm still just 6 kilometres away as a crow flies. The main ridge makes here a big C-shape turn. Some parts are not grazed anymore so walking is a bit difficult whilst later the day I went through several dog fights in the areas with sheep. For the first time I could see clearances after junipers that were made by shepherds in order to enlarge their pastures. However, the eastern part of the mountains offered nice views towards Ciucaş.

Grohotiş (1768) far left, Bobul Mic (1752) in the middle

Last year we shortcutted from below Paltin to Ciucaş through a valley with my son and wife and it was a good decision also from the point of altitude difference. I got under a severe dog attack at the same place as we did last year. Unlike other shepherds who are usually sorry they cannot control their dogs, this one was aggressive towards me saying it is my fault since I am walking alone.

On the way to Neamtu

I wanted to end the day in Neamtu mountains that night. So I went to the dark ascending 600 meters from Predeluş pass taking one pill of fructose for every 100 altitude metres.

Sun is above the pass below Paltin (1900), where I stayed overnight

My backpack was light because I had almost no food left, but energy reserves were low too. Fortunately I got fresh memories about this range – it helps enormously if a hiker knows, where the water is and does not need to search for a good place to sleep. Exhausted I finally made it to the pass below the main peak – Paltin (1900m) cooked dinner on alcohol and went to bed. After a long time I got good sleep as the temperature and wind in the pass were optimal for my sleeping bag.

Exhausted and filled

Morning view from my tarp

I started as early as possible on Thursday 8th August looking forward to Buşteni where a support packet awaited me. I also wanted walk the mountains before the herds would come to the peaks.

Unfortunately the way to Buşteni took much longer than I expected. On the other hand the weather was beautiful and the walk on the Paltiniş and Giugului mountains offered magnificent views over the ranges and towards the cliff of the Bucegi mountains. Naming of mountain ranges in this area is quite messy – using names of Neamtu and Gărbova would be correct too.

View from Giugului mountains towards Buşteni (in the valley) and Bucegi
Tourist town of Buşteni

After a long descent I came to the town at about 2 pm, much later than I expected. My head was spinning from low blood sugar level so I first went to a shop to raise it with cola and ate as much as possible. Then my steps went to a vintage post office where I took the parcel I had sent from Borsec. I repacked it and send the things I would not need anymore to my friends in the Nocrich Scout centre. The operation took almost two hours and the clerks were so nice they allowed my electronics to charge meanwhile and tolerated the mess and smells in their clean kingdom.

Then I went to a confectionary and started shopping for the next ten days. I foolishly spent my time in two shops (Penny Market and ProfiCity) where shop assistants were sending me from one shelf to another just to acknowledge they had neither buckwheat, nor instant mashed potatoes or good instant soups. If I went to Carefour first, I would have saved my nerves and time. They had everything, even at different quality levels. As it does not make sense for me to buy large amounts while on the hike, I rather go for smaller package of higher price per unit, often organically grown.

It was strange feeling being in civilization again after one month in the mountains. I can remember the impression there are so many things available there that a man actually does not need for life, yet people buy them. The money also kind of lost their value for me. I was just buying what I wanted, knowing I can eat and carry only limited amounts. I must warn future hikers – there is no outdoor shop in Buşteni, though so many tourists go from here to the mountains. I wanted to buy a collapsible bottle and considered new hiking boots but there was nowhere to shop.

Walking back the entire town from Carefour I was looking for some accommodation. Though Buşteni is a tourist town full of hotels, there were no vacancies, probably due to the national holiday within that week.

Camping spot right on the edge of Buşteni

When my stomach got ready to accept another meal, I went for a pizza right next to the cable car station, with the idea to walk to the refugiu 1,5 hours away from Buşteni. It got dark when I started walking but a man stopped me saying that the tourists that just came my planned way saw bears. So when I saw a nice meadow just few hundred meters from a hotel and the station of a cable car, I built my tarp there. Before I finished the construction, a car came and started shooting at bears that were trying to enter the town just hundred meters from me. However, I felt safe as there were other settlements with dogs between my tarp and the mountains.

Thunderstorm at Bucegi

It was still dark when I got up and swiftly packed. I decided to go up by the cable car that operated from 8:30 am on Friday 9th August. Though the sky was dark with forecasted drizzling, the queue for the cable car was already about hundred meters long, when I joined it at 7:45 am. There was a pack of taxi drivers who used the opportunity to persuade queuers to give up waiting and go up with their cars for similar price. I started conversation with one family that was queuing next to me and they helped me when the operators were searching for a single person to fill a cabin, thus I was able to skip half the queue. The ride offered breathtaking views and I was happy to take it.

With the cable car I got swiftly to the mountains along with dozens of tourists, most of them not equipped for walk in mountains. After making mandatory photos of rock sculptures, I walked fast towards Omul peak (2507) as a thunderstorm was approaching from Leaota mountains. When I reached a mountain rescue service station under Baba Mare (2292), I realized the storm is coming much faster and I ran as fast as possible back to the closest mountain chalet.

Bucegi panorama from below Baba Mare (2292)
View backwards to the east from Șaua Cerbului (2340)

I came just in the nick of time – it was already difficult to climb the stairs to the chalet due to wind but I made it right before the storm started. Along with dozens other tourists we filled the restaurant and watched lightnings beating the range from behind windows. I used the opportunity to write the blog and chat with a Polish couple that was exploring Romania for the first time. Writing a day takes me between 0.5-1 hour so the restaurant was empty when I finished the week as the sun was shining again. I ordered a soup believing they let me charge my smartphone but they refused. If they only knew what this meant to me.

Lion in the Șaua Cerbului pass below Bucura (2503)

The walk across Bucegi mountains was fast and beautiful. Visibility was great after the storm and my biggest problem was not to take too many pictures as the air was clean and the sky clear after the thunderstorm. When reaching the western ridge, where one-day tourist do not make it, I could see the wall of Piatra Craiului to the west.

I made a lunchbreak at Refugiu Șaua Strunga (1893), where I met a first multi-day hiker since Călimani mountains 500 km away.

Refugiu Șaua Strunga

He was out only for one overnight with surplus of food so I gratefully accepted his offer of canned sardines. What a difference from the last year, when we were crowding inside with a group of French scouts and some Romanians during rain. From there I continued on Leaota mountains admiring beautiful views on the western cliff of Bucegi.

Views towards Leaota (2133) from Santilia Mare (1887)

Despite of the beauty, the walk seemed too long to me. I can say that in general I underestimate the connecting ranges and overestimate length of the main ones. Actually connecting ridges are more difficult as the trail is not marked or marked poorly and it might be a lot of walking up and down. Though I wanted to come closer to Fundățica village, I stayed overnight in a forest 5 kilometres away near a good water source. This enabled me to have shower and make laundry the next morning.

Superclimb on Piatra Craiuliui

A family searching for mushrooms passed by early morning of Saturday 10th August. They were surprised to see someone camping in a forest but we turned it into a friendly conversation.

People from cities are buying weekend homes

I walked fast which resulted into losing the way twice. In the village of Fundata I found a shop and planned to buy the rest of the food for Piatra Craiului, Făgăraş and maybe even Lotru mountains I intentionally had not bought in Busteni to save weight. The shop was a huge disappointment. They even have not got sugar! Oil and chocolate were the only commodities I took from the shop, no dry fruits and no sugar. I also repaired my shoes with fast glue. My trail continued to settlements that have recently been acquired by people from cities as weekend homes. Unfortunately their rebuilding efforts often do not respect regional architectural heritage. We agreed on that with a Romanian – Belgian couple that joined me for a mile.

Piatra Craiului was in the clouds for the whole day

At 4 pm I was near a spring under Piatra Craiului. In my original plans this should have been my camping spot, however, my timing planned 4 months before did not work like that. So I decided to ascent 800 metres up the steep slope of Piatra Craiului with the idea to either stay at refugiu under Omul peak or descent the same day on the other side of the range. It was Saturday and Piatra was busy. Much busier than last year, when we traversed the whole cliff south-north meeting about 20 people throughout the whole day. I can without exaggeration say, that within 3 hours I met more hikers here than I had met for the last 30 days / 1000 km. I could also spot one of many capricorns living here.

The 3 hour route (according to the tourist signage) took me only 100 minutes. This time Piatra did not show its beauty as the higher parts of the cliff were in clouds.

Visibility was poor in 2019 (below) in comparison to 2018 (up), but I was still lucky comparing to August 1998 when we experienced a thunderstorm with snow followed by rain and fog on this narrow ridge
At La Om (2238)

When I reached the refugiu under La Om (2238) peak there were about 15 people desperate to find a place to sleep on the outside as the refugiu was full and others were still coming. So I started to descent the western face of the cliff. I quickly realized how poor my memory is. I could remember steep descent from 1998 visit but it was actually much harder then I had expected. The climbing is level 4 at some points and falling stones from other tourists are the main danger. The effort was rewarded by beautiful views towards Făgăraş.

Steep descent to the west

Anyway, used to climbing I was down sooner than other tourists we were having conversation with but it was getting dark fast and I had no water. I followed the western cliff to the south, the foothpath was barely visible and scores of tourists disappeared. Fortunately I met 3 older men, mountain veterans, I would say. They were excited about my journey and gave me tip to a camping spot with a water source nearby. They also estimated I could be in the pass under Zorna tomorrow and finish the journey in 20 days, which was a bit depressing considering I got only two weeks remaining.

I tried to find the spot as fast as possible but 1) I could not stop watching the cliff turning red at sunset and 2) I needed to go through a clearcut overgrown by vegetation so it was almost dark when I reached the meadow the mountain veterans advised. There were some sounds from the forest during the night but I could see no bears coming to the meadow.

Begging for food

The day looked great in the morning of Sunday 11th August. I started early and enjoyed watching as the first sunrays touched peaks of Papuşa (2393) from my spot. I found the water source, cooked breakfast and started walking what I thought was short and well marked connecting ridge between Piatra Craiului and Făgăraş.

Unpleasant elbowing through clearcuts

Unfortunately after few kilometres the trail got into clearcuts, and both the marking and the path were difficult to find. Relying on maps in my smartphone sometimes worked and sometimes not. The trouble of clearcuts in Romania is that there are often tree trunks left on the ground a hiker needs either go around or crawl through, they are overgrown with grass, bushes (raspberries and blackberries) and pioneer trees (birch, mountain ash). While crossing one fallen tree a branch stung me just an inch from my eye.

Eastern Făgăraş seemed close but to get there was painful (Lacul Pecineagu in the centre)

I definitely suggest hikers to descent to Plaiul Foii and walk towards the eastern Făgăraş through the valley.

View towards Piatra Craiului from the refugiu below Comisul (1883)

Late afternoon I made it to eastern Fagaras and started meeting groups of tourists descending the range. In cases they were hikers I politely asked whether they have some dry fruits left to share or sell but without any success.

A group of Hungarians asked me for my name and when I said „Michal Medek“ a guy was excited and started taking pictures of me. „www.transcarpathian.org“ he said. Yes, we know you, you met our friends in Slovakia and Ukraine. Frankly speaking I can remember only one Hungarian ultralight hiker I had met in Slovakia, but I did not want to spoil their joy, notwithstanding they gave me a chocolate bar.

From the pass under Brătila (2274) leads to the south connecting ridge towards Iezer-Papuşa range
Calm evening offered beautiful views

I also met a Polish group who told me they met a Polish hiker – Michal two days ago who also goes the Carpathian circle starting in April. This meant I was close to the guy whose record from mid-June I could read in a logbook on Munții Rodnei on 21st July. I wished I could meet him and have a chat about the mountains in the east, so I sent him a message through Facebook.

Zarna (2236) to the left, shelter in the pass is barely visible in the picture taken at 8:20 pm
Stickers and inscriptions in the shelter tell Poles are daring to walk the whole Carpathian circle most often

I tried to get most of the good marked trail and catch up what I missed earlier the day so I put all my energy to walking fast. I came to the Zarna pass (1930) at about 9 pm. There were two Polish girls and a group of Romanians in the refugiu. We quickly made friends and the girls shared with me some surplus food, including much needed dried fruits. Unfortunately they mixed walnuts to everything so I needed to take them out due to my allergy, which helped only partially. So unlike 21 years ago when we were kicked off from the refugiu to the rain by a group of Romanians with no tents and sleeping bags, this time I stayed under the roof.

Through the Southern Mountains

Făgăraş full of tourists

I misscalculated my water reserves in the morning on Monday 12th August and gave one liter to Romanian hikers I shared refugiu Zarna with. So I started without drinking my usual amount of water and I could feel it the whole morning.

The point is I am taking two 700 ml bottles with me for the hike in the sidepockets of the backpack: one with approximately 500 ml of water mixed with sugar, vitamins or some soft-drink and another one filled to approximately 250 ml with plain water. Before I start I drink about 700 ml of water. While hiking I keep a small foldable cup with me and drink from water sources on the way. Thus I need not overload my backpack with water. Before the journey I spent hours weighing every piece of my gear and thinking about basic weight reduction (= weight without water and food). But at the end of the day the real weight is lot about food and water management on the hike. However, if I cannot expect much water ahead, I fill both bottles for the hike. About 1 hour before camping I fill extra 1,4 – 2,4 liters plus the two 0,7 bottles. This provides me with enough water for dinner, breakfast and morning of the next day.

Bandea valley, Moldoveanu central right

There were not many tourists in the mountains early in the morning but one older man gave me a tip for a water source I used at about 11 am for early lunch in the Sâmbăta shelter that provided shadow from the scorching sun.

Fereastra Mică mountain pass (2190) with Refugiul Sâmbăta (water is in the pass to the north = under the cliff)

Number of hikers was increasing as I was coming closer to the highest peak of Romania and my journey – Moldoveanu (2544). Apart from Romanians there were lot of Polish folks but I also met Germans, Czechs and hikers from Lithuania. In the evening I chatted with two Romanian scouts going opposite direction as we had common friends.

Panoramatic view from Moldoveanu (2544)

Moldoveanu was the only Romanian peak with a logbook so I left there one of the poems by Jan Skácel Pája gave me for the journey on a small pieces of paper and a short notice. I must admit I felt a bit emotional reaching this peak. I was well aware of the fact how lucky I am with such a weather on Fagaras – being here few weeks earlier I could have reeled from a shelter to shelter in rain, fog and thunderstorms. Crosses along the trail tell stories of less lucky ones.

Tuesday dawn picture of the campsite

Lake Capra was my destination as I thought this was the place we made it 20 years ago with my wife in one day from the refugiu Zarna. Walking in the evening meant I could see lot of marmots. I came to the lake when it was almost dark and found a nice camping spot near 4 Czech scouts. Unfortunately we had no time to chat more as I was busy building the tarp and preparing my dinner till the dark. I must admit I was also a bit tired after more then 4000 meters altitude difference on this day. Another Czech group came later that night from the west being a bit noisy on the descent to the campsite from Iezerul Caprei (2418).

Short but demanding trail

Camping at Iezerul Caprei is busy due to its proximity to the road

I was already packed and fed when the Czech scouts started cooking their breakfast on Tuesday 13th August. I traded the food with walnuts with them for other items and continued to the west wondering if this was really the spot we stayed overnight 20 years ago as I was missing the mountain rescue hut there.

Lake Caltun and Negoiu
The most comfy shelter I met in Romania near Lake Caltun

I crossed the tunnel of the trans-Făgăraş road, one of the biggest tourist attractions of Romania and made early lunchbreak at Lake Călțun realizing this was the place we made it then. I could see the age is taking its toll as this time I could not make it so far in one day.

Though I planned to approach Negoiu peak (2535) through the Dracula gorge, I decided not to do it this year. I could well remember, how risky was climbing through the gorge especially while giving way to people coming the opposite direction. When I came to the division of the trails there was a sign that the Dracula gorge is closed and a Romanian tourist (actually the only person who took me over along the whole journey) explained to me that there was a stone ready to fall through the gorge and that some chains were damaged. Negoiu offered beautiful views across the mountain range.

View from Negoiu to the east (9 meters higher Moldoveanu centre left)
View from Negoiu to the west (Cozia on horizon to the left, Paring centre left, Lotru centre)

The trail following main ridge is quite demanding west from Negoiu requiring climbing at some point. I met a Czech group telling me this part took them 3 hours. Though I crossed it in an hour, it was quite exhausting.

I should mention I met couple of destructed shelters in Făgăraş, one of them was in Scării pass. However, the simple mountain rescue metal box is still there.

View from Scăra (2306) to the east
Lake Avrig

At about 6 pm I approached lake Avrig (2010). Though my smartwatch showed only 17 km distance walked that day, I decided to stay overnight and use the water to laundry and have a bath. Since it was quite cold evening, I left the water for tomorrow and enjoyed conversation with a group of 3 Romanians already camping there.

Cooking using sheep droppings

They asked me if it was true that it is not possible to camp anywhere in Tatras or other high Carpathian ranges in Poland and Slovakia. My answer made them cherishing Romania for the hiking freedom.

As there was no wood and my alcohol fuel reserves were low, I used the dry sheep droppings instead. It worked great, smelled nice and the ash kept warmth longer than wood.

Lotrioara = nomen omen

The Romanians were just getting out of their tent when I started walking on Wednesday 14th August having my laundry and bath done earlier in the morning. They gave me some chocolate bars for the journey, which was great help. I decided not to waste time restocking in Turnu Roşu and rather going through Lotrioara village to buy some sugar, oil and instant noodles for the Lotru and Parâng mountain ranges.

Good-bye to the lake Avrig

Much fresher than yesterday I soon climbed up on Budislavu (2343) enjoying views towards east. The descent from altitude of 2300 to 370 was long and tiring. The moments when I needed to climb up in order to go down few minutes later were especially deadening.

Though Lotru and Cindrel seem not far away, the Olt valley between them is 1500 meters below the ridges
Lunch on descent

Most tourists who come to this part of Făgăraş start or finish in Turnu Roşu so my trail was not so used and at some points hardly visible.

Near the Olt river I washed my hair in one of its tributaries to look nicer in „civilization“ and followed the busy road running through the valley to the turn-off to Lotrioara village. There I bought some cheese from people merchandising along the busy road, which soon turned out to be a good decision.

Turning to Lotrioara with the stall of cheese-sellers – the only vendors that did not take advantage on me that day

The road to Lotrioara leads through a quarry and chatting with a worker after a skirmish with his dogs I learnt there was no shop in the village, „but you can try the hotel“ he told me.

Soon I came to a hotel and asked if they cook meals. The lady served me some meal worthing about 15 lei in a Romanian restaurant. I also asked for 330 ml of oil and 10 small packets of sugar you receive for free with a tea or coffee. She got no chocolate bars or anything else I could use but it was actually to my good as the bill for the meal, two softdrinks and some oil and sugar was 85 RON – a price for which you get a meal for the whole family in ordinary Romanian restaurants. Nevertheless, when you are hungry and really need sugar and oil you do not care about the price.

Camping and restaurant in Lotrioara

Further in the village was a punk-style hostel and a campsite, where I asked for ice-cream and chocolate bars. They sold me Twix bars from the not-for-resale pack each for the price of half of the whole pack. Later I learned they all were beyond the expiration date. Meaning of the word „lotr“ the name of both the mountains and the village has similar meaning in Romanian and Czech = blackguard. So the village (surprisingly full of German and Romanian tourists) actually honored its name selling me overpriced stuff.

As a cold front was forecasted for the night I decided to follow the valley deeper to the mountains. Cold fronts are often associated with strong and hours lasting thunderstorms in the mountains. I also realized that for the first time during my journey the rain was forecasted overnight and not during daytime (bright nights and rainy days drove me crazy in Eastern Romania and Ukraine).

When I was following a small river, already out of the village searching for a place to stay overnight during the rain, I met a German speaking woman with a huge dog. The dog ran towards me barking and I stepped back a bit. This added to the aggression of the dog the woman apparently was not able to control. She only blamed me that it was my mistake I stepped back and told me she could not do anything otherwise the dog would think it is serious situation and attacked me. The dog followed me for one kilometre leaving its master behind and was so aggressive I was pointing my pepper spray to it.

Dogs are real threat while hiking in Romania. Though shepherds‘ dogs might seem semi-wild, they are organized in a certain way. They defend their herds and 95% of them follow commands of the shepherd if he is close enough. Their attacks were not surprise for me as I had been in Romanian mountains many times before. What I had not expected was the real difference in treating lonely pilgrim in comparison with a couple or a group. Dogs are attacking in packs and the more overpowered their target is the more they dare. In mountains visited by tourists (Rodna, Bucegi, Făgăraş, Retezat) the dogs do not consider hikers such a threat as in the less visited areas and the attacks are often just symbolic. Each attack is different so it is difficult to give general advise how to resist. Sometimes a hiker can sneak unspotted, sometimes it is better to ignore the dogs and leave the scene, sometimes showing determination and attacking from 10-20 meters keeps them in distance. Seeking shepherd’s protection is always the best way, if possible. See my advice on that in the chapter on Risks while walking the Carpathians.

It was getting dark soon in the valley when I could see a flat place on the other side of the river and a wooden footbridge leading there. I searched for the best spot while the woman with the dog passed by on the road on the other side of the river. The dog was crazy barking towards me but they continued upstream leaving me wondering if there is some other settlement.

I built my tarp and went for water when I learned there is a hunters‘ hide nearby. Hunters‘ hides in Romania are about 3×2 metres large with a bed along one wall. They are just a meter or so above the terrain. So I packed my tarp and moved to the hut. While going for water I found many skulls and antlers, presumably outcomes of hunting activity at this place.

In the wilderness again

I could hear some thunderstorm overnight but considerably weaker than what I had experienced during other cold fronts‘ transitions. The sky was overcast and vegetation wet but it was not raining in the morning of Thursday 15th August. I walked the forest road singing to distract bears. After a mile I came to a cottage in the woods supposedly used by the German lady with her dog. I sneaked by unnoticed.

There was no further signage and I lost an hour trying to reach the ridge this way

At one point there were ruins of some chalets and a sign towards pass under Sfarcas peak (2034). It seemed to me as a good way how to get on the ridge as there was a forest road in my maps from the other side of the pass so I supposed these are connected. Unfortunately, after two kilometers the promising road turned into a forest road going through a stream with tree trunks fallen over it. So I returned to the original road losing about 50 minutes of time.

I could track, that meanwhile someone in trekking or working shoes passed on the forest road in the opposite direction. As I expected, the road did not finish at the point it finished on my map but turned into a road running along and through a stream. Sheep tracks persuaded me I am on a good trail towards the main ridge, though I needed to go through wet dense vegetation. It started raining so I put on poncho and changed hiking shoes for crocs as the „road“ went through a stream.

After few kilometres the sheep tracks left the valley without me noticing the point and I was again in wilderness without roads or trails, in the rain, soaked and with mild thunderstorms passing in the sky indicating when the rain becomes more intense. I put on hiking boots again and went through forest and blueberry fields towards the main ridge. Across a valley I could see a shepherd’s house and on my side tracks of bear activity.

The ridge was in the fog but I found a way to the mountain pass west from Cocacii (2008) peak. This was way worse than I expected. I was wondering if I should have rather follow the marked trail from Lotrioira to Cabana Prejba (1630). I would had been exposed to thunderstorms but on a trail. (Later I learned from satellite maps I could have turned right at one crossing and get easily on the main ridge. I put this way into the trail to download).

It was quite cold and drizzling when I came to a large camp of blueberry pickers, most of them children huddling in their „tents.“ The „tents“ were cheap staff not able to withstand rain and that is why reinforced by plastic foil and wood. A lady who was cooking offered me a cup of coffee with sugar and invited me for a dinner. I gratefully accepted the coffee but refused to wait for dinner as I wanted to get much further that day.

However, when I saw a hunters‘ hide half an hour later and heard another thunderstorm in distance, I decided to use it as my overnight shelter. The disadvantage was it was close to a shepherd’s settlements so the dogs sniffed me soon and were barking around the hide. The next day I learned staying in this shelter was a good decision because the rain was very intense at some night hours and there was no other hide like this further in the mountains.

Disappointment in Petroşani

Overnight I prepared a plan for the Friday 16th August: I start as early in the morning as possible and go to the pass between Lotru and Parâng mountain ranges. If I would be there before 5 pm, I can hitch-hike to Petroşani to pick-up support parcel at the post office. If following the original trail, I would be in Petroşani Saturday afternoon and needed to wait till Monday morning. Skipping this short range I had been to twice before also saves me ¾ of a day so I can make it to the Danube in Orşova in the time I have available.

The range was in the clouds when I started hiking, well before the dogs were ready for their daily work. The trail was marked, but not always visible so I lost direction in the fog and mountain pine cover several times. Fountains of water were pouring from my shoes at every step. It started raining again.

Below Coltu Mare (2080)

Nevertheless I made it to the highest peak of Lotru range, Șteflești (2242), at about 11 am. From two previous visits I could remember it was not far away to Parâng so I felt grateful for this fast advancement, but again I was about to see how poor human memory was. It took me another 5 hours walking in these beautiful grassy mountains to reach the mountain pass crossed by a new tourist attraction of Romania – Transalpina road.

The pass I originally planned to hitch-hike from was about 6,5 km away so I decided to hitch-hike from here but I could not find any convenient place. I lost 45 minutes going further up as I expected a parking place or a picnic spot at the highest point of the road, which is common in Romania, but it was not there. Finally a guy gave me 6 km lift to Obârşia Lotrului, a small camping site as I can remember it from 1990s had been turned into a busy market selling souvenirs and refreshment to both Transalpina tourists and those staying on site.

I walked another mile where the road to Petroşani diverts from Transalpina and it did not took long when a couple gave me a lift. The road was poor so we made those 25 km to Petrosani in about an hour. They dropped me on another side of the town and I needed to walk another mile to the post office coming 20 minutes before the closing time. The sign on the door read they stayed closed this Thursday and Friday. No reasons were given. Romanian reality. So instead of camping near a lake in Parâng and having nice walk the other day since the weather turned beautiful in the afternoon and forecast was great for the next days, I was in a town and my support package gone.

My hunger and need to charge devices prevailed so I bought alcohol for my stove in a pharmacy and went for a pizza.

While in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, alcohol fuel can be obtained in drugstores, in Ukraine and Romania in pharmacies. Ukrainian alcohol was considerably higher quality than cheap Romanian 70% blue liquid always leaving some unburned leftovers. If possible I would rather avoid the Romanian stuff or use it for diluting higher quality fuel.

After eating and charging my devices I went to a shop to restock for the next stage. It was dark when I packed the new supplies and continued to the west. I went through quite poor neighborhood of Petroşani and was afraid that after crossing the river I might get to a gipsy ghetto, so I rather camped near the river protected by dark and a 4 metres high wall separating the river from the city.

5th Bear Encounter

I got up at dark on Saturday 17th August, quickly packed, climbed the wall towards road and painfully pulled my backpack up on rope. Walking west I realized there was no ghetto, just few houses and much nicer camping spots as the hills above Petroşani were composed of meadows used for hay and as pastures. I stopped at one of the mowed meadows to eat breakfast and dry my stuff in the sunshine. 

There was a road going on the main ridge through the romantic landscape of meadows, forests and cottages, though I must add that many pieces of land were abandoned and in different stages of takover by forest. It was lot of up and down walk in altitudes around 800 metres but in the afternoon I got close to the Tulişa mountains. I used the only water source I met since morning to have lunch and laundry socks.

Piscul Oborocii (1474)

From the peak Piscul Oborocii (1474) I joined a red tourist marking. These mountains were nice surprise to me and I regretted we missed them in the past. Around the Tulişa peak (1792) the range turned into wide flat grazed mountain meadows, that looked beautiful in the evening sun.

Tulişa mountains – Munții Vâlcan on horizon to the right

Tulişa pass has a special meaning for Romanians for the heavy fighting during WW I and it is also a nice camping spot. Unfortunately, it did not seemed to me water is nearby (though we camped there 10 years before), so I continued to the next water source about 3 km further west. I went fast as it was getting dark and I could clearly see signs of bear activity. Just before reaching my designated camping spot I met a group of semi-wild horses.  

Location of the bear (photo next morning)

I put up a tarp, cooked rice for dinner (first rice on my journey) and was cleaning my teeth when I could hear a noise from the forest below the pass. I quickly scanned the forest with my headlamp and found two eyes belonging to a bear watching me from about 60 metres. I continued cleaning my teeth making noise and talking to the bear. The bear was watching me for about 2 minutes and then silently (!) left. I went to my sleeping bag with both pepper spray cans ready.

At about 11 pm I could hear strange noises near my tarp, like kicking the ground. After the initial stress, I learned that these were the horses grazing nearby. „Great,“ I thought, „bears should not be where horses are.“ But I soon realized that the horses pose more imminent danger than a bear. Although it was windy I immediately loosened the anchoring rope to a nearby tree that was about 5 metres away but left the rope on the other side of the tarp as the anchor was just 2 metres long and went over a trekking pole to the ground. It was around full moon and every horseman/woman can tell you how scary horses are even in twilight, not talking about night. Some were grazing just a foot from my head and now and then they jumped scared by a shadow or whatever. Idea of a horse stepping on me in panic was not very calming. One horse put down the other anchoring rope and got scared by jingles that were left on the trekking pole and made noise while falling down. When they left after two hours, I felt much better and could finally fall asleep. Only later I realized that instead of fearing of my bones, I could simply scare away the horses.

The camping place that turned into a dangerous grazing field for wild horses during the night

Small Retezat

Sunday 18th August started with ascent of 800 metres to the peaks of Retezat. The trail was marked but led through fields of boulders so it was necessary to mind every step.

Approaching the peak of Custura (2457) I met 5 one-day tourists. The peak is actually a crossroad so a hiker can continue to the north towards the Great Retezat with its highest peaks of Peleaga (2509) and Papusa (2508) or to the west to Small Retezat and Godeanu. This was my planned choice and since I had been there three times before I knew I want to camp below the beautiful peak of Piatra Iorgovanului (2014).

Left to right: Peleaga (2509), Papusa (2508) and Custura (2457)

The weather was beautiful so I could not resist to capture something from the beauties of these ranges.

As Small Retezat is a limestone/conglomerate area, the water is scarce so I needed to fill all my tanks (=3,8 litres) and walk with the weight for about an hour. In exchange I got one of the most beautiful camping spots of the whole journey below the above mentioned peak.

In small Retezat I met 3 Romanian hikers and two groups of Czechs (3 and 4 hikers). First hikers since I left Făgăraş and last for the next 5 days.

Towards the Danube

Sheer beauty of the Carpathians

I wanted to get as close as possible to Baile Herculane on Monday 19th August as the weather was beautiful, trail well-marked and known to me from the previous hikes. The views to Godeanu, Țarcu and Retezat mountains were so beautiful on this sunny day I must have told myself I should not stop so often to make photos. It was nice to walk again these mountains and remember places of watching the 1999 eclipse with my wife Veronika, camping with the eco-club on our 2009 trip and the first miles across Romanian mountains during our 1995 hike with Veronika and my university friends.

View from Paltina peak (2152) towards Retezat
View from below Galbena (2201) to the west – Micuşa (2162) and lake Scărișoara on the left

I stopped near Lake Scărișoara for a lunch and laundering of my trousers and socks. Though it was sunny (and this enabled me to keep all the gadgets fully charged), it was quite cold, so I could not laundry too many garments at once, if I wanted to use my body heat to dry them.

Lăpușnicu Mic valley from below Piatra Scărișoarei (2256)
View from below Moraru (2279)

The Godeanu is grazed more extensively than it was before, this means the shepherds, who stay with their herds, take over areas of those who left. Miraculously I escaped couple of encounters with wild dogs on this day.

Godeanu (2229) from below Moraru (2279)
Views to the north – towards Țarcu mountains
3 generations of shepherds

At about 3 pm I came to a bottleneck below the peak of Godeanu (2229) – I needed to wait for sheep to pass a footpath on a steep slope in front of me. This led to an encounter with 3 generations of shepherds. The youngest one was impressed by my journey, his father with my Romanian and his grandfather made the sign of the cross, pulled a bottle of homemade spirit out of his pocket and offered me when I told him how many kilometres I was walking to get to this place. I could see that this is a good door and hearts opener as my kilometre count makes me standing out of the crowds of tourists that locals meet in the mountains.

Iceland-like landscape surrounds mighty mountain river Șes

The landscape west of Godeanu looks surreal with large river of Șes running through the grassy mountains. I was enjoying the walk very much with light backpack, knowing I have enough time to make it to the Danube and that these are the last mountains above 2000 metres altitude on my journey.

Sunset below Dobrii (1928)

Unlike yesterday, I did not meet a single tourist this day. The shepherds told me that only Czech hikers are visiting the Godeanu range. While camping in the pass under Dobrii peak (1928) I managed to get online and read a message from a Pole Michal saying he had been in the Cernei mountains I just came to. Unfortunately, the message was sent in the morning but it excited me that I am just one-day walk away from another guy who is making the trans-Carpathian hike (actually we were the only two thru-hikers of 2019). Michal started from Bratislava in April and I first came across him in Rodnei mountains refuge logbook where he was staying on 15th June while I came there on 21st July. His journey was much more extensive than mine covering about 2600 km.

Descent

Cernei mountains

After a calm night at comfortable altitude I continued to the west through the Cernei mountains on Tuesday 20th August. As many times before, I had mentally prepared for a descent so it was difficult to climb up the peaks again. Since these mountains are not so popular with tourists, the trail is not so good and a hiker walks mostly through grass or narrow sheep trails. I went through two shepherd’s dogs’ attacks but I could see I approached them more lightheartedly knowing I still had two pepper spray cans I could use.

Some spots were untouched by blueberry pickers so I needed to pay attention while having lunch (as usual: full nutrition powder with blueberries) not to make my cloths dirty.

Cernei mountains behind the Prislop pass, northern cliff of Munții Mehedinți above the Cerna valley

Beautiful views on the northern cliff of Munții Mehedinți opened close to the Prislop pass. There I could feel the closeness of Baile Herculane tourist centre meeting three one-day tourists and two motorcyclists. Instead of descending from the pass I wanted to see peaks of Arjana (1513) and Biliana (1362) as I could remember the torturous ascent on them in 2009. Slopes of Biliana were covered by cranberries, which slowed down my movement and filled my stomach.

View from Arjana (1513) to the south with cliff of mt. Mehedinți across the Cerna valley

Climbing down the difficult razor narrow rocky ridge I wondered if this is the best way, how to say good-bye to the Carpathians after two and half months of hiking.

My original plan was to continue through the Fertianu (1129) peak from the Poiana Lunga settlement but there seemed to be no footpath through abandoned pastures to the peak so I rather followed a dusty road and came on the trail coming from the Prislop pass unnecessarily walking up and down. I almost missed the footpath to the valley near a beautiful village church. Brown grass and dusty roads made apparent that this part of Romania had been missing rain for weeks.

Poiana Lunga and Fertianu peak (1129) above Cernei valley dividing Mehedinti mountains

I was a bit nervous where to stay overnight in the Cerna river valley but there was a nice camping spot right near the trail when I reached the river. Some celebration could be heard from a hotel on the other bank of the river and the temperature at 250m altitude was well above what was my down-filled sleeping bag constructed for so it was a bit difficult to fall asleep.

Dream fulfilled

I woke up when the stars were still shining in the dark on Wednesday 21st August. Ate and packed swiftly as I was not sure if camping is allowed in this place, though fireplaces and other tents 50 meters from me suggested people use this spot. It was about eight kilometers on asphalt road to the Şapte Izvoare thermals so I was happy a car leaving the nearby camp offered me a lift.

Thus it was just 7:30 am when came the long awaited moment – I was bathing in the 52° C hot water in the Baile Herculane thermal springs. The pools were not overcrowded at this hour and I needed to explain fellow bathers why I want one of them to take a photo of me. They cheered me and I was about to cry when remembering how many times I had been dreaming about this moment while walking in the rain, shivering in the cold, trying to find way through forests or scare bears. In my mind, for months this bath was the finishing tape of my journey.

Şapte Izvoare thermal springs

After two baths I used the warm water to launder my shirt and continued to Băile Herculane town. On the way I dropped in the national park visitor center to see an exhibition about the area. The EU funded exhibition was poor but I could charge my gadgets there. When I was leaving an officer approached me and we started conversation. He was responsible for environmental education in the park but after few years he realized the way he did it does not work. Fortunately, his boss did not care as soon as he could deliver him photos of activities. He was very opened so I invited him to our place to get some inspiration in the field. While talking he also proved my idea that fireballs are probably the best defense towards wild dogs in the mountains.

Băile Herculane

As usually, I tried to fuel with as much energy as possible in the town. I visited a supermarket, sweet shop, another supermarket and after realizing my smartphone needs some charge while leaving the town I went to a restaurant for a soup I almost could not eat as my stomach was already full.

I followed the Cerna river that runs south to Orşova, where most of hikers either start of finish their Carpathian thru-hikes. I walked on an asphalt road with busy traffic in scorching sun. 11,5 kilometres from Orşova at 3:00 pm at the altitute of 100m I turned west and continued along a stream to the last mountain ranges in the Banat region. The railway runs near the road so I could see a special Czech train bringing my compatriots for a music festival in Eibenthal – one of the villages in the area settled by Czechs in the first half of 19th century.

Michał, the Polish hiker I was in contact with, reached Orşova 4:30 pm that day. I could have met him if not following further westwards.

Bath along the way

I comfortably ascended to the altitude of 1000 metres on a forest road running through the endless beech forests of Banat. A car approached me with a local charcoal maker I passed by in the village near the road to Orşova. He went few kilometres just to ask me where I am going. Similar situations happened with foresters and loggers I met. For all of them it was difficult to imagine I want to cross these forests towards Czech villages near the Danube. I soon realized why.

The sun was on horizon when I reached what seemed like a mountain pass on the map. The road almost disappeared and my planned trail that followed the ridge ran through dense forest planted about 15 years ago. Many signs indicated bear presence so I decided to go a bit downhill where I fortunately found a recently logged area. Litter told me the loggers and tree planting crews were working here not long ago.

Back at home I would rather find a nice hidden place in the forest but here I preferred to camp near a road at area where logs are loaded on trucks, to be easily discovered by humans in case of emergency. I left my smartphone playing music throughout the evening to distract bears as these young forests with berries are safeheaven for them. Night was calm, only two or three times I could hear noise of a moving animal so I rang the jingles I kept close to me. Though it may sound strange, I felt the fear something unfortunate might happen to me during these last kilometres.

Through the Banat highlands

I wanted to make it to the Czech village of Rovensko on Thursday 22nd August and I knew the most difficult part of the trail lies just within the first 5 kilometres before I reach a marked tourist trail. However, the blue sky seemed so promising that I used the nearby stream to wash my socks and dived into the forest only at about 8:30 am. At first I followed loggers’ roads but they disappeared soon and I was walking in old virgin forest crossing fallen trees and elbowed my way through younger growth. No trails, no signs of human activity apart from newly planted growth at one place that was really difficult to cross. I could not imagine myself walking across Carpathians without the GPS in my smartphone. After an hour or so I came to what once was a forest road marked with “H” which as far as I understand means boundary between forest districts in Romania. It led me to recently deforested areas unintentionally turned into blackberry plantations and finally to a marked trail.

The tourist marking was Czech standard because it was made by Czech volunteers. Reaching the marked trail was a huge relief and enabled me to walk fast but at 11 am I knew I could hardly make it to Rovensko before evening.

Anthracite quarry in the middle of nowhere, new minerals grew along puddles

I went through an operating anthracite quarry in the middle of nowhere and reached a strong stream – beautiful place for a lunch break. Unfortunately, I put my socks on a young tree to dry and left them there.  Thus I lost the only socks that went with me all the way long from Moravia.

View across endless Banat forests towards Serbia

I sneaked by a shepherd’s farm and found couple of others already abandoned as the grass was dry. The tracks told me they had probably left with their herds couple of days ago. At one point near an unnamed hill with nice view (picture above) the marking disappeared and I was suspicious that it had been intentionally destroyed by a shepherd whose farm it was passing by. I use the term “farm” because shepherds’ houses in this region were closed yards used to keep also other domestic animals – summer farms different from what could be seen in other parts of Romania.

Dozens of hectares of abandoned fruit orchards make ideal habitat for bears

As I was coming closer to settled areas, I could see more and more abandoned old fruit orchards steadily turning into fruit forests. I even found my favorite old breed of Nancy mirabelle. About 13 kilometres before the Rovensko village the trail follows different way than is charted in the map and I lost my way near an abandoned quarry. It was the last time I was afraid of bears as I could see fresh tracks and signs of bear activity.

Shepherd lives for 4 months only with his dogs and thus welcomes scarce passer-byers
The sleep was comfortable but I needed to face the consequences

Water was scarce through the day and there were no signs of a water source when I met a shepherd with his herd. He immediately tried to calm his dogs and took me to his house to give me some water. He said there is some water on the way to Rovensko (about 8 km ahead) but was not specific where, though I was asking several times. The old man desperately wanted me to stay overnight with him, he even washed my feet. No wonder considering dogs are his only companions for 4 months a year. I did not want to be flea-bitten again but I also wanted to make the man happy, so I stayed in his guestroom.

Hearing Czech again

I packed my stuff at dark and started walking very early as I wanted to reach the Danube about 40 km ahead on Friday 23rd August. My nightmare came true and I was bitten both by fleas and bedbugs. The water spring was about 1 km away from the shepherd’s house, so if I was not socializing with the old man, I could have filled water there, stay even further on my trail and miss the itching souvenir.

Dawn over an old farmhouse in a plum orchard about 10 km east from Rovensko
Landscape near Rovensko some fields are left barren

The landscape in this region is different from others in the Carpathians. Nowhere else I could see the pattern of large orchards and meadows accompanied by small houses used by their keepers now and then because of their location far away from the village. Some plots were cared for, others were turning into strange type of fruit trees wilderness.

I came to Rovensko and took water at the first trough on the street. When I was putting dry vegetables and dry beef to my cold-soaking jar, a man in mid-sixties went out on the street from his house. I greeted him in Czech and he replied “Dobrý den” – good morning. Of course I knew there are the Czech villages over here, but hearing his greeting filled me with such a joy, I wanted to hug him. I must have said something like “This is unbelievable” in Czech because he turned to me and said “you wanted to say something?” with a soft accent. “You know, I left Moravia ten weeks ago and I cannot believe I can hear Czech again.” I replied. He gave me a polite smile showing his distance from tourists and walked away.

Street in Rovensko, the man that greeted me in Czech came out from the green gate while I was taking water from the trough

The “no photos” sign decorating the door of the small grocery shop indicated that locals are not fond of tourists. I bought Coke and a big cake to rise my blood-sugar levels and joined a couple drinking beer in front of the shop. We started talking and the man (newcomer as he had been living here for 2 years only) explained to me difficult relationship of locals towards tourists. Soon elderly men joined our party and started talking about local issues – some Romanians stolen corn, someone is moving to the Czech Republic and his farmland should be taken over by his neighbor. The music festival in Eibenthal has nothing to do with locals, it was imported and is too expensive for the “Pems” (Czechs living in Banat). The man who greeted me in the morning explained to the newcomer some stories from the local history. I noticed that when (Czech) tourists started coming to the shop, locals were mixing more Romanian words to their Czech.

Romanian and Czech tourist markings mix near Rovensko / Ravensca

I was grateful for the insight but needed to continue to another Czech village – Gernik. The landscape was similar with apparent signs of drought – the locals told me, there had been no rain for two months. Blackberries along the way slowed my advance on well-marked trails.

One of the water mills

Gernik settlement is located on limestone bedrock and karst features are clearly visible around the village. The mighty karst stream of Gravenska a mile to the east from Gernic is a magic place. Tourists visit five old water mills, but I was impressed by calcification of the water that leads to fast development of travertine. While having a bath and laundering my shirts I admired fossilized leaves and twigs as well as a cascade.

Landscape on limestone bedrock east from Gernik

Gernik was full of tourists that stayed here during the Czech music festival in Eibenthal. Locals tried to sell them homemade jams and honey. I bought some food and soup in the shop & restaurant of Josef Nedvěd and while leaving some Czech hikers asked me where I am coming from and going to. My answer shocked them. They urged me to stay longer and talk about the journey but this was not possible if I wanted to reach the Danube. Even Mr. Nedvěd joined us and offered me to stay with him as he needed “someone so fit to help him with his new cottage for tourists in the mountains.”

The minute of fame was over and I continued well-fed to St. Helena. Windmills dot the landscape around this Czech village making it to some a model sustainable landscape while to others ugly looking intrusion of civilization.

To my surprise I met only 6 Czech one-day hikers near Gernik and the group in the pub throughout the whole day. Not a person on the trail.

Svatá Helena is way more touristic than Gernik and Rovensko. Groups of Czech tourists at different stage of drunkenness were gathering around one of the local pubs and started frenetically taking photos when a lady walked up the street with her cows. I felt I am not fitting into this place so I walked away to find a camping place near the Danube.

Reaching the Danube at the place it enters the Iron Gate gorge

The spot was one of the most beautiful during the whole journey. It was a windy place, which distracted mosquitoes, with view over both the mightiness of the Danube and its entry to the narrow Iron Gate gorge.

I could not fall asleep as the flea and bedbug bites were hell-itching so I got lot of time for thinking about the coincidence that at the both ends of the Carpathian circle people speak Czech.

Beautiful camping spot near the place, where the Danube enters the Iron Gate gorge

Departure from the Danube

Before I packed a herd of goats was passing by at dawn on Saturday 24th August. My plan was to catch 11 am train from Orşova and make a visit to St. Ladislau castle ruins that were right below my camping spot.

Donau below St. Ladislau castle ruins

The ruins were perfect for taking the closing videos of this journey. I must admit that I was more emotional while dreaming about this moment in the weeks before than when it actually happened.

After descend to the Danube (77m) and necessary face washing in its water near the Coronini village, I started to hitch-hike towards Orşova. The traffic was not frequent so after an hour it became apparent I would not be able to catch the train in Orşova 96 km away so I started hitch-hike in the opposite direction to catch it in Timişoara (165 km away). After a while a truck loaded with wood took me on board. The driver apologized for going slowly but I was happy he could take me just 30 km from Timişoara and we got very nice talk together as he was also a lover of Romanian mountains and an experienced logging-trucks driver.

He suggested to leave me at the petrol station in Denta and I found out that there is a train going to Timişoara just 2 km from there in 15 minutes. He was not willing to help me approaching the railway station so I needed to run 2km through the hot village. I caught the train easily noticing my running speed increased over the hike.

The train to Budapest was delayed 50 minutes on arrival so it was obvious that instead of going home today, I need to find another solution. As there were no other connections from Budapest available, I booked a hostel near the railway station for the earliest morning train.

My impressions from Budapest were not particularly good. Hungarians often emphasize this used to be “Paris on the Danube” at the end of 19th century but in my opinion it is not coping with the challenges of the 21st century. The streets are dirty, many locals do not bother to learn English, the hostel did not accept credit cards and even at places like international railway station the information system is poor and in Hungarian only.

Pálava from a train 2,5 months later.

Anyway, after few hours of sleep I boarded a train back home. Passing by the Pálava, where from I started 2,5 months ago paralyzed by the great fear gave me feeling of an achievement. At 9 am on Sunday 25th August I hugged my wife Veronica and son Mojmír near the Brno railway station as they were coincidentaly just coming from Italy.

On Monday 10th June I was leaving from here with heavy backpack, frightened by my own dream of the fearsome journey coming true. Now I was grateful I returned back sound 76 days later, 7,6 kilos lighter but still wondering how I managed to make this dream coming true.