Date: 6/12/2019, solo hike in Romania!
The plan was to hike Peleaga and Păpuşa, thereby bagging two of the fourteen peaks over 2500 m in Romania. I had only just learned about this list three days prior but what can I say, I’m a sucker for these kinds of sequential accomplishments (as evident from the existence of this blog). But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men …
Rookie mistake #1: not getting pointers from local hikers beforehand.
I chose my route based on where I was staying in relation to a trailhead, how much I could challenge myself, and the views.
Rookie mistake #2: choosing the most aggressive route I could to the peaks when I have not been regularly hiking (and recovering from a recent injury).
After driving to the trailhead just past Nucșoara, I trekked up the blue stripe trail 45 minutes to the first cabin.
Rookie mistake #3: I didn’t have coffee before starting (it was not available at my Airbnb).
At the cabin I gulped down a tea, not realizing they did in fact have coffee, but honestly I was already starting to feel a caffeine withdrawal headache on the drive there. I had never before started a hike with a headache …
Rookie mistake #4: I ignored my body and pushed on.
Regardless, I still started up the yellow stripe trail which immediately had me slogging up a steep incline. While singing to myself. Because the bear presence is real in Romania. And stupidly I forgot that I hadn’t downloaded any Spotify playlists to my new phone. Did I mention that I also couldn’t find Strava on my new phone? And that none of the trails give distance on the junction signs, only estimated time?
Eventually I got along a ridge and started seeing some views. I hit what I thought were false peaks but are apparently mountains in their own right, Lolaia Nord and Sud. Then, in only 2 hours instead of the posted 4, I summitted Retezat, my highest peak yet at 8,143′!
At that point my headache had become a constant throb. I was trying to stay up with my sugar and electrolyte needs as well as hydration. Which is when I realized, I may not have enough in me or with me to tackle 2 more peaks.
Rookie mistake #5: I didn’t bring enough fluid/fuel.
The trail then descended to a lovely little kettle pond called Lacul (Lake) Bucura. It was at this point that I lost my sense of direction. I had not paid particular attention to the topography lines on the map that I borrowed from my Airbnb … I came down from the ridge line I was on to the south, not the north, as I thought I would. But we’ll get to this error.
It was here that I decided not to push for the two additional peaks that I had initially set my sights on. It was 12:30 and thunderstorms were predicted to roll in sometime in the afternoon. While I could just barely detect the hint of clouds in the distance, I really didn’t want to be exposed above treeline in case of lightning.
So I started down the blue stripe trail … and about 20+ minutes later it hit me – I was going the wrong direction. My spirit was a little broken in that moment. But I had no choice. I had to get back to the rental car. So up again I went, retracing my steps in the snow fields that were still very much unmelted and interspersed throughout my hike.
At the lake I filled my filtered flask with icy cold run-off and chugged a fair bit of it. And that did the trick! A bit. I found enough of a second wind to get all the way back to my little ridge line. And there I met three young women who had spent the previous night in one of the mountain cabins and were now heading back to civilization. One of them spoke English quite fluently and we briefly chatted as I slurped down more from my filter, the 3 L bladder in my day pack being completely empty.
And then it was all literally downhill. It took me about 90 minutes (and some more singing when trees started being more than sporadic) to get to the next cabin (at ~1700 m). I bought a Pepsi there. I greatly prefer Coke but I was desperate for sugar and caffeine. I had a very terse exchange of words with the caretaker (partly in Romanian, partly in English) before taking off again. At that point the clouds were rolling in and I could hear thunder in the distance. I wanted to get as low as possible before the rain began.
Rookie mistake #6: Descending quickly on wet rock with a drink in one hand and without total focus.
I can’t even remember if the rain had started yet. But under tree cover and during mud season there were innumerable slick rocks amidst full streams which composed the trail at that elevation. And then I slipped and fell. Hard. A real digger. My worst fall yet on a hike. I struck more body parts on rock in that one fall than I ever have before when falling on trail. All in slow motion. Plus I spilled the majority of my soda.
(It doesn’t look bad because I don’t actually bruise visibly)
You know what? After the fall, I prayed. I asked Pan and any dryads in proximity to help me not fall again for the rest of my hike. Being in Europe, it felt appropriate to ask these minor deities for protection while in nature.
Thankfully in only another 10 minutes after the fall I arrived at the next cabin, the one I had originally set out from. I sat for 5 minutes. I ate another bar. I mustered what strength and motivation I had left. I waited for the rain to stop. And I set out, knowing I had 45 more minutes until I was done. I had a few more slips but no falls. I also stopped singing after my fall but saw no bears (thanks, gods). I passed a handful of other, slower moving folk. And I made it. There was the car. After oh so many hours in that thing over the prior 4 days I didn’t think I’d be so happy to see it.
Time: 8 hours, distance: ???