The next leg of Matt’s Round-the-World-Walk that I accompanied him on started from Alba Iulia in February 2007. Matt had walked from Mogos to Alba Iulia with his cousin Guy the previous autumn. The bulk of our walk would take us over a range of hills called the Muntii Candrel. These hills were a more serious prospect than the Muntii Trascau that we’d walked through the previous winter. Varful Candrel itself clocks in at 2244 metres.
Before we hit the hills, however, there was the small matter of crossing the basin between the Trascau and the Candrel. This would involve a 25-mile walk, so Matt came up with a cunning plan. We would leave our hefty packs in Alba Iulia, do the 25 miles in a rapid yomp to a train halt at Tilisca and return to Alba Iulia. The following day we would take the train back to Tilisca and continue on our way.
We were up and away long before dawn and soon following a raised embankment along the Mures river. We were completely exposed to an icy wind that cut through us. Our plan nearly caught us out when there was no sign of a bridge across the Mures to the village of Dumbrava. Finally, a rickety bridge materialised and we walked into the village as the day was beginning – children off to school, everyone else off to work; except the two odd English blokes swaddled in goretex. We launched ourselves out of Dumbrava onto higher ground, making for the next village of Daia Romana. The exposed higher ground was a more wintry prospect.
It turned out to be a rather dull overcast day as we passed through a series of small villages on our way to Tilisca.
The day had its interesting moments – mostly conversations with generally surprised local people who may have mistaken us for the vanguard of some impending explosion of tourism to their region. I very much doubt this has happened. Matt coped admirably with the navigating, adhering to his cardinal rule: never ask a local for directions.
The walking was pretty uninspiring really on this very dull day, but the village of Apoldu de Jos boasted an impressive church and cemetery.
On we marched and eventually we crossed the Alba Iulia – Sibiu trunk road before arriving at the Tilisca train halt. It didn’t look likely really. There was nothing there at all, excepting a sign reading ‘Halta Tilisca’, but a train did materialise on schedule and, furthermore, it stopped.
We were a bit knackered after our 25-mile yomp across the Alba Iulia basin, so it was great to relax and enjoy the train ride back to Alba Iulia as the train wound its way along wooded hillsides as it lost height on the way.
The following morning, we caught a train back to Halta Tilisca, passing through this rather rude station en route:
Arriving back at Halta Tilisca, we jumped off the train and soon found an impressively muddy track that corresponded with our route on the map.
We squelched along the track and eventually arrived at the village of Tilisca itself.
We passed through the village and after a little rooting around we found a path climbing steeply up the wooded ridge that we wanted to follow. After an hour or so climbing along the path we came to some barns and decided to stop for a bite. It was then that Matt noticed that he’d lost his snow shoes, which had been strapped to his pack. Not very well, apparently. They must have been dislodged as we climbed through the trees. Being somewhat fleeter of foot than Matt, I volunteered to run back down the ridge to try to find them. My search was successful and I was back in no time – it’s amazing how fast you can move when you take off a 25-kilo pack.
We continued at length along the ridge, enjoying the wonderful sylvan landscape.
By late afternoon, we had intersected with the main ridge of the Muntii Candrel; time to pitch up and gather some firewood.
A campfire is a fixture of almost every day’s walk on Matt’s Round-the-World-Walk. Except when there aren’t any trees of course.
The morning dawned cloudy and overcast. We were hoping to cross over the summit of Varful Candrel later in the day, but conditions weren’t looking particularly auspicious.
The higher we climbed, the deeper the snow and the poorer the visibility. The wind was picking up a bit, too. We startled up a ptarmigan, which was an extremely alarming experience. Something of that size exploding out of the snow-damped silence in front of you in a paroxsysm of squawking, flapping featheriness can be mildly terrifying. No picture – are you kidding?
The visibility became poorer still and as we climbed above the tree line, we were more exposed to the wind which grew ever keener. Luckily, a series of tall marker poles indicated the route up towards the summit of Varful Candrel.
Higher still and conditions became ever more challenging. We could hardly hear each other shout and visibility was pants – it was bitterly cold in the wind. It became apparent that climbing any higher would be moderately life-threatening so the call went up: ‘Retreat!’ and I for one shuffled gratefully back the way we’d come.
Once we were out of the Doom Zone, a slight problem presented itself. We couldn’t camp on the exposed ridge in high winds and it was a long way back to sheltered level ground below the tree line. In the end we decided to camp beneath a large fir tree on the steep slope in the lee of the ridge. It was way too steep to pitch, but we spent a couple of hours cutting and packing a level platform in the snow beneath the tree’s branches. The tree was buried to some considerble depth so large branches formed a sheltered curtain around our bivouac. What a relief!
By dawn, the cloud had lifted somewhat and the wind had slackened. A little. We struck camp, donned our snow shoes once more and headed back up the slope to the ridge.
Once we’d regained the ridge, it became apparent that we could have got into serious difficulties if we’d continued the previous afternoon. The ridge was very exposed and quite narrow with a steep SW escarpment; there was some serious cornicing going on and despite the marker poles, the margin for disaster was fairly good.
It was extremely fresh in the biting wind and my feeling was that even if we had avoided death by treacherous cornice, we may well have ended up like this marker post:
Anyway, we eventually crossed over the summit of Varful Candrel (2224m) and began to make the long descent to a saddle between Candrel and the Muntii Lotrului. Skis would have been useful, I feel.
We made the long and entertaining descent to the saddle without mishap and as the day was drawing on, we decided to follow a forestry track north-east down the valley in search of shelter for the night. It was a much more relaxing experience than the following day! Eventually, a couple of forester’s huts came into view and we gratefully made our way to them.
It was a great spot and the huts provided good, solid shelter from the elements. They had been left in a bit of a state by the previous incumbents, but we cleared the place up in the spirit of fraternal bonhomie.
We got a fire going in the stove, cooked our dinner and settled down for the night, wondering what the morning would bring in the old meterological department.
Well, it wasn’t too bad, but it was pretty breezy. It would be very breezy on the ridge of the Lotrului, which are of similar stature to the Candrel. Matt was keen, I was not. Matt is indomitable, some would say foolhardy. I am pragmatic, some would say a scaredy-cat. Anyway, one slightly nerve-wracking experience per trip is usually enough for me, so I vetoed the exciting ridge walk in challenging conditions in favour of a rather dull plod down a forestry track for some miles.
It was pretty dull, the high point being an encounter with some friendly forestry chaps who shared some of their lovely pie with us. After plodding along for a few hours, we decided to launch back up the wooded hillside to camp in the hope that conditions on the ridge would be better the following day. Man, this was one hell of a difficult, steep scramble up through some rather wild, unmanaged woodland. the going was really difficult – often involving impenetrable thickets of close-growing saplings. best forgotten, that one. Anyway, after a bit of an ordeal we found a clearing in a decent position, pitched the tent and got the obligatory fire going.
The morning was a bit more promising, so after striking camp, we decided to rejoin the ridge for what would hopefully be our final day’s walk to the River Olt, running through the Lotrului Gorge.
We battered through the woods and eventually found a forestry track that was doing what we wanted it to do.
Then it was a case of battering up through the trees again…
…before emerging onto the ridge.
The snow was very powdery, which made progress very slow and absolutely knackering as you had to lift your feet high with every step to clear the hole you’d just made. Eventually we reached the high point, which marked the beginning of our very long descent. This, I think is Prejba (1774m).
Lots of crosses in these parts…
We continued along the wintry ridge at length. No people, no animals that we could see – though we often felt we were being watched from within the woods – absolute silence.
Down we continued as views opened up on to the main ridge of the Fagaras to the west – a beautiful Carpathian crest of magnificent 2000 metre+ beauties, including Moldoveanu, which at 2544m is Romania’s highest mountain.
Eventually, the snow cover thinned and we removed our snow shoes for the final steep descent through woodland to the valley floor.
On the way down we passed this beautifully located headstone:
When we were descending through the woods, we saw this splendid example of arboreal graffiti:
Somewhat later, we finally arrived in the village of Boita, which sits next to the E81 trunk road. From here we hitch-hiked to the fine medieval town of Sibiu, which happened to be European City of Culture that year, not that anyone outside of Romania seems to have noticed.
We were filthy, smelly and knackered by the time we checked into a hotel in the town. That evening was spent at extensive ablutions, large dinners and multiple beers. The next day, we took a stroll around the City of Culture. I’ll leave you with a picture of my favourite cultural artefact from that day, yes! a Kermit-green Trabant. The colour is the only ‘green’ thing about this four-wheeled carbon monoxide factory, but you gotta love ’em.