Transylvanian Adventures Part 3

This one may contravene trading standard regulations as ‘adventure’ is a bit of a misnomer. Transylvanian Misadventure might be a more accurate representation of events. Don’t worry yourselves too much on our part though. The trip did end with a hideous double fracture and ankle dislocation, but this was suffered by Arsenal’s Eduardo Da Silva as the result of a horrendous late tackle by Birmingham City’s Martin Taylor – news of which reached us in Brasov on our way home.

The misadventure in question resulted from Matt and myself assuming that all 2000 metre mountains in Romania – with the exception of the mighty and majestic Fagaras Crest – could be tackled during winter with snow shoes alone. Ho hum.

It was February 2008 and if you’ve read the earlier Transylvanian instalments, you may see a pattern emerging. The previous summer, Matt and his cousin Guy had picked up where myself and Matt had finished up the previous winter – Boita, near the River Olt at the western end of the Fagaras ridge. They launched themselves up the ridge and bailed out again after climbing Moldoveanu (2544m) – Romania’s highest peak.

Myself and Matt would resume the route at the town of Victoria, to the north of the Fagaras ridge, where he and Guy had finally abandoned their feet – so to speak – in favour of hitching a lift. The plan was to forge a route east at the foot of the Fagaras, before turning south and climbing up along a ridge to cross the main Fagaras ridge, then following another ridge south to eventually arrive at the town of Campulung.

The first day went to plan. We took a taxi from Sibiu to Victoria and then walked for some hours along snow and ice-covered track roads to an odd collection of buildings, which rather strikingly juxtaposed the sacred and the profane. The magnificently pious Brancoveanu Monastery had a collection of alpine chalet-esque hotels as its neighbours. We elected to stay in one of the latter and merely visit the former, rather than the other way round – not least as we felt this would maximise our chances of getting to watch Arsenal’s  Champions League tie with AC Milan that very evening. Not a single satellite dish was visible among the spires, bell towers and crenellations of the monastery.

It was a fine monastery indeed and well worth a visit. Brancoveanu is one of the region’s famed ‘painted monasteries’, noted for the extensive frecoes and murals adorning the walls. Perhaps we should have read this particular mural as a warning:

Arsenal beat Milan 2-0, but that was where the luck ran out. The following morning we were up very early and on our way before dawn. I don’t remember much about that morning except that we had to wend a convoluted route before we arrived at our turning point. We then began a long, arduous climb up to then along the ridge, which we hoped to follow up to and over the main Fagaras ridge. As we gained height, the snow became deeper and we broke out the snow shoes. There were large areas of devastated woodland, which looked to have been decimated by some extreme weather rather than as the result of forestry work, but it was hard to tell for sure.

The day drew on and we eventually decided to pitch up for the night. It was very, very cold.

After striking camp in the morning, we  continued on our way, following our path through dense woodlands – having to work our way over, under or round many shattered tree trunks at first. As we climbed, the tree cover eventually thinned and the snow deepened. Note Matt’s deeply impractical sleeping mats strapped to backpack:

We eventually cleared the tree line and were presented with a slight issue.

These here hills were just a little bit too pointy for snow shoes. What we really needed at this point was ice axes and crampons, which we didn’t have. We had traversed ridges with 2000 metre+ summits the previous winter without problems – other than the weather of course – but those ridges had been broader and smoother. The topographic relief on Matt’s map gave no reason to think that this ridge would be any, well, pointier. Matt might just have considered risking it, but there was no way I was going to. Once again the retreat was sounded and we turned around and headed whence we came.

A long, long descent ensued and we eventually camped by a stream near the foot of the ridge. It was another cold, cold night.

The following day we had a long, tedious, awkward walk out to a village called Breaza, I think, before we organised a lift to Fagaras train station; thence on to the much-admired medieval city of Brasov – where we could console ourselves with a bit of culture at the theatre.

We may have been thwarted on this occasion, but we would be back. Maybe summer might be better for tackling large pointy mountain ridges…


4 responses

  1. I’ve enjoyed your Transylvanian Adventures. I’m impressed with your ability to turn around. Haven’t done much wintry stuff in the Alps, but what little I have done has been with locals and has been governed by avalanche risk, ruling much of the zone we enjoy in summer ‘out of bounds’.

    • Thanks very much, Martin. My ‘ability’ to turn around is largely born out of cowardice, I fear. I once fell 300m in the Pindus mountains of northern Greece in winter conditions. I hit some rocks, fractured my tib and fib and tore the lateral knee ligaments in my left leg. I then had to get below the snow line and walk for several hours supported by my friend as this was well before the mobile phone age and there were no mountain rescue helicopters in the region anyway. Ever since then, I have had a finely honed ability to say ‘no way!’ if I’m not happy about something in the hill department. That said, I don’t like giving up unless I really think it’s dodgy.

      Anyway, I’m afraid there’s a Transylvanian Adventures Part 4 on the way! Thanks for reading, Martin.

  2. Keep them coming Pete 🙂 This Matt fella sounds like a real character, he being the accelerator and you (with all due respect) the brakes. That’s a good thing in those conditions in mountains you have not experienced before. At least he listened to your concerns and agreed to retreat. Often this balance of views is missing in some teams which may explain why so many hikers and climbers come a cropper in winter. It is much easier to agree to carry on to keep the peace rather than stand your ground and refuse to go on.

    Campulung is still quite far from me, but Brasov is much closer being a one hours drive away. By the way I forgot to send you a link to the alpine club website my walking friends belong to. I only go on what they would consider tame stuff, although it always feels pretty epic to me. The site is almost all in Hungarian, but you will find dozens of links to all the trips which are documented and lovingly photographed. As they travel all over Romania in search of adventure you will probably see some of the places you have been to during warmer seasons. I have just had scan through their revamped website and came across one of my bear stories 🙂 and believe you me there are plenty more where that came from! I just wish I had a decent telephoto lens and a faster camera. I must put that on my wish list for when you come over 🙂

    The devastation in the woodland you saw could have been caused by extreme weather. I have seen two myself, the most dramatic being in the Oituz valley. A tornado ripped through a large section of the valley taking down thousands of acres of mature trees. Even ten years later large parts still look desolate or replanted with young spruce.

    Is there a part 4 coming? If so I will look forward to it 🙂

    • Thanks Paul. Yes, I’m afraid there is a Part 4 on the way. I’ll have a peruse of those links when I’m done.

      I think Matt didn’t really have any choice as far as the retreating was concerned – seeing as I had the tent, stove etc… and yes, he is a bit of a character. His efforts to learn a bit of Hungarian and Romanian were very useful indeed on these trips.

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