Welcome to SP!  -
A Clandestine Chocolate Consumer and a Dubious Virgin
Trip Report
Geography
Parents 
Trip Reports
 
 

A Clandestine Chocolate Consumer and a Dubious Virgin

  Featured on the Front Page
A Clandestine Chocolate Consumer and a Dubious Virgin

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Albania, Europe

Lat/Lon: 42.47245°N / 19.73690°E

Object Title: A Clandestine Chocolate Consumer and a Dubious Virgin

Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 27, 2008

Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Scrambling

Season: Summer

 

Page By: kamil, typ

Created/Edited: Sep 8, 2010 / Sep 21, 2010

Object ID: 658847

Hits: 2746 

Page Score: 89.77%  - 30 Votes 

Vote: Log in to vote

 

Prologue

Participants: Tomek (typ) and Kamil (kamil).


Wzgórza przejdziemy, wodą popijemy
Woda po walce ma jak wino smak

We’ll cross the hills, have some water to drink
After the battle water tastes like wine


[Song from the film ‘Jak rozpętałem drugą wojnę światową’ (‘How I Unleashed The Second World War’)]


August 25, 2008

The officer confirms that soon we have to turn left. Mirë rrugë? - using some of the few Albanian words we know, we ask about the quality of the road ahead, pointing at our car. He is not sure if we can make it but wishes us luck anyway.

Just behind the border crossing the asphalt ends and the dirt road begins. Indeed after about 2 km in the dispersed light we notice a side road turning sharply left. We turn there, crossing a bridge over a stream. The road gets bumpy but the car can make it so far. We drive in complete darkness, seeing only the section of the road immediately ahead of us in the headlights. Like that the bumps and stones seem much larger than they really are. Sometimes we can see a cliff rising sharply to our right and hear the river directly below to our left. I turn the radio on and pick up some Montenegrin station. It plays the song by The Rasmus - No Fear, Destination Darkness... How true.

* * * * *

No Fear, Destination Darkness

August 24

I was already supposed to go with Kamil to the Albanian Alps last winter. He suggested I could join the winter ascent of Maja Jezerce organised by a mountaineering club from Belgrade. For several reasons I couldn’t go then. Of course I regretted later.


My mobile rings in the morning. Tomek is calling to give me directions how to drive across Rzeszów and get to his place. ‘You’ll drive over a viaduct and see a characteristic tall monument...’ ‘Yeah, I know’ - I butt in. I know the shape of that famous monument, I’ve seen its photos.

Anyway, the driving instructions are just an excuse. He keeps on trying to twist my arm so that instead of starting from the Grbaja valley and entering Albania on foot we cross the border by car at the Gusinje/Vermosh crossing and continue up the local unpaved roads to Lijepush. My car has already been through quite a lot of adventures of this kind, and now we are short of time, so initially I’m not very enthusiastic to get into another carnage with my old Skoda. Also our maps give contradictory info about those roads. But finally my explorer’s nature wins and I agree, claiming the right to change my mind at the last moment. I kinda owe him that, after all that bit of bad road is nothing compared to what I’m trying to get him into.

* * * * *

August 25

In the evening of the second day of our journey we pass Gusinje and turn right to a little side road leading to the border crossing. The arrow sign shows Grnčar - the last village at the Montenegrin side of the border. A herd of cows walks ahead of us. They give way, except one young bull galloping for a longer while in the headlights. It only moves to the side at a lit-up widening of the road, from which we can see the building of the Montenegrin border post.

A friendly officer looks at our passports. We tell him about our plans and ask about the road ahead. The village just across the border is called Bashkim. The road goes straight on to Vermosh but reaches a dead end there. We have to turn left about two kilometres ahead instead - that road goes to our destination Lijepush and much further to Hani i Hoti to the other side of the mountains. That’s exactly what we wanted to know, as our maps are not clear about it. We thank him and drive the remaining hundred metres or so to the Albanian border post.

We greet the Albanian officer sitting inside. Our command of Albanian practically ends at the greetings, so I quickly switch to Serbian. For him it is no problem, his Serbian is much better than our Albanian, but he is still happy to hear our lame attempts to speak his language. He walks out the building and has a long friendly chat with us. We tell him about all our previous visits in Bjeshkët e Nemuna.


The border crossing is tiny, empty and quiet. When Kamil switches the engine off, all we can hear are grasshoppers. The Albanian officer welcomes us with a smile and a handshake. I record a short film and take photos, something I wouldn’t normally do at a border crossing. Two low barracks with solar batteries outside, one small light bulb shining inside, an old Volkswagen Golf which perhaps belongs to the officer - that’s all that is here.


Enlarge
Border crossing


The officer confirms that soon we have to turn left. Mirë rrugë? - using some of the few Albanian words we know, we ask about the quality of the road ahead, pointing at our car. He is not sure if we can make it but wishes us luck anyway.

Just behind the border crossing the asphalt ends and the dirt road begins. Indeed after about 2 km in the dispersed light we notice a side road turning sharply left. We turn there, crossing a bridge over a stream. The road gets bumpy but the car can make it so far. We drive in complete darkness, seeing only the section of the road immediately ahead of us in the headlights. Like that the bumps and stones seem much larger than they really are. I turn the radio on and pick up some Montenegrin station. It plays the song by The Rasmus - No Fear, Destination Darkness... How true.


The road turns out to be better than that from Boge to Thethi. Shame we can’t see anything outside the car’s headlights. Only by the sound of the river directly below to our left and the cliffs rising sharply to our right can we judge that the road must be scenic.


About 10 pm, ten kilometres from the border crossing the road widens and we can see a house to its left with bright light beaming from inside. It looks like a bar. We decide to stop here and see what’s inside. As soon as we leave the car and approach the door, we are welcomed by the landlady, soon followed by her husband, the owner of the bar, who introduces himself as Tonio. The village is called Bordolecit. It must be the one that is called Predelac by Montenegrins.


Enlarge
Bar at Bordolecit


On our map Bordolecit is marked as a hamlet of Lijepush, but the map is old. Nowadays, thanks to being situated by the ‘main’ road, it has become more important than its ‘mother’ village. Tonio knows Pietro from ‘Bufe’ at Thethi, at the other side of the mountains, where both me and Kamil independently stayed in the summer two years ago. I have an impression that in the comparison with Bordolecit, Thethi was more quaint and remote, perhaps due to difficult road connections with the rest of the world. Bordolecit, after all, has a relatively good connection with Montenegro.


We buy beer and sit at a table. Tonio brings us a plate of white cheese and bread and a bottle of raki. Two boys of school age, his cousins, also sit with us. A few local men sit at another table and play cards for money.


Only when I produce two cans of Polish beer and Kamil fetches a bottle of Żubrówka from the car, the card players show some interest in our presence. One of them answers in Serbian to Kamil’s greeting and another one turns out to speak good English. We pour a round of Żubrówka. Gezuar, živjeli, zdrowie! - toasts are raised in Albanian, Serbian and Polish. Tonio agrees that we leave the car in front of his bar so that he can keep an eye on it.


I recall the story from last March. The mysterious helicopter that crashed somewhere on the slopes of Maja Jezerce and was never found. The quickly stopped search and rescue operation. I casually ask the locals if anyone of them happened to hear about it. One confirms briefly, but I get an impression that he doesn’t want to continue this topic. Maybe it’s only my impression.

An hour later we say goodnight and go to sleep in the car. Already lying in our sleeping bags on the reclining seats we see other guests making a move too and Tonio closing his bar for the night.

Furtive Food Filcher

August 26

It is still grey and cold outside when the alarm rings at 5.30 am with brutal punctuality. It takes us another fifteen minutes to wake up properly. A while later Tonio comes and opens the bar. The sun slowly begins to light up the mountain tops in pink.


Enlarge
Bar at Bordolecit

Enlarge
Bordolecit


Only now we can see what the bar looks like from the outside. There are a few wooden benches and tables under the roof made of torn builders’ plastic. Behind the building sits a heap of litter, where free-roaming pigs try to find something for themselves. The sun is still below the horizon, casting alpenglow on the highest peaks, when the first guests already gather for a cup of coffee and a shot of raki.


We take some grub and come inside too. When we order a coffee, Tonio sits at a table with us, bringing a bottle of raki. He pours a glass for us and himself. I happened to down a shot at 6 am, but that was at the end of a party and not at the beginning of a day... We invite him to help himself with our food but he refuses, explaining that he has breakfast at noon, only drinking coffee and raki before. He would be sipping his wee glass for an hour or longer. This morning ritual has nothing to do with excessive or binge drinking. Despite the language barrier we somehow understand one another very well.

We ask Tonio and the other locals about the route to Grbajski Zastan. An elderly man comes in and sits at a table next to us. Tonio pours a glass of raki for him and they talk for a while. He is a builder and turns out to be going to Lijepush in a while to help someone fix their house so he can show us the beginning of the way.


Enlarge
Bordolecit


The builder is in a hurry, so we quickly pack our stuff and leave together with him. I wanted to buy some chocolate but because of the hurry there is no time. This apparently unimportant detail will soon prove very costly for me...


The builder goes with us almost to the end of Lijepush. Speaking a bit of Serbian, he roughly explains where we should go to the meadows of Paje and further towards Grbajski Zastan.


Enlarge
Lijepush


It is actually difficult to tell where Bordolecit ends and Lijepush begins. The latter is a rather dilapidated mountain village. Rusty satellite dishes on the walls and roofs of the low houses look quite grotesque. Patched pigs roam freely on the dirt road, foraging for food scraps. In some places the road is full of litter, dragged here by water perhaps during spring floodings. Of course even here we find the ubiquitous concrete bunkers. Some of them have been cut or broken by the locals and used as parts of fences.



About forty minutes after leaving the bar we reach a meadow where the road ends. We can see the beginning of a path that leads steeply up a forested slope. That must be our further route. Tomek wants to keep going without stopping but I throw my terribly heavy backpack to the ground and sit down to rest for a few minutes. After all I asked for it, bringing all my climbing gear with me.


Enlarge
Paje. The kid here is not the one that went with us later on.


The path is well visible, as sheep must be often herded this way to the wide pastures above. We go up quite steeply and soon find ourselves above the treeline to reach Paje after 9 am. The sun is shining, there is no wind and with every hour it becomes hotter. We meet a few local women. When asked about the way to Zastan, one of them says that her son is going there with sheep right now and we can go with him.


Enlarge


The teenager knows a few words in Serbian and English, which makes some kind of conversation possible. We follow him as he shepherds his herd up the path and some steep rock thresholds, so steep it is hard to believe that sheep can negotiate them. Tomek has taken the tent from me to equalise the weight of our packs but I still lag behind. Either I’m crap or he’s in such good shape.

We must admit that thanks to the kid we are saving quite a lot of time. Although the general direction is quite obvious, looking for the best passages among numerous bumps and holes would surely take longer without him. At some point we can see the characteristic ridge that culminates with Popadija and Volušnica, so well known to everyone who has seen the Grbaja valley. Grbaja itself, across the Montenegrin border, is hidden far below. On its other side rises the massive ridge of Karanfili.


Enlarge
Above Paje...

Enlarge
...on the way to Zastan

Enlarge
Karanfili


One more deep ravine with a dirty snowfield, one more threshold, and I can see the familiar shapes of peaks. We cross the threshold and enter the upper corrie of Zastan. After a bit more than four hours since leaving the meadow at Lijepush we reach the spot where I parted with Azra and Tomica to go for my scouting trip in July.


Enlarge
Karanfili, Maja Fortit, Maja Vukoces, some unnamed peaks and Maja Lagojvet


We pitch the tent at the bottom of the corrie. Comparing to July, there is hardly any snow. Too bad, except snow there is no water at Zastan. Luckily we find a hole with some snow not far from our camp. Below the upper layer of dirt and dust it seems clean enough for melting to drink. When melted, at the bottom it leaves a sediment of dust and some little thin worms or some other creepy-crawlies. Luckily Tomek has taken some clean gauze so we can filter the bugs off. In the following days we will be drinking plenty of such water without boiling or chemical purification, counting on the toughness of our stomachs. We’ve done it many times before so it should be alright.


Enlarge

Enlarge


We cook a meal, offering the boy what we have. He is quite choosy, helping himself to what he likes most. Then he leaves us and takes his herd for grazing. We watch him run like a chamois on the surrounding slopes. When he is back, we are ready to go.


We hide our food under the tent floor to keep it cool. When I want to say goodbye to the kid, he doesn’t want to shake my hand, saying something like he’s not leaving yet because he has to do one more round with his sheep. Has he changed his plans? We can’t change ours, it’s time to go.

Kamil packs his climbing gear. I take some stuff which we may not need but which I think should not stay in the tent while we are away. I explain to Kamil that I’m afraid of animals, especially wild hogs that steal everything they find on their way.

Soon after we leave, our tent disappears behind a rocky corner. We can see it again after 20 minutes. Now we can also see the boy passing by the tent. Only now he shouts
mirupafshim! So he is finally going back down with the sheep.


In an hour we reach the base of the north face of Maja Lagojvet, which I have had on my mind for a long time and which I took a closer look at during my scouting trip in July. As I expected, Tomek decides his part will be limited to supporting me and taking pics. I understand him perfectly so I don’t insist. He’s never done any trad climbing after all. Alright, solo with self-belaying then... I tell him I’m very unlikely to finish the route today as it is already late afternoon. I will perhaps just climb one pitch, abseil on a single rope and leave it for tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, depending on our further plans. He asks me a few times if I’m sure I want to do it.


Enlarge
Maja Lagojvet


If I ever believed I could help Kamil climb this mountain, I lost all my faith at the base of the wall. It’s just not for me. The face must be about 150 m high, with a chimney or rather a crack on the left and some featureless slabs on the right. On his July recon Kamil chose a route in the middle where he expected the easiest climbing. He estimated the difficulty for IV-V UIAA anyway, although he will know it for sure only after having finished it. I can’t even be persuaded to try, this is not a sport for me. Anyway, he doesn’t insist at all.


Now I’m not so sure about my route choice anymore but I’ve got to try somewhere. I set up a bombproof belay from two pegs, gear up, fix my prusik to the rope and start climbing. There are hardly any gear placements, the cracks are either crumbly or flaring. On the next dozen metres or so I only manage to place a precarious friend, a lousy nut which will fall out in a while and, after a long struggle, hammer in two knifeblades. If I wasn’t solo I wouldn’t fuck with every move like that. But now I’m on my own and desperately slow. The climbing is easy, no more than IV or IV+, only the pro is really shite. I wish I had more of those bloody pegs, it looks like they’re the only reliable pro on this route and soon I’m gonna run out of them. I talk to Tomek who sits a couple dozen metres away. It’s always good to open my mouth to someone...


All I can do is to sit and watch Kamil. Alone on a mountain face in Albania. With no chance of help in emergency. We both know - and I keep reminding it to him - that I can’t help him. If he takes a fall higher up and loses consciousness, breaks a limb or so, he’s dead meat. I won’t help him, cos otherwise there would be two dead instead of one.

Expecting help from anyone else is out of question, simply because there is no one else in these mountains. If I descend to Grbaja or Ropojana I might have a chance of meeting some Montenegrins or Serbs who know how to climb. But this chance is only theoretical. That’s why I try to persuade Kamil to give up. I’m only partly successful, helped by the late hour.



Bloody hell, what a choss... for a longer while I think how to get another 2-3 metres up and not fall off with some loose rock. I climb on, find two good cracks and hammer in my last two lost arrows. If I make another attempt, this will be my bottom stance. But now it is not important anymore. At this speed there would be no way I could finish the face before dark, not to mention abbing down. I shout to Tomek that it’s over for today...


Enlarge
Maja Lagojvet


Kamil abseils, hammering out the pitons on his way. As we descend to the camp, he is fortunately having more and more doubts whether he can climb the face solo. However he has left the rope, saying he will make further decisions on Thursday, as tomorrow he’s going to Maja Shnikut with me.


Rummaging through our food, to our big surprise we find some items missing. Throughout the rest of the evening and tomorrow morning we will keep discovering more damage. The thief treated us quite humanely anyway and only took less than half of our grub. Or rather he was choosy and only helped himself to the items he liked when he tried them at the dinner with us earlier on. He must have waited till we disappear round the corner and had plenty of time to pilfer through the stuff under the tent floor, inside the tent and even in my bag of medicines, from which he nicked a full tube of fizzy tablets. He was decent enough to leave the second one which was partly used up.


I take a look at our food and suddenly I’m dumbstruck. A few tins are missing! I look elsewhere, hoping it’s not for real. But soon we find out that the tins are not the only loss. Someone, we are practically sure who but he was not caught red-handed, stole a part of our supplies. Why only a part? Maybe he hoped we had so much we wouldn’t even notice. So we’ve lost the tins, fizzy tablets, sausage (I’m not sure if it wasn’t off anyway...), energy drink, a few puddings, some instant soups, a banana, apples, chocolate... It’s the last thing I expected here. I’m pissed off, disappointed, surprised, disbelieving. If it had been him, I’m even more disappointed because he turned out to be two-faced, and I have enough of this in everyday life.

We take out all that’s left to eat for the next two days. Had he taken everything, we would be forced to return immediately, but now we can make it somehow. Small consolation. Bread with jam for breakfast (why hasn’t he taken the jam?), some instant dishes for lunch and for evenings we have those two tins he has left.



Anyway, we can do sod all about it now. The clandestine chocolate consumer vanished into the void.

My mood spoilt, I still analyse the climb. My mountain would perhaps require a strong party of two. When soloing, with unknown difficulties higher up, choss and lousy pro, with the shortage of pegs forcing me to do short pitches, in the best case I would be climbing from dawn till dusk. But we are here together so tomorrow we’re going somewhere together. We’re gonna climb a mountain we thought about a while ago - Maja Shnikut. The way there and back will most likely take the whole day. The day after tomorrow, weather permitting, I’ll try to climb my mountain a bit further, or maybe just take the rope down...


Enlarge
Kamil making plans for tomorrow

Stick And Carrot

August 27

The morning sky is partly clouded, we don’t know what to expect from it. Thanks to our yesterday’s benefactor our breakfast is somewhat skimpy. I’m not hungry anyway so I just quickly munch two sarnies. Tomek eats more. We stash my unneccesary climbing gear in a hole and cover it well with stones. Having filtered the water and packed our modest food supply, we go up the Khyber... well, up the wrong pass.


Enlarge
The wrong pass

Enlarge
View to Maja Nigvacit

Enlarge
Kamil checking descent to the other side


I thought this would make a nice little shortcut to the next valley. But when we reach the pass, on the other side there are a few metres of choss and a gaping abyss below it. We retrace our steps to the camp and take the route known to me, similar as we took with Ivoš and David three years ago. To make it shorter we scramble some rocks instead of walking all the way to Maja Lagojvet. I find the descent from the crest to the next valley easier than I remembered, maybe because then we walked with all our stuff in our packs and now we are going light.


Enlarge
Tomek...

Enlarge
...scrambling to the ridge


The bottom of the nameless valley is filled with large boulders. It has a grim feel about it, every word is echoed in the absolute silence. At its opposite side we have to scramble for a longer while to reach the next col. Kamil took this route three years ago with the Czechs on the way to Ropojana. Now I can see that I was right about another col separating the nameless valley from Zastan, to the left of the one we tried first this morning (to the right when looking from our camp). From here it is the lowest and easiest pass to Zastan, if only it was equally easy down the opposite side... then we can use it to return to the camp, as we are bound to be very tired by then.


Upon reaching the col we are immediately hit by massive wind. The huge flat-bottomed cauldron of Stani Koprishtit is below us. Our goal, Maja Shnikut, is partly covered by clouds. Instead of traversing the left edge of Stani Koprishtit like me the previous time, we descend straight to its bottom. The clouds clear up, the sun begins to shine and it becomes warmer.


However, there is still a long way to the summit of Maja Shnikut and we don’t exactly know which way to go. It is rather impossible to go straight up from the valley bottom because of the sheer cliff, so we probably have to circle the summit dome from the right.


Enlarge
Maja Shnikut

Enlarge
With the shepherds in Stani Koprishtit


Suddenly from far away we can see two shepherds. They shout something at us and soon we meet. One of them speaks Serbian so the conversation for me is easy. They teach us some new Albanian words and we talk in mixed languages for a while. They confirm our expectations about the route to the summit.


Enlarge
Stani Koprishtit valley: Maja Nigvacit, Maja Lagojvet, the Maja Shkurt group and Maja Prozhmit


We reach the opposite end of the valley and walk up the steep threshold to the higher terrace - a large field of boulders below the northern cliffs of Maja Shnikut. We plan to traverse this field to the right, ascend the ridge and follow it to our left towards the summit. I’m beginning to feel the effects of eating too little and have to slow down, lagging behind Tomek. How I wish I had bought that extra bar of chocolate at Bordolecit... We eat some last bit of chocolate that Tomek kept with him yesterday