As soon as we woke up, we could see the shepherds were all agitated. One sheep was missing. The explanation was quite obvious – we all heard that howling wolf the previous night.
Besides that, one other sheep grabbed our attention from the very beginning. She always grazed alone close to the settlement and never went up the mountains with the shepherds. We called her luda ovca – the mad sheep.
The decision were to go was practically made the night before, now we only confirmed it. We left Maja Popluks for the following day. Now, after the efforts of climbing the roof of the Accursed Mountains, we deserved a nice and easy walk. Like the one along the meadows on the ridge that leads to Maja Kolacit.
Buni i Gropaet
Part of the family of shepherds was preparing to go down to Thethi, including one of the two kids, who we called Harry Potter because of his looks and glasses that he wore. We still had time to say goodbye to them before we set off.
We went up the very steep grassy slope leading to the col next to a free-standing, white gendarme, sometimes crossing some scree fields, very quickly gaining elevation and tiredness. Below the ridge we rested a while. Going up to the crest would pose no problem but why should we gain too much height only to lose it a moment later? Instead we traversed to the right, paralelly to it, behind the gendarme, looking for the best passages.
Up the grassy
...looking for the
We were approaching a broad grassy scree-covered saddle. Long before we reached it we could already see an obstacle. The first peak in the ridge proper was guarded from all sides by rock faces. The going was about to get tough. But only there after all – further on there was a nice meadow all the way to Maja Kolacit, wasn’t it?
Standing on the saddle we took a good long look at the wall that faced us. We had no climbing gear. Gord was a great scrambler but had no real experience with technical climbing. Azra had recently completed a rock climbing course for beginners. So it looked like the decision how to go, where to go and whether to go at all was down to me. I had to think not only of myself. In any case the route had to be suitable for descending too. Even though the further way to Maja Kolacit was supposed to be much easier, we would probably have to go down the same way.
The first obstacle...
I noticed a chute leading up the face at a rightward angle that might give us a chance of an easier climb. It started where the talus reached its highest point. It looked well rotten, just like the rest of the face, but seemed to be the least steep. We only had to come closer and check it out.
Before the deciding push we looked around to admire the views. We could see Ropojana from as close as never before on this trip. I could even distinguish Rasim’s katun which I visited with Ivoš and David a year before. I had told Afrim and his family about Rasim and it turned out they knew him.
Maja Shnikut, Maja Shkurts and Maja Lagojvet. Ropojana valley below.
Bottom of the chute
We had a quick snack and set off for the base of our chute. As we thought, there was grass and scree in it. Nothing left to do but go up. The beginning was even easier than we thought but still everything was falling from under our feet.
It got much steeper further up, exceeding 45-50 degrees, and not any more solid, but we were still gaining altitude pretty fast, climbing on all four legs. But higher up the scrambling became really evil. The relative safety of the chute ended and we entered an open slope, or rather a steep face of more than 60 degrees, consisted of loose rock mixed with vegetation. Rare bits of solid rock were covered with pebbles that kept falling down at the slightest touch. Perhaps it was not harder than I-II UIAA but can we use any grading for a choss pile that hardly holds together?
Azra climbing above the chute
I was going first with Gord following me. Suddenly I heard something fall out of his backpack. It was his spoon and knife, I could see them land a couple metres below. A very long couple metres, as long as it can get in this choss. No point going back to pick them, maybe Azra can do it when she gets there, maybe we pick them on the way down. Then I realised... fucksake, we gotta get down this shite! But not yet, it was only noon, and first there was a nice ridge walk all the way to Maja Kolacit ahead, wasn’t it?
Gord fighting the choss
The summit seen from
the false summit
Just a few more metres to the ridge. I waited for Gord and Azra as they climbed the nastiest bit. Finally on the ridge, couple more metres to the left to the summit. Nah, not yet, that’s only a false summit.
The worst was behind us... hey, what’s that? We ain’t going much further. The true summit was another couple dozen metres of a knife-edge ridge away, with almost vertical walls of several hundred metres on both sides. A tad scary but perhaps alright to solo. But...
...between the summit and the next peak there was a gaping hole. We had no rope so we could not abseil. To go up the other side we would need gear too. And on that next peak we could see our meadow, looking at us with a mischievous grin. Indeed it looked like it was going all along the ridge to Maja Kolacit! Livada koja ne postoji...
Gord and Azra reached the false summit a while later. By then I did not feel that gutted anymore, thinking we did a great job to get where we were anyway. Time for congratulations. Had anyone been here before us?
OK, let’s move on until I’m psyched up. I left everything with them, even my camera, nothing to distract me. All gear I had was a long sling with two crabs, I tied it round my waist. Won’t be of much use, maybe to help me downclimb in some scary place. Just to make me feel more secure rather than out of a real need. I looked at Azra and Gord. They looked like they believed I knew what I was doing. They never said they wanted to go with me and I did not coax them into going either. Among us only I had some more experience with rock and I felt somehow responsible. I promised them and myself I would back off in case of the slightest danger. There is always a danger but how can we tell when it gets ‘the slightest’?
What are you afraid of, ya eejit? – asked the adventurer in me – you free soloed V+ before! That was years ago – answered the chicken – you ain’t climbed in ages... But it turned out to be not that bad. Sometimes with legs on each side of the ridge, sometimes a hand traverse with feet on a slab, once using only friction, with no real footholds. Then a few metres with no difficulty, just walking along the ridge. Then some climbing again. Loose rock at times, with big chunks ready to fall out under too much weight. And the air below, on both sides. Od višine se zvrti... the song by Siddartha sounds in my head. Maybe II+ UIAA in the hardest places, more difficult psychologically than technically, only the air and the choss give some extra adrenaline.
Just below the summit there was a large yellow rectangular slab. From a closer distance I could see it was better to avoid it, too chossy and too much air below. I went a bit to the left from the ridge, into a small depression. Also chossy but not that steep. Double-checking every hold until the end, I climbed the peak. It was 12.30pm.
I waved at Azra and Gord. Having left my camera, I could only count on their shots. Had anyone been here before? I looked at the further part of the ridge. Several metres of a scree slope and then a steep wall going down. Behind the deep col, another wall rising up. Then the grassy ridge, perhaps all the way to Maja Kolacit. Livada koja ne postoji. The meadow that is not there.
Adrenaline dropped, for a while I forgot I still had to come back, enjoying the summit.
On the way back it was a lot easier as I already knew every move. We again congratulated one another, after all we came here together and I would not have been here without them.
SP crew on the false summit
We found a little dung among the stones. Sheep? The question returned if any shepherds had been here before. After a while we reckoned it had to be a chamois shit.
Far below there was the Thethi valley. At a closer look we could even see the red roof of the house of Cappo di Thethi. We took our time photographing all the views. In the Maja Malisores ridge there was a characteristic window. Its highest peaks seemed to be accessible only with climbing gear.
Panoramic view from the false summit in NW direction
We looked at the map. Our mountain had to be the one marked as 2333 m. The first significant peak in the ridge beginning at Qafa e Pejës and leading to Maja Kolacit. Has it got a name at all? There seemed to be two more peaks between it and our peak, each next a bit higher, but unmarked on the map. Maja Kolacit was hidden behind them. The summit of Maja Jezerce also seemed to be hidden.
We built a small cairn at the false summit, putting off that shitty descent for as long as we could. The summit ridge, a bit chossy as it was, at least had bomber holds galore. But here there was not much choice, we only had loose stones and grass to grab and stand on.
Again the choice of route was down to me. Just below the false summit I went down a solid-looking rock, perhaps the only one there. Azra went a few metres to the side, where it was less steep but more rotten. Gord was standing atop the rock that I was downclimbing. He was shouting at Azra to follow me. Azrice, di ideš, tu je dobra živa stjenaaa... (Azra, where you going, there’s good solid rock here...) Bang! He slipped and fell, landing on his arse a couple metres below. He stood up inspecting the damage. Torn kecks, badly scratched bum and one leg. Could be worse, much worse. Till the end of this trip and perhaps for many years to come we will be laughing at that Gord’s ‘solid rock’.
Just below I found Gord’s spoon and knife. The way down this short nastiest bit seemed to go forever. We were double-checking every place to put our hands and feet on. Finally the worst was behind us, we reached the upper end of the chute, which led us to the bottom of the face, also not without difficulty. Only then we could really congratulate ourselves.
Our mountain from below
Maja Malisores ridge from the saddle
The Young Man And The Mountains
We all felt quite knackered, perhaps more mentally than physically. We could not even be arsed to go bathe in the lake below Qafa e Pejës, although we had planned to. It was still early but we decided to go straight down to our camp.
We went down almost the same way. Gord and me also went to the little peak on the side that hangs above the lake and the Qafa e Pejës pass.
The same steep slope was quickly leading us down to the valley. Our mountain, although not being the main peak in the ridge, looked really impressive from where we were.
On the way down
...the little peak on the side...
...looked really impressive...
Driving his wife home :)
The dogs barked at us, like on the first day. From a distance we saw an older couple on the path from Thethi. They were travelling the ‘traditional’ way – the guy was bravely riding his donkey, with the woman following him on foot.
Soon we said hi to Afrim and all the family. The very top of our peak could be seen from there, so pointing at it and using single words in different languages we tried to explain to him where we climbed. We wanted to know the name of our mountain.
Our mountain from Buni i Gropaet
In the meantime the chivalrous rider came in and joined the conversation. Both he and Afrim said the names of the peaks, I asked them to write them down in my notebook. As far as we understood, the whole ridge going to Maja Kolacit was called Maja e Stierra, and our peak’s name was Qatat e Verlla. Or maybe both names were used for the ridge as a whole? We were not sure if we got them right. We asked them if they had been there. Both Afrim and the older shepherd confirmed. Again we did not quite get if they had been to our very summit, or some other, or just somewhere in its neighbourhood. Afrim also mentioned he had been in that window in the Maja Malisores ridge.
Here’s to the heroes
of the Accursed Mountains :)
While we were away, someone brought a few cows from Thethi. Only too bad that thousands of midges came with them. They were biting us for the rest of the day. Azra professionally dressed Gord’s battle wounds from Qatat e Verlla.
We planned to descend to Thethi and drive back to Koplik in two days so only the next day was left for the mountains. Our choice was obvious – Maja Popluks. Azra was feeling completely knackered, she told me and Gord to go without her. We still tried to twist her arm to go with us. Anyway, there was still a lot of time till next morning.
We cooked a big dinner, using whatever we had in our supplies. Soon we were all sleeping like logs in our tents.
* * * * *
In the wee small hours of the morning I was hit by the Curse of the Accursed Mountains.