Below you can read my personal account on a pleasant four-day trek along a portion of the main ridge of Rodnei Mountains, a lesser-known "back corner" of Central Europe. The trip took place during 7-10 August, 2009.
A technical note for better understanding of the non-English toponyms: each time the name of a peak appears in the text for the first time, the Hungarian (and in one case the German) names are given in parentheses (in italic) after the Romanian names, which are given foremost and throughout the rest of the text.
Day 1 - Rainy reward for comfort climbing
After the previous day's full-day travel (for me: drive) from Budapest to Borşa Complex, we are somewhat lazy with the start. One of the three decides to spend one more day down at the Pensiunea Ursu ("bear pension", which served as our base camp), the remaining two of us decide to ease the long and tiring ascend towards the main ridge of Rodnei Mountains by taking advantage of the ski chairlift, which operates also in summertime if there are enough "hikers" to make the operation financially benefitial.
As the "telescaun" (as it is called in Romanian) is about to start in a couple of minutes (and who knows whether there will be a next round and if yes, when), we finish our packing with the speed of light (well, almost) and gallop over the street, where the station is located. We buy our one-way tickets and immediately after that we jump onto the moving chairs, one per person. With big and small backbacks on ourselves, this is not an easy maneuver, but we manage. It takes some 15 minutes to make 500 m elevation and about 2 km of distance. Flying over the now green hillside I recall how tiring was to descend this terrain in the melting snow last spring... Now on the chairlift it feels like being on a luxury trip.
Hopping off the chair at the upper station (~1350 m), our real hike begins. There's a few hundred meters more of elevation ahead of us, and despite the weather is not bad, some grey clouds are gathering. We'd better go. Reaching the Ştiol plateau (~1600 m) still in sunshine, where we have a little rest in the vicinity of Ştiol Lake. Originally it had a very nice teardrop shape. In the 1990-ies, the local government wanted to "develop" a recreational area here, and excavated the adjacent area so that the lake became larger. Unfortunately the development was halted only after they trasformed the lake, so now you have this semi-artificial form....
The highest point of this day, Şaua Gărgalău (Gărgalău pass, 1907 m) is already visible from here. Unfortunately, the grey clouds are more and more visible as well. We move on optimistically but not much later our ponchos have to be recovered from the packs. It's not raining badly, but it's definitely raining. That's how we reach the pass, west from which is Muntele Cailor (Ló-havas), whose Southern slope is a nice meadow and at the same time, a designated campsite.
Setting up a tent in rain is "fun". We finish surprisingly fast. At last we're listening the drops from the inside, resting and talking about the plans for the next day. Half an hour and the rain stops, so we can come out from our shell and take a walk around. This part of the main ridge has a very gentle topography. What makes it interesting, is a group of small nivation ponds scattered around. Towards the south, we see the long, mostly forest-covered side ridges of Rodnei Mountains. The characteristic peak of Coronghiş (Korongyos) is attracts most of my attention. It is not among the highest summits of this range, but has a nice pyramidal shape and some precious inhabitants... Meanwhile it starts to rain again, but then it stops again, so I could set up our second tent. It was not needed at that moment, but I wanted to get acquainted with it, as I was planning to buy one later for myself (I did it this summer, and it's already been to Durmitor). The night is spent in tranquility.
Day 2 - Failing a summit, finding a treasure
"Good morning!" the goats and sheep must be saying, but we only hear "baaaah". Soon the herd walks right over our campsite, without showing any particular interest in our presence. The scene is funny. Two surprised campers blinking out from theirs tent, in the very middle of a sheep&goat herd. What's more, not even a bark can be heard from the sheperd dogs, which approach us very friendly. This is the opposite of the general case, when you're likely to be attacked. The key to the situation must lie in relativity. It's not us approaching the herd, it's the herd walking over us. We wave to greet the sheperds, then slowly the grazing white carpet moves on and we can get out from our tents. It looks like to be a fine sunny day, but we have to sleep one more night here, so that our third partner can catch up with us. We decide to have a go at Coronghiş. It's close, anyway, so it should be a nice relaxation programme for today...
We have a saying "Man plans, God decides", and that was true for this plan of ours. To get over to Coronghiş from the campsite, first you have the scale Gărgalău (Gargaló), descend on the other side, then scale Omului, and then depart the main ridge, descending 400 meters to the Coronghiş saddle, and finally about 200 m up the the destination. Far from being impossible, yet we felt so tired on Omului that we didn't feel like to do the 600 m elevation there and back. So we chose the easier way again, and had some rest on Omului, carefully enjoying the sun and hoping to get in better shape for the next two days, as the plan was to crawl along the main ridge with large backpacks and come back down to civilization via Pietrosul (Nagy-Pietrosz). Meanwhile we saw other backpackers heading for Ineu (Ünőkő, Kuhhorn). The second highest peak of Rodnei Mountains is well visible from here, but I know from experience that it's still a lot to go from here. On our way back, I notice some pink flowers. They're not particularly eye-catching, but I know already that this might be Lychnis nivalis, the rare endemic species of Rodnei Mountains, so I carefully take some photos, while paying attention not to disturb them in any way. From the summit of Gărgalău, I try to contact the third person of our group, but there's no mobile signal.
Clouds come and go... the weather is not bad but it's not the best for taking photographs. From the Western slope of Gărgalău I still try to catch some nice shots of the central part of the main ridge - with Puzdrele (Puzdra), Laptelui Mare (Ányes), and in the distance Buhăescu (Bukuly) and Pietrosul. Getting back to our tents, we see no sign of our third companion. After some meal I set out to climb up the highest point of Muntele Cailor, a little rocky but easy summit. It's not far from us, but while getting there, I discover some more small ponds sitting in little depressions not visible from our place. From the summit, there is a nice view over to Gărgalău peak and saddle, plus one of the bigger ponds is also well visible. I see no movement at the saddle, so I decide to walk there and look down the Gărgalău cirque. A quarter of an hour later I'm there, but can't see anyone coming up. I begin to worry, as the Sun has started to decline. My cell phone doesn't receive any signal here, either. So I am left with nothing but good hope and return to our tents. We chat about the situation for some time, when I notice a familiar figure in the distance. All right, the team is finally together... We tell each other what has to be told and enjoy the promise of a fine sunset, which eventually becomes reality. I even manage to take a nice picture of it from the nearby pond. Time to sleep then.
Day 3 - The dogs, the shepherd and the chocolate
This time the herd is heading the other way, so we don’t get woolly company for the breakfast. The sun shines brightly and we are getting ready for the "ridge ride". The plan is to walk over to the next designated campsite, located Westwards at Şaua intre Izvoare ("saddle in between springs", ~1840 m). The first mountain to climb is Galaţului (Galac). As it’s not a too fascinating hump, I come up with the idea to skip its summit and try leveling to the col on the other side, following sheep tracks. Not much is won by that, as the bumpy terrain slows us down, however we can enjoy the view on the S face of Laptelui from a slightly different angle than from the top of Galaţului. In fact it is quite a rough S face (especially in the Rodnei context).
We end up somewhat above the col, called Şaua Laptelui (~1920 m), have a little rest (those backpacks are heavy, you know) and then continue on the marked trail towards Laptelui peak. Suddenly something makes us worry. The dogs attending the herd deep down below us start to run uphill, barking aloud. Houston, we’ve got a problem... Those warriors are so fast, they reach us within a minute, and they’re not behaving friendly. We stop and close up to form a solid group, taking a defensive position. This status quo remains until the young shepherd boy arrives, somewhat exhausted from having to scale the steep slope the dogs ran up so easily. He calms down the furious four-legged and ask for some cigarette. Being non-smokers, we don’t have any, but we do have chocolate. Deal. Afterall, we got him into some extra climbing, so it’s a fair reward.
Galaţului in order not to run out of daylight), now it becomes reality.
Meanwhile extensive cloud cover gathers above the main ridge. Nothing to worry about, but it prevents the possibility of taking nice pictures. I do try shooting some, at least for documentation purposes. Eastwards we can see the bare limestone walls of Piatra Rea (Gonosz-kő). Its name means ”Evil Rock” - for sure it does not fit well for pastoral lifestyle (there’s even a deep sinkhole on its top somewhere). In the other direction a nice view opens on the two Western ”beasts” of Rodnei Mountains: the neighbouring peaks of Buhăescu and Pietrosul. Have I mentioned the strong and cold wind that welcomed us on the summit?
Well, it’s time to move on, especially that one of us suffers from some stomach problems and feels weak. Back in the saddle we decide on cooking some instant soup, afterall it’s lunchtime, and it sounds nice to have something to warm up our interior. The rest of the hike for today is a long stroll with minor ups and downs. Slowly we get around Negoiescu peak, and finally arrive to our planned campsite, the ”saddle in between springs”. Luckily no one is there yet, so we can pick the best place. There ain’t much good spots here for pitching a tent, so the late-comers usually end up in the rocky trench (at least it’s protected from the wind). The spring flows weak, but it’s working, so after setting up our camp, we do the evening routine – cooking, eating, washing, visiting the dwarf pines, going to bed.
Day 4 - Down the evil path
The last day our goal is the Buhăescu cirque with its lakes, then Pietrosul and the descent to Borşa town. Before departing, I set out to take photos of some nice mountain flowers I noticed yesterday and haven't seen before. Then we continue our trek in the side of Repede (Repedő) peak. The other variant of the trail leads up to the summit following the ridge, but it's not so rewarding to make it worth for us this time. We rejoin the main ridge at Obârşia-Rebri saddle. Unfortunately our third companion does not feel well and complains about weakness. So, we sit down and eat some before moving on.
Meanwhile I take a photo looking back to the part of the ridge we tackled yesterday: the chain of Puzdrele, Laptelui and Negoiescu. Only at home, while searching for vintage photos from the area on the Internet, do I realize that someone took the same shot in 1941. Quite interesting to compare the two, and see how some of the dwarf pine has been converted to mountain pasture by man (click the photo and the link from its description to see it yourself).
Shortly after departing from the saddle, another incident takes place with shepherd dogs. This one is actually worse than the one the day before. Just getting over a smaller hump, we bump into a herd. The distance between us, the "intruders", and the flock, is very little, and our appearance is sudden. The dogs react in an instant, we only have time to shout aloud and hold out our walking sticks towards them as they ran at us. Both parties must have had a quick adrenaline kick. We do not know how the attack would have continued, as the shepherd (who was asleep) woke up and chased his dogs away by beating them merciless with his jacket. I guess he was not that delighted with our appearance, but he did not grumble at all. Anyway, we thanked him and bid farewell, let's get away from here.
Soon we arrived to Tarniţa "La Cruce" (~1985 m) pass. Underneath lies the Rebra Lake, which became a designated campsite lately (three years ago it wasn't). However, the place seems to have gained fast popularity.