The Ciucaş Mountains (from "Muntii Carpati" magazine)
This fascinating realm covering the Carpathians Bend is dotted with landforms of exceptional beauty, fashioned in limestone and conglomerates. Rising up to a height of 1, 954 m and extended over 200 sq. km only, these mountains present an extraordinary rich and varied relief, rarely encountered in the Romanian Carphathians.
The upper part reveals a unique association of towers, needles, columns, mushrooms, bare rocks and sphinx-like forms. The crests and steeps bordering them make it appear less accessible. The Ciucaş Mountains are like a water tower for rivers such as the Teleajen (named Paraul (Brook) Berii at the source), the Telejenel, the Buzău and the Tarlung.
The Ciucaş Massif consists of two main ridges: Bratocea (N-E, S-W), with its two peaks Ciucaş (1, 954 m) and Bratocea (1, 827 m); Zăganu (N-W, S-E), dominated by Gropşoare (1, 833 m) and Zăganu (1, 817 m) peaks. Besides them, the Ciucaş area also include the Tesla (1, 613 m) and Dungu Massifs, both situated in the north-western part.
The Ciucaş relief is modelled in a 700-m thick pile of conglomerates, the so-called Zăganu conglomerates, that appear at 1, 300-1, 350 m altitude. It consists of crystalline schists (ocular gneiss, granite gneiss, micaschists, sericite-chlorite schists and quartzites), sandstones and limestones. All these gravels and rounded blocs are embedded in a limestone-sandstone matrix.
The conglomerates are subject to strong modelling of cryo-nival processes (freeze-thaw, snow). The big limestone blocs form highly spectacular landforms.
A residual relief is found especially in the upper part of the summits, but also in some levelled areas, at about 1, 700 m and 1, 350-1, 650 m absolute altitude. The association of the two morphological types engenders a wide diversity of landforms that delights the spectator's eye.
The 500-700 m thick conglomerates, overlying a marly-sandstone flysch, form a hanging syncline with an extended western flank. Conglomerates absorb the water from precipitations, directing it towards an impervious base, favouring the development of a rich aquifer layer, where-from streams would spring at 1, 200-1, 350 m altitude. Above this altitude there is no permanent water network, valleys are dry and their bottom is covered with a thick layer of sediment. During heavy rainfalls the water filling these valleys, together with blocks of rock, run down the very steep slopes, becoming a real danger. Often enough, the dry small valleys modelled in conglomerates turn into avalanche corridors.
The large as well as the small structures have led to the development of levelled structure-controlled steeps (cuestas), structure-controlled surfaces, berms, mountain paths etc.
What makes the relief so spectacular is its behaviour to the modelling agents. The process that generates the development of residual landforms like towers, cliffs, columns, mushrooms etc. is the detachment of rocks from their matrix under the action of moisture, and freeze-and-thaw cycle.
The major landforms found on the main ridges have been built by the deep fragmentation of the crests by cryo-nival processes (freeze-thaw and snow).
The residual relief, building up an interesting landscape, may be found also on the slopes. Incipient forms of erosion surround the rocky buttresses and the former structure-controlled cliffs-rills, avalanches, rockfalls, tumbles - and look like rocky spikes or towers. Besides freeze-thaw and rilling, deflation and corrosion govern the morphological evolution of already isolated towers.
Mushrooms (rocks of characteristic shapes) are the outcome of deflation and corrosion. Sphinx-like forms, for example, have emerged through excessive widening of some fissures and uneven detachment of strata bedding planes. Big blocks of rock loosened by ease of bedding planes and fissures, left bridges behind. The materials generated by disaggregation are falling and accumulating at the bottom of steeps or of isolated stones.
All landforms are undergoing a relatively rapid evolution, especially at over 1, 500 m (the realm of subalpine meadows and shrubs), due to the rough climate. Freeze-thaw is common 180-200 days /year, the snow coating lasts for 150-180 days, heavy rains are frequently falling and winds are among the strongest in the Eastern Carpathians.
Ciucaş - Bratocea Ridge is the highest elevation in the western part of the massif. Residual landforms occur both around the Ciucaş Peak (sugar loaves, mushrooms, isolated rocks towering cuesta steeps) and in the extremity of the Bratocea Ridge, facing the homonymous pass (the Sphinx, Colţii Bratocei - cliffs).
Tigăile Mari Summit is an unexpected association of towers, poles, needles, mushrooms, sugar loaves, polje etc.
Gropşoarele - Zăganu Ridge shows an alternation of deep and narrow saddles and sharp peaks bounded by impressive cuesta steeps, especially in its south-eastern part.
Stancoasă Ridge, Şuviţelor Ridge, Mount Tesla and Mount Dungu present a rough, spectacular relief.
These and other landforms spread out across the Ciucaş Mountains are usually built in conglomerates. Limestone generates a harmonious, sometimes inaccessible relief. Towers, rocky spikes or gorges may be seen in Mount Tesla, Mount Zăganu, Valea Stanii Ridge, Paraul Alb Valley and Stana Valley.
In order to enjoy these splendours, the wealth of plant and animal life, one must go hiking only when climate conditions are suitable. Average annual temperatures on the highest summits 1-2 °C and 4 °C towards the foot of the mountain (Cheia Depression, main departure point for hikers). Temperature means in summer: 10-12 °C on the crests and 15-16 °C in Cheia Depression. Winter means: -8 -9 °C on the crests and -6 -7 °C in Cheia Depression. Annual precipitations (160-180 day / year): 1, 300-1, 350 mm on the highest crests and 1, 200 mm towards the mountain foot. The rainiest months are May through July. Autumn is the driest season. Late summer and early autumn are best indicated for mountain walks. Snow begins falling in October and a consistent snow coating lasts till May (150-180 days on the summits and 100 days in Cheia Depression). Severe snow-storms rage in winter. Hoar frost is another interesting meteorological phenomenon. In the Ciucaş Mountains, winds (dominantly NE) blow at an average speed of 7 m /sec.
The massif comprises a few nature reserves (geological, geomorphologic, botanical, faunistic), remarkable for their landscape and unique natural elements, e.g. the Rhododendron meadow in the Roşu Mountain; the Zăganu cliffs sheltering endemic and rare plants and animals; the Tigăile Mari rocks, part of a botanical reserve protecting calciphile and termophile plants (e.g. bellflowers, mountain Iris, edelweiss, Carthusian pink); the juniper in Mount Bratocea; the vegetal associations with edelweiss on Şuviţelor Summit (Şuviţele Berii).
Asphalted roads link Ploieşti city to Vălenii de Munte, Cheia resort, Săcele town and Braşov city (through Bratocea Pass); from the Braşov - Buzău national highway, at Intorsura Buzăului town, a road forks out southwards leading to Vama Buzăului. An asphalted sideway slopes up to Muntele Roşu chalet (2 km) from the Ploieşti - Cheia - Braşov road.
Of great interest for walks and for tourists orientation are the forestry roads along the main valleys of the Telejenel, Buzău, Buzoiel, Dălghiu, Babarunca, Tampa etc.
Points of departure
Maneciu Ungureni commune (550-650 m) lies in the Teleajen Valley, downstream Maneciu Lake and Dam.
Cheia resort (800-900 m) has a wonderful location in the homonymous depression that borders the Ciucaş Massif to the south. It houses a meteorological station, a Natural Museum of the Upper Teleajen Valley and Cheia monastery (which together with Suzana monastery are outstanding religious monuments in the Telejenel Valley). The resort lies 20 km away from Maneciu Ungureni - the railway terminal.
Intorsura Buzăului (700 m) is a town situated in the Upper Buzău Valley, in Intorsurii Depression.
Vama Buzăului (800 m) is an important commune in the north of the Ciucaş Massif, a point of departure for walks on its northern slopes (14 km away from Intorsura Buzăului town).
Babarunca chalet (at the junction of the Tarlung with the Babarunca Brook, 900 m altitude); camping-sites near-by (chalets, tiny house, tent-pitching areas). Muntele Roşu chalet (1, 280 m) stands in the very heart of the mountain; lodging available also in tiny houses; electricity, central heating, running water, restaurant. Poiana (Glade) Stanei lies in the Upper Telejenel Basin (950 m); Vanătorilor chalet, situated 11 km off the national highway, is a point of departure for walks on the eastern side of the massif; forest ranger's huts, hunting huts and other buildings close to Poiana Stanei trout-farm are available only by consent of their administrators. Ciucaş chalet (1, 595 m), no electricity or running water.
Cheia resort offers comfortable accommodation in hotels, motels, villas, boarding houses, chalets, tiny camping houses, tent-pitching areas, restaurants etc.
Meals and lodgings are available also at monasteries and in private homes.
Path signs are generally maintained in good condition, with exceptions. Walks on paths in bad weather (rain, mist, wind, snowstorm, lightning discharge) should be avoided. There are risks of avalanches in the high mountain area, not accessible the whole year. Tourists may safely roam in the forest zone in any season.
Pasul (the Pass) Bratocea (1, 263 m) - TV relay - Colţii Bratocea (cliffs) - Culmea (the Ridge) Bratocea - Şaua (the Saddle) Tigăilor - Vf. (the Peak) Ciucaş (1, 954 m) - Ciucaş chalet (1, 595 m). Red stripe. 5 - 6 hours walk; should be avoided in winter.
Ciucaş chalet (1, 595 m) - Şaua (Saddle) Chiruşca - Curmătura Stanei - Culmea (Ridge) Văii Stanei - Pasul (Pass) Boncuţa (1, 078 m). Red stripe. 5 - 6 hours walk; should be avoided in winter.
Cheia resort (900 m) - Muntele (Mount) Balabanu - Muntele Roşu chalet (1, 280 m) - N. Ioan fountain - Ciucaş chalet (1, 595 m). Yellow stripe. 3 hours walk.
Muntele Roşu chalet (1, 280 m) - Muntele (Mount) Roşu - Culmea (Ridge) Gropşoare - La Răscruce. Red triangle. 1 ½ hours walk; should be avoided in winter.
Cheia resort - Piscul (Summit) Turiştilor - Culmea (Ridge) Buzăianu - Muntele (Mount) Zăganu - Muntele (Mount) Gropşoare - La Răscruce. Red cross. 4 - 5 hours walk; should be avoided in winter.
Muntele Roşu chalet - Paraul (Brook) Roşu - Valea (Valley) Berii. Red point. ¾ hours walk.
Cheia resort - Valea (Valley) Cheiţa. Blue triangle. 1 ¼ hours walk. Accessible if not abundant snow.
Podul (bridge) Berii - Valea (Valley) Berii - N. Ioan fountain - Ciucaş chalet (1, 595 m). Blue cross. 3 - 3 ½ hours walk. Accessible if not abundant snow.
Cheia resort - Piscul (Summit) Turiştilor - Culmea (Ridge) Buzăianu - Valea (Valley) Şipote - Culmea (Ridge) Căzăturii - Poiana (Glade) Stanii (950 m). Blue stripe. 2 ½ hours walk; should be avoided in periods with high snows.
Babarunca chalet (910 m) - Valea (Valley) Babarunca - Şaua (Saddle) Tesla (1, 347 m). Red triangle. 1 ½ hours walk; should be avoided in periods with high snows.
Podul (bridge) Teslei (3 km from Babarunca chalet, towards Săcele town) - Piciorul Teslei - Poiana (Glade) Tesla - Piatra (Rock) Dudului - Şaua (Saddle) Tesla - Şaua (Saddle) Tigăi (1, 745 m) - Muntele (Mount) Chiruşca - Ciucaş chalet (1, 595 m). Red cross. 4 - 5 hours walk; should be avoided in winter.
Poiana (Glade) Tesla - Muntele (Mount) Tesla - Muntele (Mount) Dungu - Poiana (Glade) Dălghiu - Vama Buzăului. Blue cross. 4 hours walk; should be avoided in winter.
Vf. (Peak) Ciucaş (1, 954 m) - Şaua (Saddle) Ciucaş (1, 525 m) - Plaiul (Meadow) Domnesc - Poiana (Glade) Dălghiu - Dălghiu - Vama Buzăului. Red cross. 4 - 5 hours walk; should be avoided in winter.
Ciucaş chalet (1, 595 m) - Muntele (Mount) Chiruşca - Şaua (Saddle) Chiruşca (1, 567 m) - Culmea (Ridge) Piatra Laptelui - Izvorul (Spring) Hoţului - Curmătura Stanei - Valea (Valley) Stanei - Poiana (Glade) Stanei (950 m). Blue stripe. 4 - 4 ½ hours walk; should be avoided in winter.
Ciucaş chalet (1, 595 m) - Muntele (Mount) Chiruşca - Şaua (Saddle) Chiruşca (1, 567 m) - Culmea (Ridge) Piatra Laptelui - Izvorul (Spring) Lăptişorului - Piruşca (forester's hut) - Valea (Valley) Strambu - Muntele (Mount) Strambu - Piatra (Rock) Mitocului - Dealul Seciu - Vama Buzăului. Blue cross. 5 - 6 hours walk; should be avoided in winter.
Poiana (Glade) Stanii - Valea (Valley) Paraul Alb - Cheile (Gorges) Paraul Alb. Blue triangle. 2 - 2 ½ hours walk; should be avoided in winter.
Culmea (Ridge) Zăganu - Colţii Vanătorului (cliffs) - Paraul (Brook) Sterp - Paraul (Brook) Alb - Poiana (Glade) Stanii. Blue triangle. 2 hours walk; should be avoided in winter.
The Ciucaş Massif is a wonder of nature, a kingdom of forms and colours, a beauty in each and any season. In autumn, when the colours of the leafy forests mix with the green of the coniferous trees, with the yellow of the larch or the white of birchtrees, a mirific world opens up in front of your eyes. In winter, the snowflakes flowing quietly or the snowstorms create fantastic, fragile forms. In spring, when leaves are still in bud, the outlines of rocks fashioned in conglomerates or limestone show up against the sky. It is the time of myriads of delicate, yet resistant, lively coloured flowers everywhere. The green juniper trees and the presence of the bright red Paeonia spot the mountain slopes.
Standing on the Ciucaş heights you feel yourself master of the world. The cries of stags, mountain cocks, wolves or bears, which populate the forest belt are reaching up to you and the sight of the chamois herds are all unforgettable experiences.
Up there in the mountain you have the sentiment of living at the source of the major rivers, the Ciucaş Massif being a watershed of streams flowing in all directions - to the north, east, west and south.
(Muntii Carpati magazine-issue no 23)
The main ridge Cheia-Zaganu-Gropsoarele-former Ciucas hut-Ciucas peak-Bratocea ridge-Cheia (2 days)
In winter, depending on weather conditions, only experienced mountaineers can walk through the main ridge. This route requires 2 full days, divided like this:
- Cheia-Zaganu ridge-former Ciucas hut or Tigaile Mari pass
- Ciucas hut-Ciucas Peak-Bratocea ridge-1A route (Pasul Bratocea)-Cheia
The most technical part of the route is Zaganu ridge (from Saua Zaganu to Gropsoarele peak) and Tigaile Mari pass-Ciucas peak-Bratocea ridge.
The rest of the route is difficult because of the snow, orientation (attention on foggy days) and long distances. In some winters the wind blows at 130km/h.
Equipment required: ice axe, crampons, ski poles, solid tent, winter gear, winter boots (plastic type for example).
Skis could be very useful on the non-rocky parts of the ridge.
The most used bivouac places are:
- Zaganu sheepfold
- just below the summit of Gropsoarele
- Saua Chirusca (Chirusca Pass)
- Former Ciucas hut
- Bratocea sheepfold
You can also descend to Muntele Rosu hostel at the end of the first day and ascent in the morning of the next one. But you have to put 2h (descend) and 3h (ascent) in your timing.
Avalanches area are just below the Zaganu ridge (from the sheepfold to the ridge) and the whole zone below the summit of Ciucas and the descending part through Bratocea ridge.
Ciucas mountains can be accessed from Brasov through Sacele-Cheia-Ploiesti route or from the south on Bucuresti-Ploiesti-Valenii de munte-Cheia route (national road 1A). The main starting points of the marked trails are Cheia, Muntele Rosu hostel, Babarunca.
Unfortunately by train it's very difficult to get there. A slow train takes you from Ploiesti to Maneciu Ungureni (end of the line). From Maneciu to Cheia (the main base for Ciucas) there are 20km on a modern route (1A)
You can arrive in Cheia by your own car. Or by bus from Bucharest (130km).
Cheia is a very beautiful village. It offers also good opportunities for accomodation.
Other attractions are: Monastery of Cheia, Monastery Suzana (several km on the road to Maneciu Ungureni).
A lot of touristic tracks passes across the massive.
Now, except Cheia and its hotels, hosts and chalets, there are only two chalets: Muntele Rosu (cca 1200m) and Babarunca. It's 3-4 km far from Cheia in the heart of the mountains. Babarunca huts are on the route Brasov-Sacele-Cheia at 892m.
Ciucas main ridge can be divided in 2 big sections: the Zaganu-Gropsoarele ridge. To access here you can make a circle. From Cheia you start your ascent, walk in the forest first, that reach the main ridge, hike across Zaganu, Turnul de arama, Gropsoarele peaks, then walk across a plateau and descend to Muntele Rosu.
The second region is Ciucas-Bratocea. For this you can continue from Gropsoarele plateau to Chirusca Col- ruined Chalet of Ciucas-Ciucas Peak-Bratocea Ridge-Cheia. Or, from Muntele Rosu you can walk directly to ex-Cabana Ciucas an then to the main summit and Bratocea.
All route Cheia-Zaganu-Gropsoarele-ex-Chalet Ciucas-Ciucas Peak (1954m)-Bratocea ridge-Cheia it can be made in a long summer day. It's well marked for touristical reasons.
You can access everywhere in Ciucas, but in the limits of good sense. There are much edelweisses, animals like Chamois, bears.
There are a lot of towers, big stones rising.
The unknown face of Ciucas is very interesting: gorges (Cheile Paraului Alb, Cheile Vaii Stanei), towers (Tigaile Mari, Turnul Caprioarei, Sfinxul Bratocei, Turnul Goliat).
The summit of Ciucas (1954m) is surrounded by towers with strange shapes. Some narrow ridges invite climbers to reach them in winter.
When To Climb
In summer there are a lot of touristes that hike in massive.
In winter hikers can also reach the main peaks, ridges but only guided by an experienced mountaineer.
There's a ski pist near Muntele Rosu chalet, with a wire. It's medium degree.
Depending on snow, you can ski on every sloap, valley and alpine meadow in Ciucas.
Tent is required, but you can use the ruined Ciucas chalet, still. And also the sheepfold of Zaganu.
You can use the hosts in Cheia, the hotels, campings in the valley. But for the main ridge the tent is necessary. In winter, for the whole ridge, you need the tent, too.
Summer routes (marked routes)
1.Babarunca hostel-Saua Tigailor saddle (red triangle) 3-3.5h
2. Pasul Bratocea (cca. 1200m) –Ciucas Peak (1954m) (red stripe) 3-4h
It starts on road 1A from Bratocea Pass. It is a spectacular route, leading along Bratocea ridge with a nice view of the area. After 1h you can see Bratocea Sphinx on the left (a big tower with human shape). After 2h, just below the summit, you can admire the big rocks called Tigaile Mici. Few minutes later you see Goliath Tower (Turnul Goliat) and 30 minutes later you reach Ciucas peak (Varful Ciucas).
3. National 1A road-Valea Berii-ruins of Ciucas Shelter (blue cross) 2.5h
Where road 1A crosses Berii Valley (Valea Berii) the blue cross markers lead upward the valley (3km). After these km a track lead out from the forest and in 1.5h reaches ex-chalet of Ciucas (1550m).
4. Muntele Rosu hostel-Valea Berii-ruined chalet Ciucas (yellow stripe) 2h
The trail starts to the north, then on a forest path. After 20min you reach a clearing from where you have a beautiful landscape onto the fortress-looking formation of Ciucas, which is composed of many towers. After 1h from Muntele Rosu the trail descends into Valea Berii at a spring and meets the precedent trail. In 1h you’ll arrive at Ciucas ruined chalet.
5. Muntele Rosu hostel-Muntele Rosu foot-Culmea Gropsoarele (red triangle) 2h
The trail ascends beside the ski slope to the rocky ridge of Zaganu-Gropsoarele where it meets the main ridge trail.
6. Cheia village-Zaganu peak-Gropsoarele peak-Ciucas chalet (ruined) Saua Tigailor (red cross) 8h
This is a long route. It starts from the north side of Cheia. First you have to follow the Buzoianu foot, then you cross near Zaganu sheepfold, then you reach the ridge. After that begins the wildest and the most interesting part of the ascent. The beautiful section, leading through Zaganu peak (1817m), between Zaganu and Turnul de arama. There’s a section equipped with steel wires. After climbing through a deep saddle we reach Gropsoarele peak (1883m). After 6h from Cheia you meet the trail that comes from Muntele rosu (left). Our trail continues to Ciucas chalet (1550). After 1h, in witch you pass through some forest section (Saua Chirusca) you arrive at the ruins of Ciucas hut.
After 30min you reach the foot of the spectacular Tigaile Mari saddle. Before the rock towers the red stripe diverts to the right, leading up Ciucas Peak (1.5h to the peak-beautiful views), while the red cross route continues westward to Tigaile Mici. From there you can follow Bratocea Ridge to Cheia or you can descend to Babarunca.
7. There’s another starting point: Poiana Stanei, a small holiday village on the south-east. It can be reached following a secondary route (non-asphalted) from below Cheia (on the right side of the road Maneciu-Cheia there’s an indication “Drum Forestier Valea Stanei”. You have to follow this route 10km after whom you’ll reach Poiana Stanei 927m).
From Poiana Stanei you can visit the gorges of Valea Stanei (Cheile Vaii Stanei) on blue stripe (1h) or you can reach the ridge on Zaganu (2h). On an unmarked trail there are another gorges – Cheile Paraului Alb.
There are a lot of less known routes that lead you to interesting parts of Ciucas Mountains. Only few experienced mountaineers know these tracks.
I type bellow some useuful (I hope) words witch you can find on maps, books etc..
Chei (Cheile) - Gorge (Gorges)
Capra neagra - Chamois
Cabana - Chalet, Hut
Creasta, culme - Ridge
Drum - Road
Harta - Map
Iarna - Winter
Izvor - Spring
Oras - Town
Ora (ore)-Hour (hours)
Perete - Wall
Piatra - Rock, Stone
Picior de munte - Mountain foot
Poiana, pajiste - Meadow
Primavara - Spring
Refugiu - Shelter
Stana - Sheepfold
Sa - Col
Sat - Village
Toamna - Autumn
Traseu, poteca-trail, track, route
Traseu marcat - marked trail
Vale - Valley
Vara - Summer
Varf - Summit, Peak
Urs - Bear