) 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 DarknessAugust 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.
* * * * *
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.
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.
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.
Bar at Bordolecit
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 FilcherAugust 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.
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
Bar at Bordolecit
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.
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.
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.
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.
Paje. The kid here is not the one that went with us later on.
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.
...on the way to Zastan
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
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.
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.
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...
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...
Kamil making plans for tomorrow
Stick And CarrotAugust 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.
The wrong pass
View to Maja Nigvacit
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.
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.
...scrambling to the ridge
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.
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.
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 and thus saved it from the furtive food filcher.
In the web I have found info about two known ascents of Maja Shnikut - Montenegrin and Serbian. The former took place in July 2005. With David and Ivoš we saw that large party of hikers from a distance the day before their climb, not knowing who they were. Neither did we know the name of the enormous mountain towering above us most of the previous day. The mountain which is our today’s goal.
Although the summit dome drops steeply to the north, on the other sides it is relatively mild and easy to climb. Therefore, its virginity before 2005 was somewhat doubtful. Even though the alleged Austrian ascent in the 30’s is dismissed as uncertain by the Montenegrin reports, local shepherds must have roamed its slopes since ancient times.
The boulder-hopping begins. Further along the terrace I find a snowfield where I fill the mess tin with snow and leave it to melt for our way back. We haven’t got too much water so even an extra litre will be good. We circle round the summit dome, cross some rock slabs and talus and walk up the steep threshold in its lowest place to reach the top of the ridge. Actually it is not a ridge but a slope, angled at about 40 degrees.
Boulder field (bottom left), summit dome (middle) and threshold (right)
The 'airfield' down...
... and up Maja Shnikut
The slope is covered with grass and stones. Were it levelled and a bit less bumpy, it could serve as a large airfield. Far below in the valley we can see shepherd settlements. The village of Nikci must be further down. Two years ago the Serbian party started their second known ascent from there. I keep dragging my arse a long way behind Tomek. Half an hour later we reach the end of this slope. The summit ridge turns left. Tomek is already halfway up it when I’m only at its beginning. The path along the ridge is faint but it still looks like it has been trodden by more than two groups of hikers.
Towards the summit
At the summit
Gradually the view opens to the other side of Prokletije, with Maja Radohines, Maja Popluks and the one Maja to rule them all - Maja Jezerce. Tomek waits for me and at 2.45 pm we reach the summit decorated with a massive cairn. We have a very modest snack and I lie on the grass for a few minutes. Tomek hurries me up to start descending quickly. He is right as we haven’t got too much time to return to the camp before dark. Further down the slope he opens a tin of pineapples. A good carrot ain’t bad, especially when the stick of quickly passing time is hanging above our arses.
Kamil is knackered. I somehow manage to persuade him to start descending. The distance between us increases again, so I tell him I’ll be waiting at the snowfield. As soon as I reach it, I finish melting the snow on the stove. I find a sachet of hot chocolate which I have accidentally put together with medicines. Thanks to this mistake it has not become the thief’s booty. Kamil joins me and we drink it together.
Summit view: M. Lagojvet and M. Shkurt (left), M. Jezerce and M. Popluks (middle), Qafa Pejes pass and the M. Radohines group (right)
The reason of my troubles is obviously the lack of food, especially chocolate, which I always take with me to the mountains in large amounts. We melt more snow to prepare water with fizzy tablets and continue the descent to the valley. At a snail’s pace I follow Tomek across the flat bottom of Stani Koprishtit. Three years ago I nicknamed it Death Valley and now it lives up to this name.
Before the next col I lose Kamil out of my sight. I stop and wait but I can’t see him for about ten minutes so I begin to worry. I retrace my steps down the slope and shout, but all I can hear is the echo shouting back at me from all sides. Suddenly I hear him from the opposite side than I expected. He just took a shortcut, was hidden behind the rocks and could not hear me...
The boulder field and Maja Prozhmit
Now I walk up using only my willpower. I know it would be reasonable to hurry up but the completely knackered body simply refuses. When I finally reach the col, Tomek already waits with the last instant dish heated on the stove. I force it down my throat despite the protests of my stomach. The sun has already set and Tomek hurries me up, but I tell him I can’t eat any faster or otherwise I would puke.
In the quickly approaching darkness we carefully scramble down the other side, negotiating a few thresholds. I’m still not sure whether the next col we want to cross leads to Zastan and our camp or not, so as soon as the precarious downclimb is over I speed up to see what’s on the other side. My headlamp is strong but will not let me see the opposite slope of the valley, so I’d rather take advantage of the last remnants of daylight. At the col my first impression is that we are on the right way. Kamil catches up with me after a while and confirms the valley below us is Zastan.
Our two headlamps flicker in the darkness as we are descending. There is no moon, no wind, only far away from time to time a lightning can be seen. So there is a thunderstorm somewhere, and here it is so calm and quiet. All the stress is over. We have less than an hour to the tent, providing it is still there, as the thief might have found this job rewarding.
Only when we reach the shepherds’ path we can congratulate each other on the happy return. It helped me a great deal that Tomek kept hurrying me up. I think I’ve never been so knackered before, maybe only on Grossglockner last June
The tent and everything we left is still there.
The Storm Before The QuietAugust 28
Despite the not so good forecast for today, the morning sky is almost cloudless. Only a few isolated cirruses suggest the possibility that the weather might deteriorate later in the day.
We thought we could sleep in a bit. I wake up early however, and I drag Kamil out of his sleeping bag. The weather is so far so good but the clouds take a different shape and we have to sort everything out and get down before the weather deteriorates. The last snow melting, the last breakfast...
Our breakfast again has to be very modest. Then I have to close my climbing activities. Due to time and meteorological reasons it will be limited to recovering the rope and the belay anchor... I pack some necessary gear and we set off.
Maja Nigvacit and 'nameless valley' (left), nameless peak, Zastan plateau and Grbaja valley (middle), Karanfili and Maja Vukoces (right)
At the foot of the mountain we part our ways. Tomek ascends the steep scree to the nearby col to the north-east of Maja Lagojvet, which we walked up to with the Czechs three years ago in search for the easiest passage to Ropojana. According to the kid its name is Gruk e Gjavahirit. Now Tomek wants to take a look to the other side.
The closer to the col I get, the less I like the idea of climbing there. The couloir is steep and very loose, the upper part looks better but just below it I can see a section of several metres’ length which may cause problems. I record Kamil on my camera while he is climbing and I think what to do. He said it had been much easier when he was here because it was July and there was a lot more snow in which they could easily kick steps. Now there is only a little snow just below the col and the rest is naked rock and scree. I finally decide to go.
I start prusiking up the hanging rope and soon reach the belay. I clip myself to one peg and hammer the second one out, presuming the one is bombproof and the abseil’s gonna be neither long nor dangerous. I know this is not recommended practice but I have learned the rules in order to break some. I take the remaining gear from the belay, begin the abseil and before reaching the ground I find my nut that I must have lost two days ago.
What a bloody choss, I have to hold on to rocks at my side because otherwise I would start sliding. I traverse to the chute, which is even steeper and more crumbly. If it wasn’t so chossy I could simply run up it. I decide to keep to my right, holding on to rocks. Somtimes I even unprofessionally use my knees while scrambling a high threshold. I’m worried about the perspective of descending the same way. When I reach the snow field below the col, I try to kick in steps in hard snow. Luckily the final section is easier.
I’m not staying here for long. The view of clouds at the other side hurries me up. I quickly drink some water, take a few photos and look at the possible descents to both sides. It’s difficult to tell which one is better, both are equally chossy. I have to return the same way anyway, which I promptly do.
Stepping down the steep snow without crampons is even worse, so I reach for my trekking poles and stab them hard with each step. When I reach the rocks again, I negotiate them a lot easier than I expected. After twenty minutes I rejoin with Kamil who is already packing his rope in his backpack.
Ropojana valley from Gruk e Gjavahirit
Kamil fixing the abseil
At the descent we hear thunders. I still hope it will clear away, because as short as half an hour ago the weather still seemed to be alright. But as soon as we reach the camp it suddenly bangs so loud that we literally start packing up at a lightning speed. It starts raining and the strong wind makes it difficult to fold the tent. The sound of thunders hitting in close proximity is multiplied by echo off the surrounding rocks. I never thought we would be able to pack all our stuff within ten minutes.
A while later the weather goes a bit crazy. As we are descending, a good weather window forms above our valley and the sun is shining on our heads, while in a short distance dark heavy clouds keep mounting and loud thunders can be heard from their direction.
After yesterday’s effort I still feel weak. Although Tomek took some of my climbing gear to his pack, I know it’s not gonna be easy. The whole long descent becomes for me one neverending fight against my weakness. Clouds are above us most of the time, sometimes accompanied by showers and sometimes the sun is shining, but the threat of a massive weather breakdown is still real. Tomek is hurried by a few urgent matters back home so he tries to speed up, but despite that I keep lagging behind. For this reason the descent takes us longer than the time it took us to ascend the same way.
Finally it turns out that the thunderstorm only tried to scare us and went its way. The sun is shining when we walk down the dirt road from Lijepush to Bordolecit. Between dishevelled houses, along the bumpy, washed out road, a brand new, swish Alfa Romeo approaches from the opposite direction. That’s Albanian contrasts for you.
Lijepush and meadows of Paje (above)
Tomek keeps walking ahead of me. When I reach Tonio’s bar, he is already there, talking to Tonio and a few locals. Soon we are joined by a crowd arriving in several vans. There are some older folks and even more youth. Girls are all dressed up and some younger guys wear lots of hair gel and chains on their necks. Apparently they are going to the St. John’s feast in Vermosh. With this number of people around even we, as obvious foreigners, don’t attract any special attention.
Tonio places a large bowl of meat in front of us. It’s boiled and kind of fried and a quite tough, but perfectly edible. We try to ask Tonio what kind of meat this is, making sounds of respective animals. Delme?
- I finally ask, recalling the Albanian word for a sheep. Tonio confirms. So the tough guys’ food is mutton. We drink a lot of water with it, we need it badly after the hard day.
We pay Tonio 15 euros for all the food and drinks and keeping an eye on our car. This is not expensive at all. We bid farewell and set off, deciding to detour to Vermosh on our way, as we are curious to see that village and maybe also the feast where all the locals go.
The gravel road is no such thrill anymore, we are not going into the unknown this time and it’s not too difficult for my car. We often stop to take pics. Above Prokletije there are dark and heavy clouds again but where we are there is hardly a drizzle.
Road from Bordolecit to Bashkim
On the road to Bashkim
Just as we planned, instead of turning right towards the border, we go left to Vermosh. The village spreads over several kilometres along the road, which is made of good gravel so I can make 40 kph on third gear over long sections. We find a place which looks like the centre but can’t see any signs of a feast or party preparations. Time is running out so we return towards the border.
At the crossing at Bashkim we are happy to see the same officer. We tell him where we have been. He doesn’t even mention any autobahn tax
or anything. We also talk for a while to the Montenegrin officers who let us wash a bit in their bathroom. Then we drive off towards the heavy clouds which are still visible at the northern sky.
...with a view to Montenegro
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After spending the night car camping at the side of the road somewhere in western Serbia we make it all the way across Hungary and Slovakia to Tomek’s place near Rzeszów where I stay overnight before driving to my place in central Poland tomorrow. We round off the Accursed Mountains 2008 Expedition with some Hungarian beer and Montenegrin wine.
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This time I drive through Rzeszów precisely according to Tomek’s instructions and I find the monument. I must admit it’s popular name really lives up to its shape. Anyway, it would be a shame if the plans of its demolition came into effect. Leave it be and remain a local attraction...
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