The Călimani (or Căliman) Mountains are situated in the Eastern Carpathians and cover an area of about 2000 sq km, stretching east-west for about fifty kilometers. For most of the second Millennium A.D. the range was part of a broad, mountainous borderland between the Hungarian Kingdom/Principality of Transylvania (an ethnically mixed country) and the predominantly Romanian and Ukrainian-speaking lands of Bucovina and the principality of Moldavia. It is no wonder that among the peaks of the Căliman/Kelemen one can find both Negoiul Unguresc/Magyar-Negoj and Negoiul Românesc/Román Negoj (the italicized words translate as Hungarian and Romanian, respectively). On the south the Călimani Mountains are bounded by the Mureş/Maros River, which separates them from the Gurghiu Mountains; and on the southeast by the Sec and Topliţa creeks, beyond which the Giurgeu Mountains lie. The northern limits are drawn by the valley of the Transylvanian Bistriţa, which sets the massif apart from the Bârgau Mountains, and the Dorna valley, which divides it from the Suhard Mountains. Towards the west the Călimani Mountains slope gently into the Transylvanian Basin, while their eastern limits make a transition towards the Bistriţei Mountains, which sit beyond the pass of Păltiniş and the basin of Bilbor.
The name of the range was first recorded (in Latin) as early as 1228 as Alpes Clementis and may refer to the fact that the mountains - compared to the nearby Rodnei range rising on the northern horizon - have gentler slopes and a milder climate.
The heart of the former volcano
The Călimani is the youngest mountain range in Romania and the highest range in the Carpathians made of volcanic rocks. Its eastern part is dominated by the largest inactive crater in all of Europe, over ten kilometers in diameter. The mountains came into being as a stratovolcano or a 'composite volcano', which means that they formed as a result of successive eruptions during an extended period of time, through alternating layers of solidified lava and volcanic ash. Volcanic activity began 7 Ma (7 million years ago) and reached its climax around 5 Ma. This first phase of an active volcano was followed by a period of volcanic standstill, increased erosion and deposition. The second phase occurred over 2 Ma. The inactive volcano with its partially emptied magma chamber was no longer able to hold the weight of the entire cone. Great tension caused by differences in pressure and weight created ring fractures. The third phase took place in the Pleistocene (Ice Age), when a large part of the volcanic cone collapsed following the ring of fractures. The result was a caldera. Rains, rivers, wind and temperature variations have modified the landscape ever since.
Inside the Călimani caldera rise a few secondary cones, such as Pietricelul, Haitei and the most shapely Negoiul Românesc at 1889 m, whose bowels contained a unique phenomenon that can hardly be seen elsewhere in Europe - volcanic caves. Unfortunately, the mountain along with its cave system was devastated by an open-cast sulphur mine opened in the 1970s.
Pietrosul at 2103 m seen from the north - photo by Tomek Lodowy
The most interesting part of the Călimani Mountains, adorned with the highest summits, is the rim of the huge caldera, today looking like a horseshoe with an open north end. This is the only spot within the Carpathian volcanic belt which bears traces of glaciation. The highest peak called Pietrosul (Pietrosu)/Pietrosz (Nagy-Köves), reaching an elevation of 2103 m, and the second highest summit, Negoiul Unguresc at 2081 m, form a massive crest, which stands out from the background of forest (Călimani woodland is dominated by spruce, over half of which is old-growth) and higher up bushes of dwarf pine and juniper, featuring an alpine zone with short grasses and dwarf shrubs such as Rhododendron kotschyi. Ten kilometers west of Pietrosul, near the center of the main ridge, sits the second highest group of peaks dominated by Bistricioru/Kis-Beszterce csúcs with around 390 m of prominence, falling just ten meters short of the 2000 m mark. The western part of the range is much lower and less popular with hikers and holidaymakers except a couple of places, such as Colibița Dam in the northwest and the God's Seat ('Scaunul Domnului' in Romanian, 'Istenszéke' in Hungarian) at 1381 m in the southwest chunk of the mountains. The latter, sitting several kilometers away from the main ridge, is shaped like a table mountain whose cliffs tower over the Mureş Valley. The summit offers a fine panorama of the main ridge in good weather.
Bistricioru at 1990 m (left) and Străcior at 1963 (right) - photo by Tomek Lodowy
The table below lists the highest summits in the Călimani Mountains.
Elevation in Meters
A few words about
The highest summit in the Călimani Mountains, in their eastern part, on the southwestern rim of the Călimani caldera's rim. Red stripes from the Transcăliman road.
Less than one kilometer southeast of Pietrosul. Distinct alpine tundra zone and bold relief - in contrast with the rest of the area. A red stripe trail.
On the eastern rim of the caldera, about three kilometers south of the summit of Călimanu Cerbului. Red dots from the village of Neagra Sarului.
The southernmost summit on the rim of the caldera, with a weather station on its top. Its north face shelters a natural wood comprised of spruce and Arolla pine (Pinus cembra), while the gently inclined south face presents diverse scenery of blockfields and dwarf conifers with Iezer Lake. Transcăliman road (Via Maria Theresia - see Red Tape & Camping). Red stripes/dots.
In the eastern part of the caldera, three kilometers north of Iezerul Călimanului. A blue dot trail from Gura Haitii village.
Inside the caldera, one and a half kilometers west of Răţitiş, covered with dwarf mountain pine. A red stripe/dot traverse.
The highpoint of the Bistricioru Group, in the central part of the Călimani, around ten kilometers west of Pietrosul. Red stripes from Dornişoara.
The Călimani Mountains teem with picturesque, bizarre rock formations chiseled out of andesite by erosion. Some of them have been designated geological reserves, e.g. Pietrele Roşii, Tihu, Rusca, Tămaulău and the most spectacular group of rocks known as the Twelve Apostles. These fascinating rocks, sitting on the western rim of the Călimani caldera, make up an impressive gallery of figures, 8-12 m tall, among them the Marshall, Lizard and Dragons. The place does have some special, almost magical charm.
As for the faunistic interest, these mountains used to be a refuge for free-ranging herds of the European bison (also known as wisent). The last one was reported to have been shot in 1780. A new reintroduction project assumes that the Călimani National Park will be one out of five national parks in the Eastern Carpathians where free-ranging bison can find their lost homeland.
VIDEO by LukZem
From train near Lunca Bradului
Traversing Pietrosu ridge
Cluj-Napoca - about 170 km away, 3 hr by car, over 5 hr by train
Suceava - over 130 km, 2 hr 15 min by car, 3 hr by train
Târgu Mureş - over 80 km, over 1 hr 15 min by car, less than 3 hr if you take a through train
From the South (road E578 aka DN15 and railway up the Mureş/Maros Valley): Răstoliţa or Lunca Bradului - trails to Bistricioru/Pietrosu; Stânceni or Topliţa - trails towards the south rim of the Călimani caldera; Gălăoaia on road E578 / Borzia (train stop just outside Gălăoaia) - about 7 km south of the God's Seat
From the North (road E58 aka DN17 here): Gura Haitii (13.5 km by paved road from Șaru Dornei on road DJ174, 24 km from Vatra Dornei on road E58/railroad) at the northeast end of the caldera, 10 km NE of Pietrosu; Dornişoara (15 km by dirt road from Poiana Stampei on road E58) - yellow dot trail to Pietrosu
From the West: Colibiţa by the lake on the Bistrița (21 km by paved road from Secu on road E58, 10 km by dirt road from Mureșenii Bârgăului) - trails to the Bistricioru group
In 2011 the rescuers were on duty at the weather station on Răţitiş at weekends.
Other potential hazards: sheepdogs in the less frequented areas (although the EU regulations have pushed many shepherds out of work recently), bears (fortunately not as big a problem as in the Bucegi or Harghita mountains), vipers (a bite shouldn't kill you unless you're allergic but serum will be necessary).