The Marmarosh Mountains should not be confused with a picturesque region of Romania. Neither of them should be confused with a historic province of the Kingdom of Hungary, which covered a much larger area. Most of the main ridge of the Marmarosh Mountains (along with most of the main ridge of their northern neighbour, the Chornohora), has for centuries functioned as an international border. For centuries the summit of Hnitessa (Hnatasya/Гнатася/Ignăteasa) was a junction of the borders between three countries: the Kingdom of Hungary, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Principality of Moldavia. And between the first and second world wars the three borders converged on the summit of Stih (Stoh/Stóg/Stogu) but at that time the three countries were Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania. Whereas in the second half of the past century the whole area of the Chornohora was incorporated into Ukraine, the Marmarosh Mountains have remained split between two countries: Romania and Ukraine. On the territory of Ukraine, the Marmarosh Mountains are often called Rakhivskyi hory, after the nearby town of Rakhiv (Rahó in Hungarian). Because Ukraine - unlike Romania - is not part of the European Union, access to some of the summits is difficult.
The Toroiaga group with the upper parts of the Vaser Valley (autumn)
The boundaries of the Marmarosh Mountains are clear-cut, except for the southeast corner. The west end of the mountains is at the confluence of the Tisa and the Vişeu rivers (the latter is believed to be tributary to the former), about 15 km east of the town of Sighetu Marmaţiei. From there the west border runs north along the Tisa to soon turn right, that is to say eastward, up the course of the White Tisa, which flows between the Marmarosh Mountains and the Chornohora. Back across the Marmarosh Mountains, the Vişeu River forms their southwest and south boundary, the latter separating the Marmarosh Mountains from the Rodnei Mountains. Past the pass called Prislop, the south boundary of the Marmarosh Mountains runs along the valley of Bistriţa Aurie (Golden Bistritsa) toward the village of Cârlibaba (Kirlibaba). Just before Cârlibaba, the southeast end of the Marmarosh Mountains is marked by the confluence of the Bistriţa Aurie and Ţibau Creek. The northeast boundary of the Marmarosh Mountains is also well defined - by a broken line composed of: the uppermost course of the White Tisa, the Black Cheremosh across which the Hryniava Mountains sit, Sarata Creek and Ţibau Creek.
Pip Ivan's corrie
Both the geomorphology and the geology of the Marmarosh Mountains are complex and extremely interesting. Their nearly 100km-long main ridge, which forms the state border between Ukraine and Romania, is oriented in the NW-SE direction and – except its western section in which the gneiss Pop Ivan reigns - is relatively low, mostly of flysch, which is not very resistant to erosion. The peaks that crown the lateral, southern ridges which can be regarded as mountain groups in their own right - Farcău, Pietrosu Bardăului, Toroiaga, Cearcănu - separated by the tributaries of the Vişeu (Vyshov) River (Ruscova, Vaser and Cisla creeks: see this map), are considerably higher as they are composed of hard, metamorphic or volcanic rock. They mark the original, ancient line of the main ridge which has been pushed northeasterly by headward erosion of the tributaries of the Vişeu. These mountains are still being lifted by tectonic forces relatively quickly. The valleys are deep so climbing any of the highest summits from a village at its foot translates to an elevation gain of at least 1,200m. Talking of the variety of rocks, limestone is also present in the Marmarosh Mountains, so are caves and other karstic phenomena. Traces of little Pleistocene glaciers enrich the landscapes of Pop Ivan.
Movie created by LukZem during his three visits to the Marmarosh Mountains 1/2
Petros at 1780m on the left, Pip Ivan at 1938m in the center.
Scherban at 1793m on the right - as seen from Svydovets (Ukraine, winter)
The table below lists the highest as well as some other conspicuous summits.
Formed of submarine basalt, the highest peak in the Marmarosh Mountains. It sits in the north, just a few km from the main ridge/border. Great views of Pop Ivan, which rises several km to the west. Blue stripe trail from the village of Repedea.
The most spectacular massif in the Marmarosh Mountains, with glacial cirques. In geological terms, this is an islet of the ancient Precambrian gneiss of the nearby Rodnei Mountains. Situated in the northwest, on the border between Ukraine and Romania, it is the highest summit in the main ridge as well as the highest summit of Ukraine's Rakhivskyi hory. Accessible only with a permit! (See Red Tape chapter)
Third highest summit in the Marmarosh Mountains, in their southeastern part, between the valleys of the River Vaser and Ţişla Creek, north of the resort of Baia Borşa. The peak is formed of andesite (once lava on the bottom of a deep ocean), and it has steep slopes scarred by erosion. Unmarked path from Lucaciasa. Red triangles from Baile Borsa to Lucaciasa Refuge.
Just south of Farcău, which rises on the other side of Lake Vinderel. Alternate beds of limestone and basalt, folded and set vertically. Red stripe trail from Luhei.
In the Toroiaga Group, about one kilometer south of the summit of Toroiaga. Unmarked path from Toroiaga.
In the south-east, west of Toroiaga Group, in the main ridge, 2km off the border, within Romania's territory. About 4km south of the legendary summit of Hnitessa. Jupania is completely covered with crooked trees and bushes (dwarf pine and juniper), hardly accessible. Red stripe traverse.
To Polish people known as Pietros Budyjowski, between the valleys of Vaser and Ruskova rivers, in the central part of the mountains. Around the summit there are plenty of small freeze-thaw earth structures, similar to those found in the tundra. Red stripe trail from Luhei or Bardau (Vaser valley).
To Hungarian people known as Sárkány, in the southernmost part of the Marmarosh Mountains, just north of Prislop Pass. Its top part is formed of limestone beds. No marked trail.
In the Toroiaga Group, about 3km east of the summit of Toroiaga. Red stripe from Lucaciasa Refuge.
One of the most prominent peaks on the main ridge (approx. 0.5km off Romania-Ukraine border, on the Ukrainian side), about the same height as Hnitessa. Polish hikers usually call this part of the Marmarosh Mountains Góry Czywczyńskie.
The Marmarosh Mountains as seen from the Rodnei Mountains (Romania, summer)
Movie created by LukZem during his three visits to the Marmarosh Mountains 2/2
The main ridge has a length of approximately 90km and resembles a rolling plateau elevated to 1600-1800m. It forms a watershed between the Upper Tisa and Cheremosh drainages and it is closely followed by the Romanian-Ukrainian border. On the main ridge sit the following summits, from west to east: Menchul/Muncel (1370m), Poloninka (1625m), Scherban (Csorba in Hungarian, 1794m), Pip Ivan/Pop Ivan (1938m), Holovac (1549m), Bendrias'ka/Bendreasca (1567m), Mezipotoky (1713m), Nieněska/Mica Mare (1815m), Schavul/Shaul' (1753m), Korbul (1696m), Stih/Stoh/Stogu/Stóg (1650m), Rehes'ka/Radiescu (1570m), Kopylash/Copilasu (1611m), Kernichny (1589m), Ledyeskul/Lădescu (1580m), Budiyevska Velka/Budescu (1678m), Chyvchynazh/Civcinaj (1588m), Suligul/Şuligu (1688m), Lostun (1642m), Purul (1617m), Ştevioara (1621m), Koman/Comanu (1724m), Palenitsa (1750m), Hnatasia/Ignăteasa/Hnitessa (1767m), Krechela/Crecela (1853m – in Romania, south of the border, which has just taken a sharp turn east), Fîntîna Stanchi (1726m), Cornu Nedeii (1763m).
Centuries of history
When To Go and Red Tape
The Marmarosh Mountains viewed from the Chornohora in winter.
On the left Farcău - at 1957m the highest summit in the Marmarosh Mountains.
The beginning of July near the summit of Pop Ivan.
A permit is required to traverse the border line running across the Marmarosh Mountains!
Stih/Stogu on the horizon
Romania vs Ukraine 1 : 0
According to the Romanian laws, hikers can get as far as 20 meters away from the border corridor known as the "Protection Area". To enter the Protection Area, you need a permit issued by the border police point in the sector you want to visit. You also need to present an identification document (passport or ID card).
Reminder of communist era
Tysa river - UA/RO border
If you wish to enter the Protection Area, you can obtain the permit on arrival. Below you will find the addresses and telephone numbers of particular border police points.
BPS Valea Vişeului, Valea Vişeului city, Railway Building
BPS Poienile de sub Munte, Poienile de sub Munte town, Main street, no. 1764, tel. +40 262 367 022
BPS Vişeul de Sus, Vişeul de Sus city, 22 December street, no. 33/A, tel.:+40 262 354 680
Five "domes" - worth clicking to enlarge
If you want to hike along the border line, please fill in the below form and attach a copy of your passport. Then send it all to this address:
Inspectorate of Border Police
No.38 Dragos Voda street
+40 262 314 528, +40 262 315 228
Winter morning in the Rakhiv mountains
Hutsul Alps with misty valley of Tysa river
After several days you can ask for a confirmation that your papers have reached the office. Here is the e-mail address:
The heart of Ukraine's Marmarosh Mountains
Chyvchyn, on Ukrainian side
Issued to a citizen of ……………………(full name, address, country).
The objective of the trip into the border area is ……………………….
Hiking is permitted in border section.............from …hours to …hours
Passport number…………………Date of issue.........
Wooden shelter of frontier guards
The top of Stih/Stogu
RO/UA border summit of Hnitessa
NB Ukrainian laws are kind of bothersome bureaucracy and you will need permission even to enter within 3-5 km off the border line. Moreover, the negotiations with Ukraine's border police can be very frustrating, because they don't usually speak English.
If you want to visit the Ukrainian part of the Marmarosh Mountains, please fill in an appropriate form (above) and send it, with a copy of your passport, 15-30 days before your trek to the following addresses.
Мукачивський прикордонний загин
вул. Недецей 45
+38 03131 2 12 61
This border office controls section from Dilove via Pop Ivan to Stoh summit.
Чернівецький прикордонний загин
+38 0372 59 19 57
This border office controls section from Stoh via Chyvchyn to Hnitessa summit.
A couple of days before your arrival it is necessary to verify your permit by calling these border police points:
After this procedure you may withdraw your permit personally in these border police points.
If you need help with translation, please PM LukZem. A story (told by PipIvan) about how some Ukrainian trekkers obtained their permit is here.
A colourful October in the Marmarosh Mountains.
Crossing UA/RO borderline is strictly forbidden!
Last but not least, in winter and spring the avalanche risk can be high. As for flood hazard, please see the following chapter.
Valley of Vaser
Forest light and shade
Vaser valley in autumn
Damaged upper parts
The valley of the Vaser River is a major tourist attraction of the Marmarosh Mountains. The valley is situated in the central part of Maramureş Mountains Natural Park, occupying about 30% of the park's territory. The scenery along the Vaser Valley is romantic, wild and picturesque. The valley is about 60km long, deep, V-shaped, with steep slopes covered by dense forests, with patches of beautiful glades, dotted with mineral water springs. Due to difficult access, the Vaser Valley has remained wild, and still contains habitats untouched by human, favourable to the wildlife.
Entry into the valley is possible on an old train put in motion by a steam engine. Along a 43.5km section of the valley runs a narrow gauge railway (760 mm) built from 1924-1932. Today it is the last and only operating forest railway in Europe! But the train goes only as far as the stop called Paltinu (approx. 22 km), because heavy floods damaged the upper parts of the valley in the summer of 2008. There is also an interesting SP article available (plus an album) - an aftermath of a journey on the quaint train made by Tomek Lodowy.
A day trip on the forest train is a rare attraction, but if one really wants to get to know the picturesque "Wassertal", he should make a trip lasting several days. But such a tour should be prepared carefully because the Vaser Valley is not populated and below the alpine pastures it is completely covered with forest. There are only two marked trails leading from the Vaser Valley up onto the ridges of the Marmarosh Mountains:
Elevation Gain (meters)
just 2 km from Paltinu stop
km 37 - access possible on the freight train departing at 6 a.m. from Viseu de Sus
Freight train at Făina stop
One can visit a small church located above the railway station in Făina (km 32). The church was built by Austrian settlers and is dedicated to the famous empress Elisabeth, to many better known as "Sissi".
Some 5 km past the campsite at Făina, near the Măcârlău stop, the railway passes remains of a dam. At this point the Vaser River used to be retained so that timber could be rafted down to the faraway saw mills.
Each visit to the valley of the Vaser, whether a day trip along the railroad or a few days' trek with the tent and sleeping bag, is still an adventure. Roaming the shady forests, mountain pastures flooded by sunshine and forlorn railway stops, you will explore a fascinating, different world.
Also, please take into consideration the following aspects, specific of the Vaser Valley:
There is no place to buy food in the Vaser valley, except for dairy products at the sheepfolds
Click & read
Storms, floods and other natural disasters can make some portions of the paths more difficult, or even inaccessible at all. It is therefore necessary to get informed on the accessibility of the itineraries you wish to follow. (NB During the July flood of 2008 the trapped tourists had to be evacuated by helicopter.)
Do not take any risks outside the paths or the forest roads if you do not have the stamina and experience.
Since you are in the frontier area, you have to carry your identity documents!
Your cell phone will be useless - there is no signal in the area!
Movie created by LukZem during his two visits to the Vaser Valley
A female capercaillie
The Marmarosh Mountains belong in the wildest areas in Eastern Europe, with bears, wolves and lynxes living in their beech forests. The mountains are one of thirty Carpathian regions that are important for biodiversity. Therefore, plans are being made to establish a bilateral biosphere reserve here. The wildlife is characteristic of the Eastern Carpathians, which are home to a range of endemic species and generally boast high biodiversity.
A couple of nutcrackers
The avifauna is typical of the montane beech forests, mixed forests and treeless areas. There are several interesting bird species, such as the black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), which prefers large old trees that stand deep inside semi-pristine forests. The green woodpecker is a shy bird but it usually attracts attention with its loud calls. Various types of coniferous forests form the best habitat for the nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes).
The common crossbill - female
Roe deer directly on UA/RO border
The common crossbill - male
The common crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) is a typical representative of pure spruce forests, because it feeds on conifer cones. The capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) is a common species in the area. It can be easily encountered in the Tomnatic Massif and on Bucovinca. The ring ouzel (Turdus torquatus) is the mountain equivalent of the closely related blackbird. The long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus) can usually be found in small flocks. The raven (Corvus corax) has a wide range of vocalizations, which remain an object of interest to ornithologists. In the sky over the Marmarosh Mountains, silhouettes of the birds of prey can normally be seen. The lesser-spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina) needs old forests for nesting and meadows or extensive agricultural land mosaics for food. The peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), which prefers rocky spots, has been registered here. The Eurasian (or Northern) sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) is known for an amazing difference between the sexes. The female is up to 25% larger than the male.
The fauna of the Marmarosh Mountains is very similar to the fauna of the Chornohora, but it has some peculiarities. The rugged landscapes of the higher ground favor such species as the snow vole (Chionomys nivalis) and the alpine accentor (Prunella collaris). Big game is represented by the wild boar reaching over 200 kg in weight. The male can live in seclusion, only leaving the forest in the evening. But most wild boars usually live in packs of 5-12 individuals. Another token forest animal is the red deer (Cervus elaphus).
Among the amphibian species is the newt (Triturus). The typical reptile species is a heat-loving lizard (Lacerta). As far as invertebrates are concerned, one should note endemic species of insects which are confined to the rocky outcrops. From among the butterfly species, the purple emperor (Apatura iris) should be mentioned.
Note: During my three visits - to either side of the protected territory astride the main ridge of the Marmarosh Mountains I observed and recorded about 90% of the aforementioned species.
VIDEO by LukZem
Viseu de Jos
border crossing point
First part to Cluj Napoca:
Direct flights from London Luton, Paris Beauvais and Dortmund to Cluj Napoca (Wizz Air).
There are also direct flights between Paris-Beauvais or Rome and Cluj Napoca. (Blue Air)
Lufthansa operates a direct flight between Munchen and Cluj Napoca.
Flights to Budapest (regular airlines and low-cost) and train to Cluj -Napoca: there are trains departing from Ferihegy Airport
Because of the remoteness of these mountains a tent is really worth carrying. There is only one mountain refuge called Lucaciasa, situated at 1688m, on the slopes of the Toroiaga massif. You can also make use of the many shepherd's huts, but in summertime they are ocuppied by the shepherds.
The Marmarosh Mountains as Góry Marmaroskie on a Polish map, south-east of the center - against the other mountains in the area. The red dotted line stands for the border of the province of Maramarosh in the early 20th century, then still part of the Kingdom of Hungary. To the northeast of the NE section of this line lies Galicia, which after World War I, i.e. after over a century of Austrian rule, returned to Poland.