PiatraCraiului(Ro)Királykő (H)Königstein (D) rising just east of the Făgăraş and Iezer mountains, is usually regarded as the east end of the Făgăraş group (part of the South Carpathians) and has always been regarded highly, which is reflected in the name of the mountains that translates as the Royal Rock, or King's Stone.
The Piatra Craiului is - in a nutshell - over a dozen kilometers long, narrow, ridge of Jurassic limestone, which runs NNE to S like a stately sawtooth wave. It has a lookalike at the other, north end of the Carpathian arc, namely the Belá Tatras, and a little sister called Buila-Vănturariţa, beyond the west end of the Făgăraş group. All these limestone mountains – thanks to their jaggedness – have remained fairly untouched by the pastoral economy that has shaped the landscapes of nearly all Carpathian ranges for centuries, if not millennia. No wonder the Piatra Craiului is home to many a bear, wolf and lynx as well as endemic flower species, such as the pink named Dianthus callizonus.
The Piatra Craiului is every Carpathian scrambler's dream. Those who prefer technical climbing also frequently scale its sheer limestone walls and towers, although the Bucegi Mountains, which sit about 20km to the south-east, are much more popular with climbers. The Piatra Craiului is a compact mountain range, perfect for day hikes or climbs. Weather permitting, you can hike along the marked trail from a hut at the foot of the mountains (at 750 to 850m) up onto the crest - whose highest summit, La Om or Piscul Baciului (Pásztor-csúcs/Hirtenspitze/Shepherd's Peak), tops out at 2,239m - and come back down within one long summer day. The main ridge trail is normally covered in two days. Talking of rock difficulty, the ridge trail is often YDS class 3, whereas the most difficult waymarked trail climbing the northwestern side of the mountains is class 4. NB There is virtually no water anywhere on or near the crest.
Creasta Nordică (the North Ridge) in a January
Ţimbalul Mare at 2177m (on the North Ridge)
The North Ridge in summer. Far right: Piatra Mică
Creasta Sudică (the South Ridge) in winter
On the South Ridge in mid-autumn
Below Funduri pass
The main ridge trail is intersected by waymarked paths at the following points:
Vf. Turnu (vf. = short for vârful = peak) at 1911m at the north end of the main ridge
Şaua Padinei Închise (şaua = pass) at 1936m or nearby Vf. Padina Popii at 2018m on the trail from Plaiul Foii to Cabana Curmătura (please see chapter 6) via Padina Popii)
Vf. Ascuţit at 2150m on the Plaiul Foii-Cabana Curmătura trail whose eastern part running up Brâul Ciorânga Mare was opened to the public just a few years ago
Şaua Grindului at 2200m/Vf. La Om, on the trail from Plaiul Foii to Refugiul Grind (the western part of this trail, named La Lanţuri, i.e. Chains, is YDS class 4 in a couple of places)
Şaua Funduri at 1889m, at the south end of the waymarked main ridge trail
The trail from Plaiul Foii to Refugiul Grind via Şaua Grindului forms a dividing line between what is called Creasta Sudică and Creasta Nordică, that is to say the North and the South ridges of the Piatra Craiului. This is a split for convenience as there is no natural divide between these areas. What is meant by the main ridge trail here extends between the passes of Crăpăturii in the north and Funduri in the south. In summertime, in good weather conditions, no heavy pack on one's back, a hike along the marks (which traverse the most difficult parts of the crest) takes over 10 hours. However, the actual length of the whole main ridge, including the southernmost section, is nearly 25km – twice as much as the length of the main ridge trail as depicted above.
The western face of Piatra Craiului seen from Plaiul Foii
The walls above Brâul de Mijloc
The western face of the Piatra Craiului is an imposing wall whose highest parts are virtually inaccessible for non-technical climbers, except the few routes listed above (whose hardest bits are secured with metal cables) and a couple of unmarked paths reaching UIAA grade II, that is to say more or less YDS 5.2 in terms of technical difficulty. This western flank of the mountains is cut by steep ravines, which are lined by and elaborately decorated with thousands of limestone walls and towers, among which you can get lost easily. The La Lanţuri route, which is part of the line dividing the North Ridge from the South Ridge, passes by some beautiful limestone arches at a spot called La Zaplaz, which used to be known as Deubel Holes. Talking of karst arches, the greatest is Cerdacul Stanciului at the western base of the South Ridge.
aka La Zaplaz
The eastern face of the Piatra Craiului is much gentler except for a couple of places, such as the northernmost section of the South Ridge. The northeast edge of the mountains, several hundred meters lower (1,816m) and much shorter, but not different in shape from what runs to the south-west from it, is named Piatra Mică, i.e. Little Rock, and towers right over the town of Zărneşti.
The east face of the South Ridge in winter
The east face of the South Ridge in summer
The eastern face of the North Ridge
Red Tape, National Park and Libearty
The mountains have been designated a National Park so you are only allowed to camp at the campsites by the huts. If you get caught off the waymarked trail, you are likely to incur a fine of several hundred euros! Here's more about the Park rules
A few kilometres north-east of the town of Zărnești the Libearty Sanctuary has been set up. Several dozen bears, mostly Romanian, are enjoying a new life there.
When To Go
On the South Ridge in April
In wintertime relatively few people go climbing in the Piatra Craiului, on the other hand, among those few people the percentage of SP members seems to be a little higher, not to mention the percentage of SP dogs.:) In June there can still be plenty of snow in the couloirs and ravines. In July and August, the trails can get crowded in places. July can be rainy, depending on the year. Late summer and the first half of autumn seem to offer the best chance of your enjoying whatever snowless fun you have come for.
Refuge Lehmann on Vf. Ascuţit (Sharp Peak), 2150m, N part of the North Ridge
In summertime, finding accommodation at the foot of the Piatra Craiului is not difficult. There are several huts (in winter they are usually packed with people), often with an adjacent camping ground, around the mountains. The town of Zărneşti offers a range of guesthouses. The mountains are dotted with characteristic shelters, most of which look like halved soccer balls. These refuges are unmannned, rudimentary and unlocked. They offer shelter if the weather gets foul or if it's getting dark and the hut/campground is still a long way away. Two of the shelters are located on the main ridge, both at above 2,000m. The first huts and shelters in Piatra Craiului were built toward the end of the 19th century by the Siebenbürgischer Karpaten Verein: More about the history on the NP page as well as on SP.
Curmătura Hut in the background
Hut owner's double bear hug
Shelter near La Om
The most convenient base for the North Ridge area is a place called Plaiul Foii, where a hut has stood for over a century and where today there are several facilities in which rooms/beds can be rented, plus a campground where one can pitch the tent (do not count on peace and quiet). For the South Ridge area, Cabana Garofiţa Pietrei Craiului (cabana = hut) can be a nice place to stay. The most convenient hut for Piatra Mică is no doubt Cabana Curmătura at 1470m, the only problem being the quality of service and cleanliness, of which there have been some not very enthusiastic opinions in recent decades, so to some a cozy guesthouse in Zărneşti may be a more appealing option.
Foot of the west wall down below; Plaiul Foii on the left
NE gate to Piatra Craiului
Access to the mountains is pretty good. Apart from the road, there are good railway connections from Bucharest, the capital city of Romania, to the city of Braşov, where - if going by train - you have to change and get on the train for the town of Zărneşti (the journey takes just about half an hour) at the very foot of the Piatra Craiului.
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