My dear friends and family are aware of a trait that I possess – not completely proudly I might add! I am not a very sporty person. Oh, yeah, I like to watch various sports, such as tennis or football (the “soccer” type of football). But, when it comes to actually doing something, most of the times, you wouldn’t catch me dead lifting a finger. Up until recently, that is… that moment in time, when I had the brightest (or not so much…) idea of going hiking in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains. So, here is how it went…
Seeing the event posted by my friends from In Drumetie, I had this dream… in which I would be able to go up the mountain, deep covered in snow. I almost saw myself, glorious, at the top of the mountain (the dream did not exactly show where or what that top was!), with my hiking equipment and trekking sticks, hands above my head, victorious in my conquest. Well, folks… let me just tell you this. When you know you are not a very sporty person and you have these types of dreams – just ignore them! Trust me! They only wish you harm! The dreams, I mean, not the guys from In Drumetie 😊 😊 A nice alternative for this hiking madness is just lying on a Greek beach and sipping something alcoholic 😛
Filled with hope and joy, I contacted Mihai – the mountain guide who was organizing the hiking trip and after a short discussion, it was decided. I would go on a trip, up the mountain, to Cabana Curmatura (for those of you who don’t dabble in Romanian, the translation is Curmatura Mountain Lodge 😊). If I had only known what lay ahead…
All excited, I went shopping – of course, I was completely unprepared. Or I needed a reason to spend some more money. It can be either options. Nevertheless, the main point to remember is this: when you go hiking in the Carpathian Mountains (though, I assume, it applies to all mountains), in winter, you need specific winter hiking equipment. This includes: strong winter boots, fleece shirt, T- shirts made of polyester fabric (they keep dry even when you are sweating), gaiters, a winter jacket (which should be water resistant) and a front flashlight (in case it gets darker sooner than planned). Of course, mittens and a proper cap complete the attire. You might want to add to these some trekking sticks – I did not realize how helpful they would be in the beginning and then I was lucky enough for one of my hiking colleagues to provide me with one. It was a God sent!
In order to get to Cabana Curmatura, you start the hiking trip from Zarnesti. This is a small mountain town, aproximately 160 km from Bucharest (Romania’s capital city). You can get to Zarnesti either by car or by train. Both trips are pleasant, but by train you do not have a direct route to Zarnesti, you will need to switch trains in Brasov (this trip takes about 3.5 hours, not counting the time between trains). If you decide to go by car, driving to Zarnesti offers you nice views of the Prahova Valley resorts and of the Piatra Craiului Mountains (the mountains which I hiked on during this trip). I took my own car, while the rest of group came with a mini-bus.
From Zarnesti, you have two options for reaching Cabana Curmatura – the yellow stripe trail via the Poiana Zanoaga (to be translated Zanoaga Meadow 😊) or the blue stripe trail, going through a a wide canyon between two huge limestone rock formations, called Prapastiile Zarnesti (the actual translation would be the Zarnesti Abysses (yeap, plural!), but it sounds so funny, that I will just leave it in Romanian). Our mountain guide chose to go up to Cabana Curmatura on the yellow stripe trail and go back down to Zarnesti, on the blue stripe trail.
Since we were accompanied by an authorized mountain guide, we did not have to take care of anything other than being present. However, if you decide to hike up to Cabana Curmatura by yourselves, you need to keep in mind some practical stuff: first off, since part of the trail is located in the Piatra Craiului National Park, you will need to pay an entrance fee. As far as I know, this can be paid both in cash, at various points in Zarnesti or via phone, by sending a text message to a certain short number (service is available in Vodafone and Orange, the two main mobile operators in Romania). For the most current info, check out the Piatra Craiului National Park Administration website. Second thing to scratch of your to-do list is to notify somebody where you are off to – even though the trail is relatively light, it might still present dangers, especially in winter, so it is advisable to notify either your host or the Mountain Rescue team (this link provides you access to the National Mountain Rescue Association of Romania) which trails you will be on.
Getting back to my little adventure in the Carpathian Mountains – we set off to Cabana Curmatura, on the yellow stripe trail, full of confidence, good cheer and a will to succeed. For a while, we just walked on a forrest road. I felt great, not knowing that this light walk would soon end. I was happy, taking photos, laughing with my friends and the guide and getting relaxed – it was not going to be that hard after all 😊 the dream of me, victorious, on top of a mountain would soon come true.
All this ended when we reached a small fountain – Fantana Botorog. From then on, as I mentioned, you can either go on the yellow stripe trail or on the blue stripe trail. Since it was already decided by our guides, Mihai and Claudiu, which trail we will follow, we started our ascent to Cabana Curmatura. That is where it began – what, you might ask… my nightmare. Theoretically speaking, the trail leads you up to Cabana Curmatura, via a forest and via the Poiana Zanoaga (the meadow!). However, getting up the mountain was pretty hard for me to do.
If in the beginning, Mihai was leading the group and Claudiu was making sure that nobody was left behind. It didn’t take long for the group to go up up and away and for Iulia to be left with Claudiu, Delia and Dan (whom I would like to thank with all my heart for having the patience to go up the mountain with me!) to continue the trail. I would like to stop here quickly to give a great round of applause to Claudiu. He deserves it! While going up through the forest, the only thing I could think of was to complain. Literally – my mouth did not miss a beat! I could not breath at one point, but that did not stop me. I continued to complain – don’t get me wrong, I had nothing personal with Claudiu, but… again… I had to complain. Poor him listened to me, all the while trying to joke and tell me that we will soon be there, encouraging me to go on. His favorite line was “15 minutes more”. If I ever hear this line again, I will most likely automatically start complaining. Delia and Dan were my cheerleaders, making me stop from time to time and then providing me with enough strength to start hiking again. Going up through the forest had its advantages. It is a wonderful scenery. Add to the beauty of the nature the presence of snow and you have a perfect winter wonderland. Moreover, it was so quiet and peaceful. Only from time to time, the silence was interrupted by one of three things – birds chirping, my complaining or Mihai’s voice through the walkie-talkie asking us where we were. Far behind, Mihai, far behind! 🙂
At one point in time, I was completely out of strength. We stopped for a minute, I took some magnesium pills and ate some nuts and we were off again. Practical advice: when going hiking, take some magnesium with you (it prevents your muscles from cramping) and some “mountain food” (bananas, nuts, crackers, cheese, dried meats, energy or granola bars, light sandwiches – they keep your energy level high, but will not be heavy on your stomach or liver). Once you finish your hike, take some aspirin – it will help with the upcoming muscle soreness.
Shortly after we stopped for my energy break, we reached the half of the trail (in my humble opinion!), Poiana Zanoaga. In the summer, this meadow is usually filled with sheep. There is also a sheepfold in the meadow. Depending on how lucky you are, you might be welcomed by either the shepherds or by the sheep dogs – pray for the former, as the sheep dogs usually tend to be a little… let’s say unfriendly. During our hike, since there was snow all around, we did not get the chance to see any sheep, but we did enjoy a wonderful view of the fir trees, covered in white winter jackets. Of course, despite the fact that the sign still showed a long way to the lodge, Claudiu continued to fool me with “we still have 15 more minutes to go”.
Second part of the trail was a little lighter, meaning that there were not so many ascending portions. Most of the trail continues through the forest. It is an amazing scenery, with all the trees covered in snow. The small trail made by those hikers before us made it easier for us to go on. Along the way, we saw the Mountain Rescue lodge and a cross, built who knows when and by who knows who, in the middle of the forest. Meant to guide the hikers on their way to the mountain lodge, it was a welcomed sight.
We managed to arrive at the mountain lodge with a delay of almost an hour than the rest. By that time, the famous apple cake of the lodge had already been eaten, so we had to be contented only with rum tea. You heard that right, rum tea. It is normal tea, spiked with either actual rum or with rum essence. To die for after 4 hours of hiking. Oh, I forgot to tell you. Although, normally, the trail takes about 2 hours to complete, we managed to do it in 4 hours (by we, I mean the “glorious 4”- me, Claudiu, Delia and Dan).
Cabana Curmatura is a great place to visit. From its terrace, there is an amazing panoramic view and, if you are a fan, you can spend the night in the lodge and wake up the next morning with the view of the mountains surrounding the lodge. You can either find accommodation in one of the rooms offered by the lodge (rooms have bunk beds, don’t have running water or indoor toilets) or put up your tent in the meadow in front of the lodge. Either way, the view is extraordinary and is worth both the hike to the lodge and the minimal conditions offered. You can also eat here; the food is tasty and pretty cheap.
Once we finished our rum tea, we set off to continue our hiking trip – getting back to Zarnesti on the blue stripe trail. My initial thought, as we started hiking from the lodge was that it will be a lighter route. Of course, it wasn’t. The trail takes you down the mountain. Most of the portions are relatively light, but, as you continue through the forest, towards Prapastiile Zarnestilor (you know, the abysses…), you find yourself on a steep trail. Since it was winter, we had the bad luck of the trail being covered with ice, so it was particularly hard for us to go down. That being said… guess who was left behind again, with Claudiu and Delia? Yours truly, of course! After many moments of cursing, almost crying, thinking that I would never ever in my life go hiking again, we reached the last portion of our trail. While Claudiu was finishing the last portion, with Delia, Mihai came to my rescue (yeap, I totally yelled at him for letting me come on the trail!). The blue stripe trail continues through Prapastiile Zarnestilor and offers exquisite views of the rock formation. I particularly noticed the interesting appearance of small caves, inside the walls of the gorge. One can only imagine what animals were hibernating in those caves 😊
As usual, it took me a while longer than the others to get back to our accommodation in Zarnesti. However, this time, there were more people joining me, so I had an even bigger audience for my complaining. After almost 8 hours of hiking, we reached our host, dead tired, but incredibly grateful.
The evening ended how every hiking trip should end – good food, a lot of laughter, folk music played on guitars and some unsuccessful tries to actually play some games. I made peace with Mihai and enjoyed a hot cup of tea together, took some aspirins to make sure I don’t get muscle pains and prayed to be able to get out of bed the next morning!
Much to my surprise, the next morning, I felt amazing! Ready to take on the world, all over again.
Second part of the hiking trip was a stroll to Magura village and a hike to Casa Folea (Folea House, a guest house close to Magura). Mihai had plans to take the group to Magura by foot, via another trail. Guess what I did? Those of you who said that I took my car to get to Magura will get the big award!
So… taking the car, I drove up the forest road between Zarnesti and Magura. It is a short drive, about 15 minutes in total. Once we reached Magura, we found the rest of the group. We joined them and, once again, to started to walk up to Casa Folea.
On our way through the village, I managed to snap some shots of the surroundings. Magura village is built on hills, right in the middle of Piatra Craiului National Park. It is a picturesque village, where traditions are still kept alive by the small number of inhabitants. The village has become famous during the last few years, exactly because of the way of life that the locals have chosen. It is a very touristic destination. Despite this, it has kept its initial “air” of a village who has not been touched time. The village is incredible both during summer and winter and I would love to go back and stroll around it some more.
At one point in time, shortly after we started another ascent, when asked how long it will take, Claudiu uttered the now famous line “15 minutes more”. That was, for me, the end 😊 Together with Delia, Dan and Raluca (the other friend who accompanied me on the hike), we decided to go to Casa Folea by car. We quickly confirmed with Claudiu that there was, indeed, a route to follow to Casa Folea by car and notified him of our decision to get there by car. Now, if you ask me, poor guy was thrilled not to have us again on his hands 😉
After some inadequate instructions provided by our lost GPS, we managed to find the route to Casa Folea. We, however, did not take into consideration that it was winter, it had snowed recently and the route was not a usual one. Therefore, we ended up getting stuck in snow. We spent the most part of the next hour trying to get out of the snow. It was hard also because there was ice underneath the snow and… apparently, cars do not like ice. Who would have thought?
In the end, we did not manage to get to Casa Folea and we missed the group. They actually posted some photos of the visit to Casa Folea and, I admit, I was kind of sad that I did not try to go to the guest house also.
All is well when it ends well though – we left Magura for Brasov, one of Transylvania’s largest cities and ended up having our lunch/dinner at one of my favorites restaurants – La Gaura Dulce. If you find yourself there, make sure to ask the waiter about the name of the place. You’re in for a good laugh!
At the end of our trip, we reached Bucharest on a rainy weather. Getting back home, I realized one thing: it was incredibly hard for me to go hiking to Cabana Curmatura, but it was worth it. The feeling of succeeding, going to bed tired after spending an entire day in nature and breathing that strong, clean mountain air made it all worth it.
And despite my constant complaining, guess what, guys? I fell in love with hiking and I cannot wait to get back on the mountain again.