A very exciting day in the Piatra Craiului: the Lanțuri route and Southern Ridge

I’m back from a long weekend in the Netherlands – my sister got married, I got to spend some precious time with my husband, saw some friends, wandered around my lovely hometown, Leiden, and stocked up on cheese. And now I’m back in my little abode in Brașov. Time to rest and write. The week before last I completed a crazy hike in the Piatra Craiului mountains, as you may have noticed on facebook. It was definitely the most challenging one-day hike I have ever undertaken and is probably one of the most difficult hikes in all of Romania. I’m very proud that I managed to pull this one off so early on this year, and absolutely loved it so am going to give you a full description so that you can do this too, if you need an adrenaline shot.

To do this in one day, I had to get up early. I set my alarm at 5:30 and managed to get out of bed by 5:45. (I’m getting the hang of this!) Heated the oatmeal I prepared the night before and by 6:20 I was ready to go. Thankfully, my wonderful host Sorin had once more offered to drive me to the starting point. At 7:30 we arrived at Cabana Plaiul Foii, on the western side of the ridge, and I set off towards the ridge on the red stripe route. The signpost at the start made it clear I had set myself a bit of a task: getting up to the ridge alone would take 5-6 hours, and that would only cover the first 6km out of 17. I felt a bit groggy after the short night so decided to keep a slow pace for the first few kilometres – which were pleasant enough.

OK, exit storytelling mode, enter instruction mode (although the stories will sneak back in). The trail leads along the Tamaș Stream; after almost 1.5km there is a barrier which you need to pass; the red and blue triangle and blue stripe diverge to the right here. After another 500m there is a signpost stating it’s 2-2.5hrs to Spirlea Refuge; in fact getting there only took me 1hr 20mins from the start, so this is a bit generous. Spirlea Refuge is located about 4.5km from the start, at an altitude of 1410m. From here, you will soon see the sheer rock wall of the Piatra Craiului rise in front of you; it is so steep that it makes you wonder how you are ever going to get up there without climbing gear – but you will. After a little more climbing, you can see the Făgăraș to the right – you will see a lot more of it once you’re on the ridge. 600m from Spirlea Refuge the red stripe trail forks – turn left (northeast) to continue to La Om via the Lanțuri (meaning chains) route. The path soon makes place for a scree slope, which brings you to the start of the so-called ‘Drumul lui Deubel’, at the foot of the rock sculpture known as La Zaplaz, which looks a bit like a lantern.

This is where the challenging climb really begins. Climb up a narrow chimney using cables; the first of many. About 500m on from here there is a very challenging one; there is a frayed cable that has come loose and the rocks are slippery, so it’s very hard to get up there. I decided the best thing was to hold on to the frayed cable and pull myself up. The whole climb from La Zaplaz (1640m) to the ridge is less than 1.5km; over this short distance you climb a whopping 555m. Whereas during much of the climb you can benefit from the shade of the surrounding rocks, the last section to Grindului Saddle (2195m) is very exposed; I got surprised by the heat (it was around noon by the time I got here) and had a bit of a sugar low, so had a Snickers bar in the shade of a rare bush. I didn’t want to take a long break so I soon dashed off again – and that was a mistake, because I should have allowed some time for the sugar to do its work. If I had I might not have made The Fall: although my right hand had gripped a rock firmly, my right foot slipped away from the soft soil I had placed it on and I spun around my axis. Fortunately, I didn’t make much of a drop – I just slid down for perhaps one metre, but I did hurt my ankle and still have plenty of bruises. Lesson learned. The waymarks also were a bit harder to find on this section; or perhaps that was just my sugar low too, making it harder to concentrate. I recommend you take your time here and don’t try to make a dash for it.

After a lot of time on all fours, I arrived at Grindului Saddle – flat walking time just 3hrs, 21mins and 49secs at this point (4hrs 45mins including breaks). At this point I did take a proper break – I felt a bit shaky from the fall and clearly needed a hearty lunch. Also, looking to the right I could see the ridge walk south was going to be no joke: the path immediately went steeply up the craggy rocks which made my heart sink a bit. Also it was signed 3-4hrs to Funduri Saddle, which seemed like an awfully long time. I decided I would not make the little detour north to La Om peak (the highest peak in the PC with 2238m) even though it might just have taken 30-45mins there and back again; I figured I would need all my time, energy and courage for the three to four kilometres on the southern half of the ridge. If you need shelter at this point – Grind Refuge is just to your left.

I still felt a bit shaky and achy after my lunch break but got up and set off again. After no more than 200m, I incredulously stared down a bit of an abyss; this could not be the path. What was I supposed to do? Then I realized I hadn’t seen red circle waymarks at all and I had probably missed them straight away. So I returned and there were waymarks alright; I should have followed an arrow and made a sharp right to get on top of the ridge. So now you know. 🙂

From Colții Grindului (2197m), the first peak you encounter, the ridge leads south-southwest over a few slightly lower peaks; Lespezi (2142m), Pietrei (2098m) and Funduri 2018m) are the ones you will encounter before you head east off the ridge. To get to the signpost just before Funduri Saddle, you need to conquer about 3.5km of ridge walking. The waymarks are almost always right on top of the ridge; a couple of times there is a sneaky little path that suggests you stay to the left of it but that almost always leads to a precipice. Like the ascent to the ridge, the ridge itself involves a lot of clambering; I think I may have spent about 50% of my time on this hike on all fours. The gradual descent makes the southern section harder than the northern part in my opinion; there are a lot of sections where you need proper chamois skills to descend. Talking about chamois – I saw just one, cooling down on a patch of snow. I also met a viper, which I foolishly touched – its head was in its hole already so I figured it wouldn’t bite me, and it didn’t but it could have.

After Lespezi peak, the trail becomes a bit smoother – for a while, because soon you will have to struggle through dwarf pine that enthusiastically grow over the path. And then, after almost 3.5km on the ridge, you will arrive at a signpost, which you can see well before you get there: time to descend. (My flat walking time on the ridge was just under 2hrs 30mins; about 3hrs 30mins including breaks.)

Turn left to Funduri Refuge; the trail is initially marked with faded red crosses. You’ll reach it after about 5mins – I had a peek inside and there were actually supplies, including a Carl Jung book! Walk past the refuge, then turn left onto the blue triangle/red circle trail. The path is a welcome change after the ridge; the descent is very gentle and the path is smooth and leads through forest, mercifully offering shade. About 1.7km after Funduri Refuge there is a section in the forest with fewer waymarks – just continue south (straight ahead) at the same altitude until you see waymarks plus an arrow, then turn left and continue descending. You will soon arrive at a meadow; turn left onto a pleasant forest road. Cross another meadow, then turn right (south) onto another forest road, marked blue stripe and signed 1hr 30mins-2hrs to Cabana Brusturet. The trail quickly splits off the forest road; keep right. The trail veers off the road a couple more times, but the waymarking is always very obvious. Cross Poiana Funduri, from where you have perfect views back to the ridge. After having crossed the large meadow the trail delves back into the forest for about 2.5km, after which you arrive at Cabana Brusturet (1000m), where you can refresh yourself at the spring.

Unfortunately, Cabana Brusturet has closed down, so unless you are carrying a tent (which I don’t recommend on this trail) you will have to make your way out of here. If you want to do this on foot, you can either follow the road south through Brusturet and Dâmbovicioara gorges and try one of the pensions in Dâmbovicioara (another 5.5km), or follow the yellow stripe trail east to the village of Ciocanu on the 730 road, and try to hitchhike from there. However, there is not a lot of traffic here, so you may want to ask someone to pick you up from there. And here is the good news: I asked Sorin, my host, and he is happy to pick you up from there, and/or drive you to Plaiul Foii for a very reasonable fee, or any other mountain area that is difficult to access. You can phone/message him at +40 728 175 072. Ideally, combine this with a stay at his wonderful apartment, Coronensis (see AirBnB).

Cabana Plaiul Foii, the starting point of this route, can be reached a bit more easily than Cabana Brusturet. You can take a RegioTrans train from Brașov to Zărnești; from there you will either have to walk the 12.5km to Cabana Plaiul Foii or take a taxi.

Some final info before I wrap up: I spent 11hrs 45mins on the trail, out of which 7hrs 45mins flat walking time. Yes, that’s a lot of break time – I probably take more breaks than average because I need to take notes on the way. But I think allowing for three hours of break time isn’t overly generous. I carried four litres of water – it turned out that three was enough, but I wanted to stay on the safe side and drink whenever I wanted to. I did drink a full three litres so was quite happy with the extra litre on the drive back. There is no water on the trail after you leave the Tamaș Stream at the start; you won’t see water again until the very end (the spring at Cabana Brusturet).

The road back to Brașov is incredibly scenic, through the hills between the Piatra Craiului and the Bucegi, which looked glorious under the setting sun. I can fully recommend this hike and promise it will leave you feeling very satisfied.

Distance: 17.5km | Time: 8hrs | Total ascent: 1555m | Total descent: 1435m | Highest point: 2197m

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