Crossing the Baiului and Grohotiș Mountains

This week I finally got to go on my first full-pack hike, after three frustrating weeks of waiting for the weather to clear up. There were thunderstorms and torrential rains almost every day, and I just couldn’t find a big enough gap to go hiking without risking getting absolutely drenched. Now I don’t mind a little rain – it’s part of the adventure – but I know three days of rain would mean misery. So I was overjoyed when the weather forecasts (I check multiple sources) ‘promised’ three days of reasonably favourable weather from Sunday to Tuesday. So on Saturday I took the train to Predeal so that I would be able to start early Sunday morning. Well, my early – I left at 9am.

Now the main reason I wanted to hike east across the Baiului and Grohotiș Mountains was that it seemed a wonderful connecting walk from the Prahova Valley to the Ciucaș Mountains, which are hard to reach if you don’t have a car. But I suspected the hike might not be very exciting; after my long but uneventful north-south hike over the main ridge of the Baiului I thought the west-east traverse would be much the same. How wrong I was. Although the Baiului and Grohotiș may look unassuming if seen from the Bucegi or the Ciucaș, they are very exciting once you really get in.

Just looking for trail info? You’ll find it at the bottom of this post. 🙂

So on Sunday morning I set off from the wonderful Vila Veverița (Squirrel Villa) just west of Predeal railway station. I loved this place – the room I got was modest but had everything I needed including a fridge; I had access to a kitchen so I could prepare my oatmeal in the morning, and checking out was just a matter of leaving the key in the door and walking away. The night before I had dinner at the Cămin Militar Predeal, just a few steps away from my lodgings; it’s the sort of unassuming cheap place where you get fed well for next to nothing. The bill was brought without me asking for it; it amounted to just 17 lei. That was for fried chicken breast, roast potatoes, broccoli, pickled peppers, garlic sauce and ice tea. Very satisfying.

I headed up through the Cioplea district, past a plethora of expensive-looking pensions and hotels – Predeal is a popular skiing resort (with the advantage that room prices are lower in summer). After about half an hour I left the last houses behind me and started hiking up the muddy red stripe trail to Cabana Susai. Upon my arrival here after another hour or so I found a bunch of middle-aged people wearing traditional Romanian embroidered blouses dancing in celebration of Sânziene, an ancient festival that celebrates fairies and fertility – also known as Ziua Iei, the day of the Romanian blouse. I was soon dragged into the circle and although I am rubbish at dancing I loved this merry musical interlude. (Video here.) Refreshed, I continued into the forest down an even muddier red triangle trail – I soon made a bit of a slide. I descended to the Azuga stream, then continued southeast through a relatively open area. When I stood still to take a picture of the main Baiului ridge I heard a swishing sound – and before I knew it four deer rushed past me at short distance.

The trail took me past the Ritivoi hunting lodge, which I found to be open – there were eight berths inside so if you need shelter you can find it here. There was a spring just down to the left, which I gratefully used to refill my bottles because I had no idea where I would next find water – except at the muddy Găvan Lake. At this lake, which is more like a pond, I followed an unmarked trail southeast rather than the red triangle which would mean a bit of a detour. Now few things freak me out as much as unmarked trails, especially if there are two almost parallel ones and it is difficult to figure out if you’re on the right one. Fortunately, the Baiului is covered by the Munții Nostri app, which has a find-me GPS button so I could see exactly where I was. If you want to do this trail and cut off this section too: you have to follow the leftmost path, which will lead back to the red stripe trail. If you do accidentally take the rightmost path, it’s no big deal – it will also ultimately take you back to the red stripe trail, but it will mean another detour, and take you right past a stâna (sheepfold) which is something I try to avoid.

I continued over Turcu Peak and then passed underneath Paltinu Peak, where I met three trail runners – the only other tourists I met on the trail during these three days. I was beginning to feel tired and hoping to set up camp just after Paltinu Saddle, and just before 5pm I found a pretty good spot with lovely views and sheltered from the prevailing wind – but then I spotted a shepherd and felt fear rising in me. I have had plenty of encounters with shepherds and almost only positive experiences, but last year I got a very severe warning from someone I respected and trusted about rapist shepherds in the Țarcu-Godeanu mountains. Now I think this warning applied specifically to that area, but ever since I have felt less comfortable around shepherds. I think my fears are unjustified since I have always been treated respectfully by shepherds, but still, the warning got to me. Perhaps my recent completion of Tess of d’Urbervilles also subconsciously fuelled my fears. Now I’ve never encountered anyone as evil as Alec d’Urberville, but reading about Tess’ mishaps may just have stirred my imagination a bit: there are Evil Men Out There and what if I get assaulted by one? Fortunately, that never happened.

Also, I was scared of the dogs – the flock and its guard dogs were nearby and I wasn’t sure if I was prepared to face them – and from this distance couldn’t judge whether they were well-behaved or not. So I decided to continue for a little bit, walk past the two stânas I could see and find a spot that felt safer. When I met the shepherd he turned out to be very friendly and his dogs were well-behaved. He also told me that Predeluș Pass, which I was heading towards, was only one hour away. That made me decide to press on, even though there were ominous clouds behind me and I felt really tired. Decision making can be so hard, especially if you’re tired and hungry and scared. I blamed myself a lot for this decision afterwards but in hindsight, I don’t think I could have done much better.

The rain soon overtook me and drenched my shoes and socks in no time. I cursed the skies and myself for not having stayed under Paltinu Peak, but now I had no choice but to go on. When I arrived at Predeluș Pass I felt disillusioned: there were buzzing electricity masts right over the flat grassy area which otherwise would have made a fine camping spot. I definitely did not want to spend the night underneath these. Ultimately I ended up a few hundred metres away from them on the next section of the red stripe trail – I could still hear the buzz but it was tolerable. By the time I got here the rain had stopped so I could pitch my tent without it getting flooded – that was something. But I felt tired and overwhelmed and angry with myself and disappointed and scared again – I’d pitched my tent at 1200m on the edge of the forest, clearly in bear territory. But it was 6:30pm by this time and there was only forest ahead of me, so I had run out of options. I made it through the night alright, and even managed to dry my socks – I’d read somewhere that they dry much better if you put them in your sleeping bag (rather than hang them from your laundry line). I was sceptical, but decided to give it a try (after wringing them out first). And it worked a dream – they were almost dry the next morning!

To my relief I found a stream just 500m up the trail that second day. I still had enough water on me but felt I could do with more; I’d been economical with it but needed to stay hydrated. Not being able to find water is another one of my biggest fears. I soon emerged out of the forest and to my relief, I heard my phone beep as soon as I climbed the first slope: reception! A text from my husband! Now I don’t expect full coverage in the mountains but that first night I really wanted to text my husband and I did, but he didn’t get my messages until the next day, nor I his. But I survived that spell of loneliness too. Another small victory.

I was now in the Grohotiș Mountains. This is a little visited area, but nevertheless, the trail had recently been re-marked: it was easy to follow because of sturdy upright branches painted black and white, with red stripes at the top of course. There may be few hikers in the Grohotiș, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t meet anyone: I saw at least twenty flocks of sheep and talked to at least six shepherds. The first one I met, after about 4.5km on the trail, was very friendly, but his dogs weren’t – two of the big black monsters came hurtling towards me and it was very hard to stay focused on the trail and keep the dogs away from me. I had one walking pole behind me, one in front, and tried to focus on my steps without losing sight of the dogs, one of which looked particularly threatening – and then I fell. They could have bitten me there and then had they wanted to. Fortunately, nothing happened. Soon afterwards I met the shepherd, who interrogated me about my motives: Why was I doing this alone? Was I aware of the fact there were many bears in the area? What would I do when I met one? I had to admit I had no good answer to that question; that I knew I was taking risks but that I felt bored to death by life in a city. That was something he understood very well. I really appreciated this man – he gave me none of the ‘You’re a woman alone on the trail and that’s dangerous’ bullshit, but addressed real issues and just questioned me sincerely. He walked with me for a few hundred metres and then gave me a firm handshake.

The next person I encountered was herding cows – he also asked why I was doing this alone. In addition, however, he asked: ‘What do you gain from this?’ His wording struck me. It was a good question. What do I gain from this adventure? I told him I was writing a mountain guide about Romania, which explains why I do what I do practically, but doesn’t really answer his question. What do I gain? Often I don’t know the answers to that, but sometimes I do. Freedom. Fresh air. Beauty. Health. Feeling alive. Space. And I get to share all of this with other people – without that I don’t think I would be doing this. I want to inspire other people to live life to the full too – and there are many ways to do that, but I hope my project can somehow contribute to that; people finding ways to really be alive.

Around 5pm, I arrived in a valley that looked like a good area for camping. However, I could see a flock up the flank of a mountain to the left and a corral to the right. I definitely didn’t want to be in the way of that flock coming home while pitching my tent. Upon closer inspection, I also saw what looked like an army truck – and it was. When I arrived at the potential camping spot I encountered three soldiers who also interrogated me and thought what I was doing was very dangerous. I told them I was mainly scared of the dogs, but cheerfully added that if they thought it was OK to camp there maybe I could too. Then one of them timidly told me I wasn’t allowed to stay there, nor could I take pictures of their activities. Now I didn’t particularly want to camp right next to them, so I left them and clambered up the slope, where I found a peaceful spot and pitched my tent just before the rain. Funnily enough, the flock ended up passing right by my tent and not past the soldiers’ camp – there was another stâna close by which I hadn’t seen from below. By that time I was safely inside though; the dogs inspected my tent for a while but soon left me alone. I felt really pleased at the day’s achievements and enjoyed my meal a lot more than the previous night – and slept really well on top of that.

I slept through my alarm on Tuesday morning – my ear plugs are rather effective. I woke up feeling well-rested and thinking it must be 10am, but to my surprise it was only 8:30am, and I was on the trail by 10am instead. I could afford to start a bit later – I only had about 10km left, most of which descending. At some point I heard something beep – I checked all my electronical devices but could find no source. Then I noticed a watch, half-buried in the mud. I’ll try to reunite it with its owner. Shortly before I got to Bratocea Pass on the DN1A road, I saw a big fat badger cross my path – I was so amused. I’d never seen one before and thought it looked hilarious. I was lucky to see one because apparently they mostly come out at night.

When I arrived at the pass, I saw a few cars and trucks parked in the shoulder of the road. I rushed to the first one and asked if they could take me to Brașov. The guys regretfully told me they were waiting for three trail running guys to emerge from the Ciucaș – who, they said, had also been running in the Baiului earlier. It turned out they were waiting for the guys I had met on Sunday! Fortunately, one of the truck drivers was happy to take me. He was good company; I felt really comfortable with him and he actually understood my Romanian. He had been driving all the way from Finland. He dropped me on the outskirts of Brașov within an hour, after which I quickly got a ride into town for the last two kilometres from a really friendly guy who dropped me off right in front of my door.

I woke up the next day with a terrible headache and a sore neck, but still feeling well pleased. I’m so happy to have completed my first proper multistage hike with full pack, and already looking forward to the next one. My eye is on the Iezer-Papușa. It’s raining again now, but things should improve by the start of next week – so I’m hoping to be off again soon. For now, I don’t mind the rain: being the hamster that I am, I made sure my fridge and cupboard were full before I set off on my hike. So I don’t have to leave the house at all and all I have to to is rest, write, do yoga, eat, sleep, read. This time round I don’t mind – as long as it doesn’t last another three weeks.

Trail info

Day One: Predeal-Predeluș Pass | Waymarks: red stripe+red triangle+unmarked section+red stripe | Distance: 16km | Time: 5hrs 40mins | Total ascent: 1145m | Total descent: 935m
Day Two: Predeluș Pass-just before Bobul Mic Peak | Waymarks: red stripe | Distance: 11.5km | Time: 3hrs 50mins | Total ascent: 730m | Total descent: 505m
Day Three: Bobul Mic Peak – Bratocea Pass | Waymarks: red stripe | Distance: 9km | Time: 2hrs 30mins | Total ascent: 295m | Total descent: 550m

Maps used:
Postavaru-Piatra Mare-Baiului, Munții Nostri, 1:45,000/50,000
Five Mountains from the Carpathians’ bend, Erfatur-Dimap, 1:70,000
Plus this gpx file for the section between Pasul Predeluș and Pasul Bratocea.

This route can easily be done in two days, but I left late on day two (11:30am) because I needed my things to dry. If you want to hitchhike from Bratocea Pass, it helps if you arrive well before 6pm – truck traffic is diverted via the DN1A in daytime, but after 6pm they are allowed on the DN1 again so there will be a whole lot less traffic passing on Bratocea Pass. So you might want to spread it out over three days after all so you arrive early in the afternoon – camping next to the road doesn’t look like much fun.

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