Two days in the Iezer-Păpușa Mountains

I just came back from a wonderful two-day circular hike in the Iezer-Păpușa Mountains. After even more torrential rain which flooded half the country and even brought down a railway bridge (wettest June in 40 years), I set off towards this beautiful cousin of the Făgăraș, the longest of all mountain ranges in Romania. It lies tucked away to the southeast of it, and west of the Piatra Craiului. I took a bus to the town of Câmpulung Muscel from Brașov over the Rucar-Bran Pass, which took me through the beautiful Țara Branului – the land of Bran. It was by no means a comfortable journey, but it was worth it for the views alone – the rolling hills around Bran, the Bucegi to the east and the Piatra Craiului to the west.

From Câmpulung Muscel, I took a taxi to Cabana Voina. It wasn’t really a regular taxi – I found the details of a local transport company on www.carpati.org and to my surprise, I got picked up by a luxury BMW, making the remaining 20km to Cabana Voina a very comfortable ride. It was driven by a friendly guy called Irinel – if you need a ride there too you can contact him directly at +40 752 020 017, or call the company (Rom Euro Expres) at  +40 742 004832. They have buses as well if you are with a larger group.

I arrived at Cabana Voina around 4pm on Monday and after a hearty meal I set off for Cabana Cuca a one-hour hike up the gravel road along the roaring Târgului river. Let’s just say there was enough water on the trail – and you can take ‘on’ literally. I found Cabana Cuca closed; apparently you really need to make a reservation if you want to stay inside. Which I didn’t – I found a nice patch of grass in the yard, there was water from a pipe (coming directly from the Cuca stream) and outdoor toilets. The bear warning painted on the wood shed in large red letters scared me a little – I really don’t like camping below 1500m.

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

The next morning I set off on the blue stripe/yellow triangle route towards Păpușa (Doll) Peak. At Cabana Cuca the signpost read ‘4hrs 30mins to Păpușa Peak’; however, only 150m on another signpost claimed it was an hour less, which proved to be more accurate. The climb through the forest was steep but short; after less than a kilometre I left the forest behind me and got rewarded with views of the ridge. One great thing about the Iezer-Păpușa is that it is crescent-shaped, so once you get up on the ridge you have an overview of the entire circuit you are going to make. After another kilometre or so I reached Șaua Grădișteanu, where I found a spring. I gratefully topped up my bottles – I had no idea when I would next find water. Within minutes I heard a car come up behind me – out came four guys. They had acquired a plot of land and were surveying it and marking its boundaries. To my dismay, there were a lot of empty bottles near the spring – I normally can’t take a lot of trash out of the mountains but this was my chance – so I asked if the guys could take the bottles down in their car and they were happy to. It was a small contribution to cleaning up the Romanian mountains, but every little bit helps.

From Șaua Grădișteanu, it was an hour to Păpușa Peak (2391m), which lies just off the marked trail. So I left my backpack at a signpost and climbed up an unmarked trail. However, by the time I reached the peak it was completely enshrouded in clouds and visibility went to near zero. I panicked a little – would I be able to find my luggage again? There was no reason to be really worried since I had my GPS on me, but I really just don’t like not being able to see where I’m going. I found it alright, and continued north on the red stripe trail towards Spintecătura Papușii, where I found a little lake to the right – so there was more water on the trail after all (although I didn’t need it). I had a little setback at this point – in terms of kilometres I was only half-way, it was 2pm, I was tired, I had already climbed over 1000m and I could see I had another climb ahead of me. However, a Snickers bar works miracles. Seriously – 250kcal of chocolatey chewiness makes all the difference in the world. I will continue carrying these as long as the weather is not too hot – and if you pack them in the innards of your pack they won’t really melt. Fortunately, the climb turned out to be short and I soon reached a grassy plateau. The rest of the hike to my destination for the day, Curmătura Bătrânei (2190m), was fairly easy – the only surprise was that the marked trail diverged to the right earlier than I had expected on the basis of the map and my GPS trail: there is a shortcut over Bătrâna Peak (2341m), which saved me about 2km walking I think. I reached Curmătura Bătrânei at 4pm, and it turned out to be the perfect camping spot: a soft grassy hollow with views to the Făgăraș and Iezer and Roșu Peaks. I can’t say I slept like a baby since it was pretty cold so I had to wrap myself up in layer after layer during the night.

When I opened the door of my tent the next morning I was greeted by the same grey clouds I walked in the day before – but fortunately the sky soon cleared and I had beautiful views of what was ahead of me – the climb of Roșu and Iezer Peaks (2470m and 2462m respectively). From Roșu Peak I could see the spur that connects the Iezer-Păpușa with the Făgăraș – the trail I intended to continue on in a few days. Iezer Peak again turned out to be off the trail, but it was an easy 50m climb to reach it. From there, I could see Iezer Lake below. According to the signpost on Roșu Peak it was another five hours back to Cabana Voina – and it did take me five hours, but my flat walking time was under 2hrs 30mins. I do take a lot of breaks apparently… It’s probably the continuous note-taking that takes up a lot of time. And I had a chat with a shepherd with the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. I still regret not having asked if I could take his picture. I was too shy – by the time I’d gathered the courage I was one kilometre away from him.

The final part of the descent to Voina was very steep – over the last 2km I still had to descend 700m. When I arrived at 4pm, I found one of the camping areas to be occupied by a scouting group – I wanted to stay away from those kids as far as possibe. I considered my options and decided the best thing to do was to stay in the enclosed meadow with caravans. This didn’t look too appealing either after my absolute freedom in the mountains, but I figured spending the night among middle-aged people was likely to be more peaceful than among teenagers. So I asked the first person I met whether I was allowed to camp there and they let me. Within minutes after I’d started pitching my tent a lovely lady with a purplish perm came up to me and said I could have a shower if I wanted to – she’d heat the water for me. (Everyone on site had one of those outdoor showers installed.) I was grateful for her offer but said I’d need to eat something first.

When I’d almost finished pitching my tent, the man I had met at the gate came up to me and invited me to dinner which the fetele (‘the girls’, meaning his wife and the wife of his friend) had prepared. I thanked him but explained I wasn’t quite finished with my tent, and that I needed to tell the lady at the cabana that I had returned (I had told her to alert my husband if I hadn’t returned by Wednesday night) but he was insistent: ‘Dinner is ready now! The lady can wait! You can fill your water bottles later! And besides, what do you need to change about your tent? It looks ready, right?’ Something along those lines – and he actually pulled me up by my elbow from my crouched position. There was clearly no way I was going to escape these people’s hospitality. A little baffled, I managed to claim another five minutes but didn’t manage to escape past him to the cabana to notify the lady and obtain water – my bottles were thrown aside and I was directed to the dinner table, where I met the rest of the party – two couples from Bucharest, one in their seventies, the other in their fifties. My plate was soon laden with mămăliga, two types of cheese, yoghurt (which I had to mix with the cheese), and carp, accompanied by a glass of vișinata – cherry liqueur. And clatite – crepes – for desert.

After dinner, the lady with the purple perm gestured she would heat water. I had to climb on a rickety ladder and pour the hot water in a tin bucket. Minutes later I found myself taking the very first mobile campsite shower (or whatever they’re called) in my life. It was quite the experience, and I was happy to be clean again. The next morning, I woke at 7.30 and went to the bathroom, after which I planned to get some more sleep – but within 15 minutes I heard the purple lady’s voice outside: ‘Ioana! If you want, I’ll prepare some tea and some breakfast.’ I tried to explain I needed some time to wake up, and that I would come as soon as I was ready. However, I was dying to have some of my good old oatmeal first – so I devised a way to secretly prepare it without her noticing (I sat on the other side of my tent. I soon saw her come up to my tent from the corner of my eye – she thought she might as well bring the food: a mug of sweet tea, crenvursti (sausages), mustard, bread, cheese and yoghurt. And cherries from last night. Which reminds me – after that shower I was offered some juicy melon and cherries, wrapped in a borrowed bathrobe. The lady and her husband joined me at the table, the husband polishing his gun ‘just for fun’ – in the meantime. They inquired whether I’d met bears and how I dealt with them – then the husband produced a package of firecrackers and demonstrated how they worked. I’m pretty pleased with this gift – I’d almost wish for an occasion to use them!

Since the weather forecast looked very grim for the next few days I decided to go back to Brașov rather than continue towards the Făgăraș as planned. I got a ride back to Câmpulung from someone – I got hugs and kisses and the man who had invited me to dinner the night before opened the gate and saluted. I will probably get to see all these people again when I return for my hike to the Făgăraș – to my amazement, the pensioners were all staying for two or three months. Imagine that: three months in a caravan, doing nothing. None of them seemed keen on hiking or even reading. All they did was eat, sleep, relax and watch tv. And lavish their love on me, poor lonely Dutch wandering girl. I look forward to going back there as soon as the weather will let me.

Trail info

Day One: Cabana Voina-Cabana Cuca | Waymarks: blue stripe/yellow triangle | Distance: 4km | Time: 1hr | Ascent: 245m
Day Two: Cabana Cuca-Șaua Grădișteanu-Păpușa Peak-Curmătura Bătrânei | Waymarks: blue stripe/yellow triangle + red stripe | Distance: 11.2km | Time: 5hrs | Total ascent: 1400m | Total descent: 455m
Day Three: Curmătura Bătrânei-Roșu Peak-Iezer Peak-Crucea Ateneului-Cabana Voina | Waymarks: red stripe | Distance: 14.5km | Time: 4hrs 45mins | Total ascent: 485m | Total descent: 1685m

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