The Piatra Mica circuit in summer

Yes, I am aware winter is encroaching on us in the northern hemisphere, but I still have summer stories to tell. Although I spent just over a month in Romania this summer it was crammed with adventures – and I still have many pictures to share. Time to catch up. Here is a photo journal of my hike to the Piatra Mica, the Piatra Craiului‘s smaller but no-less-gorgeous sister. I’ve added ‘in summer’ to the title as I did this hike in winter as well – so a winter version of this post is in the cards. At some point. Eventually.

For starters: the Zărnești Gorges

July 21st. I set off from my temporary home in the lovely village of Măgura at 11:11am. No, I’m not an early riser – but the days are long and my legs feel strong so it doesn’t matter much. I descend to the Zărnești Gorges in half an hour under a bright blue sky dotted with friendly-looking cumulus clouds. It looks like the start of a promising day. In the gorges I finally get to take good pictures of them – any other weather than this (too bright, too grey) makes it night impossible to do them justice with a (or my) camera. The Piatra Craiului Mountains largely consist of very soluble limestone. This characteristic combined with the cracks caused by the folding of the rock strata is responsible for the creation of these beautiful gorges over time. Thank you, nature! The layers of rock are easily identified on closer inspection of the impressive rock walls.

I stroll through the main gorge, have a bite and then ascend towards Cabana Curmatura through the forest, where I am almost deluded into thinking someone has dropped a chocolate-sprinkled donut. Turns out to be a mushroom though, so I leave it be so it can do its useful work on the forest floor. Also I’d rather not get poisoned, so I continue until I leave the forest behind and get welcomed by cows swinging their bells around while zealously shearing a meadow at the bottom of the majestic Piatra Craiului ridge, which they don’t seem to care about. I do though so I cover the last bit to Cabana Curmatura, where I find masses of people having lunch. Shit. Forgot it was a Sunday. I hurry past them and find a quiet corner to have another snack, then make my way up to Crapaturi Saddle. I find a family on the viewing platform – they’re taking pictures of each other so I offer to take one of all of them. The man starts unfolding a flag with a logo I know well – turns out it is Cristi Minculescu, a mountain guide I follow on facebook!

Time for the real deal

At the bottom of the Piatra Mica I take a picture with the treasure map drawn especially for me by Mads, a smart and adorable four-year-old German boy I met at the campsite in Măgura. I’ve promised to take his map, which goes by the name of ‘Karti’ everywhere. And I do.

And then it’s clambering time. Although Piatra Mica Peak only measures a modest 1816m and the peak itself isn’t spectacular, the route leading to it definitely is. It requires lots of hands-on-rock and climbing up through narrow chimneys. See below.

The clambering and the ridge section is followed by an easy trail, alternately through forest and through open meadows with views to all sides – the Piatra Craiului, the Bucegi, the plains. Like I said, the peak doesn’t amount to much, but the views do, as well as the floral variety. I manage to catch an Old World Swallowtail with my lens – quite pleased with that.

Dogs

Time to descend to Poiana Zănoaga – a large meadow with a sheepfold and therefore dogs. I hop down rather quickly and am pleased with this – there has been a time where I was rather fearful of descending and sometimes even cried in the process. Now I enjoy it and I can do it fast if the trail isn’t too crazy. I pass by three teenagers in adidași (trainers) – the girl has sprained her ankle on the way down and the boys try to carry her. They don’t want my help. Closing in on Poiana Zănoaga I hear barks. I brace myself. First thing I see emerging from the trees is a bright yellow shape lounging in the grass. I assume this is the shepherd so I utter some loud cries to make my presence known and beg for his protection against his canines. Turns out he is not the shepherd and does not understand Romanian – he is a Czech guide and has taken leave of his group for a while. I’m more than a little amazed that he has taken this spot to nap – it isn’t exactly safe to do so surrounded by a pack of guard dogs. I try to point this out, but there is no need, because the dogs start doing so themselves. The pack leader, which I had already had a close encounter with on the descent but was nice to me because I respected him (I like to think) approaches and calls on his comrades. I tell the Czech guide he might want to get up, but don’t want to leave him in the lurch so wait until he has his belongings packed. It takes a while, but we make it down to the trail safely.

I take leave of the Czech guy and direct my steps to Fântâna lui Botorog, the fabulous fountain in the Zărnești gorges. To my amusement I see a young guard dog sitting up nicely next to a couple of tourists – I take a picture to prove to you and myself and all the world that guard dogs aren’t necessarily monsters but actually smart animals who are well-behaved if trained and treated well. I refresh myself at the spring, then walk back up to Măgura feeling very satisfied – although I know I will soon be hungry for more mountains. Good thing they are always right there for me.

Trail info

Măgura-Zărnești gorges-Cabana Curmatura-Piatra Mica-Poiana Zănoaga- Fântâna lui Botorog-Măgura | 17km | Total ascent/descent: 1150m | 4hrs 45mins | red stripe-blue stripe-yellow stripe-blue circle-yellow stripe-blue stripe-red stripe

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