Hiking in the Fagaras is always rewarding, but hiking in the Fagaras in September especially so. I mean, imagine waking up to this! Isn’t it just perfect? Read on for some more impressions of traversing the Fagaras ridge – day two, which ended up being a very long one. Key words: Custura Saratii, Negoiu Peak, and over 1700m of ascent… In short, a crazy day, but good kind of crazy. If you’re in a hurry: trail info is at the bottom of the post.
Hiking above the Olt River
We eat a breakfast bar and make coffee and tea, while the morning sun caresses our faces. I swear by Ma Baker‘s oatmeal bars these days – they are compact yet high in calories and very tasty. In Romania you can buy them at most Mega Image stores – I haven’t found them in Belgium yet but managed to order a box of 20 online from the UK. Saves the trouble of cooking oatmeal in a pan. From Curmatura la Apa Cumpanita, we quickly climb to a beautiful plateau with rocky outcrops (Sturii Valcului) from where we have a gorgeous view over the Olt River – or not quite, because it’s shrouded in a a beautiful veil of white clouds. We also meet our first fellow-hikers: two Dutch guys who are making their way back down because they slightly underestimated the trail, and four Romanians who slept at Cabana Suru and are headed the same way – we’ll meet them several times later in the day.
We have a long day ahead of us – if we’re going to do what I’ve planned. Which is questionable. Our destination is Caltun Lake, but getting there requires tackling Custura Saratii and Negoiu Peak. More about that later. At this stage I’m still breezy about it – I’ve done it before so surely I can do it again?! But first, there’s Budislavu Peak (2343m) and beautiful Avrig Lake, where we top up our bottles and stuff ourselves with some more carbs before we climb to Scara Peak (2306m). In an ideal situation, we’d have walked all the way to Avrig Lake on day one, but that didn’t happen due to a very late departure. Oh well.
Custura Saratii: to go or not to go?
And then we finally get to the foot of Serbota Peak (2331m) and we know we have to make an important decision soon – which we chew on as we climb to the top, and still chew on while we have a break on the peak, overlooking the section that is covered in exclamation marks on the map: Custura Saratii. This is a one-kilometre stretch of extremely jagged and vertigo-inducing ridge: the way it immediately dips down from Serbota Peak is positively unnerving, and then it just keeps going up and down with cables everywhere – there doesn’t seem to be an end to it. Of course there is, but it really does require some stamina, especially if you carry heavy packs like we do. I think it’s probably the hardest stretch of trail you can do without climbing gear in Romania. Now my memory is a bit hazy here, but I think it was already 4pm by the time we reached Serbota Peak. The sun would set before 7:30 and we knew our speed would drop drastically on this section. Which means chances are we will have to descend from Negoiu in the dark. Not a great prospect, but we are (or at least I am) very keen on doing it anyway rather than taking the yellow stripe detour. So we go. And it’s great. And it’s terrible. And I fall and bruise my butt. And we get to Negoiu Peak (2535m), just before sunset: exhausted, but oh it’s so beautiful. One for the books.
Descending in the dark
It’s cold and windy, so we don’t spend more than a minute or two on the peak, and the sun doesn’t wait. We feel relieved that we made it to Negoiu Peak (Romania’s second highest) – now all we need to do is descend to Caltun Lake. But again, that is no easy feat: there are plenty of technical passages between Negoiu and our destination, most notably Strunga Doamnei. The darkness doesn’t help. So we pull out our headlights and push on – there is absolutely nowhere we could comfortably sleep before the lake, so there is only one thing left to do. It sure is a great way to build stamina. Now I didn’t recall the descent to Caltun Lake as being particularly difficult from my previous Fagaras traverse and it isn’t, but it is positively strewn with boulders, so we have to watch every step and we are really, really done with it. We can see people flashing torches from the other side of the lake, so at least we’re close. It’s 9pm when we finally, finally drop our packs in one of the rocky rings – and even then we’re not done, because we have to find water. Wilbert bravely follows the signs to a spring, but what he finds is just a few drops dribbling from the rocks. So I filter some water from the stream that flows from the lake – or at least, that is my intention: I end up boiling water because the plastic bottle I have brought doesn’t fit my filter. I feel like an absolute rookie, but we’re also pretty pleased we made it, and before the rain as well. Because rain it does that night. We know one thing: tomorrow is going to have to be a good deal shorter!
If you also want to go hiking in the Fagaras, here’s some info you might need.
These are my trail stats as measured by my Suunto Ambit 3 watch. Please bear in mind that the numbers may not be 100% accurate, but they should give a good indication of what to expect. Timings reflect my pace with full pack; yours may be different. Allow extra time for breaks, taking pictures, etc. Ideally start at Avrig Lake to make this stage more manageable.
|Route||Curmatura la Apa Cumpanita (1807m) – Caltun Lake (2135m) via Custura Saratii and Negoiu Peak|
|Altitude gain||+ 1730m|
|Altitude loss||– 1385m|
|Waymarks||Follow the red stripe trail all along.|
Springs at the start, at Avrig Lake, Scara Saddle and Caltun Lake (or filter water from the stream); check out the map in my guidebook for precise locations. Also check out my book if you’re planning to tackle the Fagaras in the other direction, east to west. Or generally for more practical info. I’d be chuffed if you bought it! There’s an e-book version as well, that will nicely fit in your pocket.
Camping is permitted anywhere in the Fagaras Mountains, since it’s not a national park (yet). Ideally, pick a spot near a spring – and not in the forest (bears, you know). And please make sure you leave no trace.
Grab a paper map with you and make sure you know how to use it. I recommend the one from Muntii Nostri; try buying it from your local travel bookshop (this is mine). You might want to download the Muntii Nostri app as well. Don’t forget to download the relevant map so you can use it offline; you won’t have cell coverage everywhere.
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