Hiking in the Făgăraș Mountains in September: the west-east traverse (3)

For most people, traversing the Făgăraș Mountains is an achievement that takes about five, six days. This includes seasoned hikers. Yes, it’s possible to do it in less – I know trailrunners who’ve done the entire length of it (close to 100 km) in under 48 hours – but for most of us earthlings that is beyond our reach. In fact, it’s beyond my wish. Admittedly, I sometimes get slightly green with envy when I scroll through my social feed and see another feat that I know I will probably never achieve. But I also know that I thoroughly enjoy hiking at my own pace, with plenty of time for breaks and pictures. And for the Făgăraș that means I schedule five or six days, depending on where I end up everyday. Now on day two of our September traverse, we took it a bit far – so day three was definitely going to be an easy one. Join me from Călțun Lake to Capra Lake, via Bâlea Lake for a pit stop. If you need trail info, you can jump right to the end of the post here.

Oh rainy day

We wake up in a wet world at Călțun Lake. But it’s not pouring it down, which definitely makes packing our soaked tents easier. We wrap ourselves up in impermeables and set off towards Bâlea Lake, where we know we can feast on actual food. As opposed to our humble stove-cooked meals – mind you, I cook a mean mountain pasta, but every now and again I don’t mind supplementing it with something finger-licking tasty and greasy. Especially now that it’s cold and rainy, and after the insane amount of calories we must have burned yesterday. This prospect makes me extremely cheerful; perhaps disproportionately so considering the weather. But I keep saying it: clouds can make for a great spectactle! Admittedly, it helps if it’s not an impenetrable fog. Which it wasn’t, and closing in on Turnul Paltinului where I camped on my previous Făgăraș traverse, we even get treated to a few patches of blue sky!

Pit stop at Bâlea Lake

I don’t actually like the Bâlea Lake area very much. Since it’s situated on the famous Transfăgărașan road, it’s very accessible to tourists, and access means nature has a price to pay. There are various cabanas and other buildings around the lake, which detracts from its natural beauty. However, we are willing to pay the price, because we want food! I’m mostly vegetarian but this is where I make one of my exceptions: the baked chicken liver with onions is especially tasty at Cabana Bâlea Lac, as I recall, and I’m not disappointed. It’s also nice to warm up for a bit and charge our devices.

Camping at Capra Lake

After our culinary detour (there is a shorter ridgetop route via Iezerul Caprei peak), we climb back up to the ridge and descend to Capra Lake. I’m quite keen on camping here since it’s such a gorgeous spot, but the clouds have lowered again, so we pitch our tents in dense fog that dampens our moods a little. But that’s all part of the adventure. I’m happy that we’ve managed to do a short day (just 7.5 km), that we’ve arrived early, have had a good meal and can rest a little. Tomorrow’s going to be another long day.

Day Four: bypassing Trei Pași De Moarte

The next morning doesn’t look much better, so it’s waterproofs again. We’re on our way to a section that I really love: Trei Pași De Moarte, ‘Three Steps To Death’. This is a short technical section of serrated ridge that requires some clambering. From the last time, I recall there are some huge slabs of near-vertical smooth rock that were pretty tricky. Since the weather hasn’t improved much, these rocks will still be wet. If you want to get some idea, watch this video. (It doesn’t even show the trickiest bit – and does show a near fall.) So after some consideration, I mournfully decide we need to take another detour- the blue cross trail that goes via Podragu Lake. I grumble about this for quite a while, until the sun finally starts shimmering through the clouds, and ultimately burns our rainjackets off and reveals the stunning ridge. Being on top of the ridge is awesome, but seeing it from below is, too! So in the end, I have no regrets, and it’s good to explore a different trail.

Marmots at Podragu Lake

We are rewarded yet again when we see marmots near Podragu Lake. We don’t descend to Cabana Podragu because we have no business there, but it would have been a good hideout in case of really bad weather. However, we’re planning to push on to Moldoveanu Peak and beyond. Besides, I have bad memories of the place – shitty food, small portions and loads of trash lying around. I can only hope this gets cleaned up every once in a while, but it would require a helicopter. I’d love to participate in or organize cleanup hikes myself, too. But that’s a story for another rainy day. Without further ado, here are the marmots and some other pretty views. Because you want to see the marmots, right? I know I do. OK, it’s just one marmot – the pictures of the other one aren’t any good. Sorry about that. The climb to Podragu Saddle on the main ridge is really pretty and reveals some nice, smaller lakes that would make for a decent camping spot. But again, we mean to push on…

Hello Moldoveanu!

From Podragu Saddle (2301m) we have a gorgeous view back down into the valley, over the lakes we just passed. The clouds are still chasing each other but the blue patches in between grow bigger and bigger. This also means that, after less than an hour of ridgewalking, we can finally see the trapezium shape of Viștea Mare and Moldoveanu Peaks ahead of us! It’s still a good distance away, about 3.5km, but it’s certainly motivating to have it in sight. Moldoveanu Peak is Romania’s tallest at 2544m; Viștea Mare measures 2527m and comes third, after Negoiu (2535m). Most of the ridgewalking towards Moldoveanu is easy; there is the now familiar 200m climb to Viștea Mare, where we leave our packs and put on a fleece and a jacket again, because it’s windy and freezing. Reaching Moldoveanu means heading south on a jagged ridge for about 500m. It is definitely very doable, but there is a dent between the two peaks that sends chills down many a spine. There are chains to help you, sure, but you can also look down into the abyss on two sides. I don’t mind too much (have I mentioned I love clambering?), but I’ve seen people turn around at this point. We don’t turn around until we’ve actually reached Moldoveanu and have taken the obligatory shots. We meet some people who have come from the other direction: there is an easy, short trail to Moldoveanu Peak from the south. Great if you have a car and just want a quick trip to the peak, but that’s not what we’re after. So we head back to Viștea Mare the way we came.

Descending to Viștea Mare Refuge

At this point I feel like we’re almost done for the day, and we are, but it’s a treacherous feeling nevertheless. The descent from Viștea Mare Peak to Viștea Mare Refuge is a long and arduous one. Looking at my trail data though, I now realize it mostly felt long and arduous: it didn’t take us much longer than half an hour. But much though we love our mountains, we’re looking forward to putting our feet up. Before we can finally do that, we need to find the spring below the refuge though, and that takes a while. When we do find it, it turns out to be no more than a trickle. It’s September after all, so some of the springs are drying up. We manage to get enough water eventually though, and pitch our tents right on the next to the refuge. It’s not my favourite place on the trail to pitch a tent because it’s dirty and exposed to strong winds, but it’s as good as it gets here. And windy it is: we’re in for a restless night. But who said hiking in the Făgăraș Mountains was going to be comfortable?

Trail info

If you also want to go hiking in the Făgăraș Mountains, here’s some info you might need. You can find even more in my guidebook, ‘The Mountains of Romania’, which you can buy here or at your local (travel) bookstore. It’s available as an e-book as well!

Trail stats

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.

RouteDay Three: Calțun Lake to Capra Lake via Bâlea Lake Day Four: Capra Lake to Viștea Mare Refuge via Podragu Lake and Moldoveanu Peak
Distance ± 7.5km ± 13.5km
Altitude gain + 795m + 1304m
Altitude loss – 696m – 1277m
Time 4hrs 50mins 7hrs 25mins
Waymarksred stripe trail Follow the red stripe trail until the signpost after Turnul Paltinului;
blue stripe trail Switch onto the blue stripe trail to Bâlea Lake;
blue triangle trail From Bâlea Lake, follow the blue triangle up to the saddle, then descend down the red stripe to Capra Lake. If you want to skip Bâlea Lake and its cabana, you can continue on the red stripe trail after Turnul Paltinului.
red stripe trail Follow the red stripe trail until Fereastra Zmeilor;
blue cross trail Switch onto the blue cross towards Podragu Lake and Cabana;
red triangle trail Just above Cabana Podragu, turn right onto the red triangle trail and climb up to Podragu Saddle. Continue on the red stripe to Viștea Mare Peak;
red circle trail Follow the red circle to Moldoveanu, retrace your steps to Viștea Mare, then descend on the red stripe to Viștea Mare Refuge.
Water

The spring at Calțun Lake was hard to find in the dark and no more than a few drops drizzling down the rocks mid-September. There’s a spring just before the ascent to Turnul Paltinului. You can buy water at Cabana Bâlea Lac or use tap water. There’s a spring at nearby Capra Lake too though. If you’re also taking the detour via Podragu Lake as described, you can get water from Cabana Podragu. There might be springs around Podragu Lake as well; I haven’t checked, but there certainly is plenty of water, so if you’re carrying a filter you’re good. The spring under Viștea Mare Refuge is a little hard to find and was as good as dry mid-September. Check out the map in my guidebook for precise locations. Also check out my book if you’re planning to tackle the Făgăraș 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.

Bivouacking

Camping is permitted anywhere in the Făgăraș 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. Calțun Lake, Turnul Paltinului and Capra Lake are great bivouacking spots. Less fond of pitching near Bâlea Lake (lots of tourists and cars plus you have to pay). The spot below Viștea Mare is extremely windy and there are few good flat spots. You could resort to the nearby refuge though.

Navigation

Take a paper map with you and make sure you know how to use it. I recommend the one from Munții Noștri; try buying it from your local travel bookshop (this is mine). You might want to download the Munții Noștri app as well. Don’t forget to download the relevant map so you can use it offline; you won’t have cell coverage everywhere.

Map

Clicking on this map will take you right to OutdoorActive.com, a great online community and toolkit to plan your hikes with. You can download the gpx of this route there as well. Below is stage three; stage four is here.

More Făgăraș

Hiking in the Făgăraș : the west-east traverse (1)
Hiking in the Făgăraș in September: the west-east traverse (2)
Hiking across the Făgăraş: Romania’s longest ridge
The Iezer-Păpușa and Făgăraș revisited

The Mountains of Romania, Janneke Klop, Cicerone Press
Buy my guidebook!

Are you planning to go hiking in Romania? You might want to buy my guidebook, ‘The Mountains of Romania‘! It offers 27 multi-stage treks and 10 day hikes all over Romania. It contains an extensive description of each hike, lots of practical info, overview maps, an accommodation appendix, a language guide, and comes with free gpx files. There is an e-book version as well! This is a project that I put my heart and soul in; I’d be so chuffed if you bought it! If you buy it directly from the publisher I get 10% royalties.

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