First hike of the season: To Piatra Mare Peak via Șapte Scări Gorge

The first hike of the season is under the belt! I am so glad I made it to the start. Of the third leg of this Roamaniac project, I mean. I was far from sure I was up to it. But, as another hiker wisely wrote, nothing gets you fit for hiking like hiking. For starters, I picked an entry-level hike – and although my body protested a bit during the climb through the forest (and afterwards, i.e. now), it went well and I enjoyed it. Here is a description of a hike through the fabulous Șapte Scări Gorge – Șapte Scări meaning Seven Ladders. I combined it with a hike to Piatra Mare Peak and then walked back down an easy path. But the beauty of this hike is (amongst others) that it has something for everyone: you can keep it short by doing just the gorge part, make it longer by hiking up to Piatra Mare cabin or even longer by hiking up to Piatra Mare Peak.

I took a taxi to get to the trailhead. The 17B bus stops at Dâmbu Morii too, but it doesn’t leave very often, and taxis come cheap in Brașov – they are 1.99 RON (€0,43) per km and the ride was 8km, so that was a negligible amount of money. (Bus tickets are 4 RON for two rides.) If you do take the bus, walk up Strada Piatra Mare until you see a large info panel about the Șapte Scări Gorge. This is where the yellow stripe trail starts. From here, it is a 3km/45-minute walk to the tax point and the entry to the gorge. Tickets cost 10 RON per person; I believe there were lower prices for children but I didn’t register.

The gorge is fun and rather spectacular. Every time I am in a gorge I find it hard to believe how water carved its way through hard rock (OK, admittedly limestone isn’t that hard) through the centuries. This gorge is very narrow which makes it stand out from a lot of others. It is about 230 metres long, and the Șipoaia stream makes a drop of about 60 metres. The gorge can be traversed by climbing seven ladders; or ten if you count the shorter ones that are just a few steps too. The highest waterfall is about 15m. If you do this in spring like I just did you might get wet! Traversing the gorge itself only takes about 15-20mins. If you are satisfied by the end of it you can return to the forest road you came on by following the red circle waymarks; these bypass the gorge (you are not allowed to descend down the gorge again).

If, however, like me you want to continue towards Piatra Mare hut and perhaps the peak, keep going on the yellow stripe trail. Cross the stream and head up into the forest. After about 3km in the forest you will arrive at Poiana Sura de Piatra and Cabana Piatra Mare (1635m). From here you can see the peaks of the Ciucaş Mountains to the southeast. Cabana Piatra Mare is open year round but meals are only served on Saturdays and Sundays. If you want to sleep here you should make a reservation; see here for the phone number. On weekdays reservations are not necessary, the cabanier on duty told me. There is a spring 200m from the hut if you need a refill.

If you made it all the way up here, you are very close to Piatra Mare Peak (1844m) – according to the signposts it is 1hr but I did it within 40mins. Follow the red stripe waymarks up, to the southwest. There is some scrambling involved but most of the trail is easy. You will get breathtaking views of the Baiului, Bucegi and Piatra Craiului to the left once you are on the (very grassy) ridge; Brașov is at your feet on the right. You can still hear the trains hooting down below.

Piatra Mare Peak marks the end of the trail; to return, retrace your steps to Cabana Piatra Mare. From there you have two options: either descend down the red stripe, also known as Drumul Familiar (which I did) or down the red circle, which is yet to be explored. Both are about 7km and get you back right to the start of the trail in Dâmbu Morii. The red stripe offers a pleasant and easy descent through the forest; I am hoping to go down the red circle on my next hike.

Altogether, I think this was a very good hike to kick off with. It was fairly long for a first hike (17.5km) but very doable. Also, the waymarking and signposting was nothing short of excellent, so you won’t have to worry about navigation. Although access to the gorge is possible year round, spring is probably the most spectacular time to explore it. From the 1st of May to the 1st of September it is open daily from 10am to 6pm; outside the season it is open on Saturdays and Sundays only. Before you go, check the gorge’s facebook page to see if they are really open; if heavy rain is expected or has just fallen it might be closed.

So, that was number one. Right now I’m waiting for the weather to clear up and my legs to become slightly less sore – and then I’m ready for the next one!

Distance: 17.5km | Time: 4hrs 40mins | Total ascent/descent: 1100m | Highest point: 1844m

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