Snow, mud, rain and wind in the Călimani Mountains

Let’s just say I got more than I bargained for. More mud, more rain, more wind, more snow. The Călimani Mountains are giving me a hard time… First the dog bite, now this. (I haven’t written about the dog bite on here yet – full disclosure on facebook.) But admittely, they are beautiful enough to revisit. Which I plan to do soon. Here is a report of this week’s three-day endeavour.

On Monday I took the 10am bus from Vatra Dornei to Gura Haitii. It dropped me off at the end of the road from which supposedly my route to Rețițiș Peak should start. It didn’t – and I could have known. There was a blue circle signpost alright, but when I followed the road it directed me on I saw no more waymarks. I knew this was the long road to the former sulphur mine, and also knew I should definitely not follow this to the end. So I checked my GPS and map and figured out my route started a kilometre down the road. I should have done my homework better.

I found the path and set off, eager to catch up on time because by now it was 11:30. Somehow someone had made me believe it would only take three hours to get to my destination, but the (misplaced) signpost said five-six hours – which seemed more reasonable considering the 16km ahead of me. Again, bad preparation. The forest road was exceptionally muddy and I had to follow it for several kilometres. After it ended, things got a little better – I was kindly allowed to follow a sweet snow-covered trail through the forest. Yay! Snow! I had wished for it for so long and now I finally had it. I wasn’t feeling all too cheerful though; I was much more tired than normally. I thought I had rested long enough after my last hike but apparently this wasn’t true. I really had to drag myself up those mountains. This adventure is beginning to take its toll…

After Calimanul Cerbului Peak (2013m) I suddenly got beautiful views of the main ridge, the caldera and the sulphur mine. Caldera, yes – the Călimani are volcanic mountains, and the crater has an impressive diameter of some 10km. The former sulphur mine doesn’t actually look all that ugly. I quite liked the looks of it. After this peak a long walk over a plateau followed, shrouded in rain. At some point I thought I heard a cow which seemed a bit weird at that altitude. Now I know it was a rutting stag. Ultimately I got to a gravel road. I eagerly followed it up to the meteo station – only to find out that I had missed the direct path to it when I could see it – so I had to retrace my steps again and grumblingly beat my way through the dwarf pine trees to the meteo station.

I found the door open and heard a booming voice coming from inside. I followed the sound and knocked on the door. ‘Da!’ the voice responded. It was the meteorologist, dictating a message through the phone for the person on the other end to write down. It took a while. I didn’t mind; I was warming myself at the stove in the meantime. My room was a whole lot colder, but Laurentiu let me stay in his room as long as I wanted. Fortunately he also had a bucket of fresh water – that saved me the one hour trip to Iezer Lake. I had planned to walk to the lake on the same day, but due to my miscalculations and the bad weather I decided to leave it be.

The next morning I slept late and still didn’t feel like going to the lake despite its alleged beauty – by now I had seen so many lakes that I couldn’t give a damn and I figured my readers could figure out how to get there by themselves if they desperately wanted to see it. So I set off for Pietrosul Călimani Peak (2100m), largely following the charming Via Maria Theresia. At Negoiu Saddle I could see the newly built refuge down below – finished just the day before! In fact four new refuges have been built in the Mureș County part of the Călimani; you can find detailed info here.

The morning had started bright and sunny, but unfortunately clouds took over as soon as I started climbing towards Negoiu and Pietrosul Peaks, so I didn’t get much of a view. After Pietrosul I descended to Poiana Izvoarelui in about half an hour, where I found a charming camping spot. I knew strong winds were predicted for the night as well as heavy rainfall and possibly snow, so I pitched it as close to the trees as possible. I got water from the spring and cooked dinner – just in time, because the rain forecast for 11pm onwards started falling at 5pm already. And continued falling for the next six hours.

I spent the rest of the evening trying to reconcile the weather and my tent, which wasn’t easy. I have a summer tent and the weather wasn’t very summery. Despite the shelter of the trees the wind was having a good go at it, and blew the sides of the fly against the inner tent. I used my walking poles to prevent this from happening, which worked quite well, and after consulting my husband (reception, yay) I used my insulation blanket to keep drops from falling from the ceiling. I somehow managed to fall asleep, only to wake up at 2:30am and find my tent enveloped in snow. I brushed most of it off and slept until 8am. I woke up in a beautiful white world.

At this point I fully intended to continue my planned itinerary towards 12 Apostolii, but after the snow started falling again and a couple of slightly worried texts from my husband I changed my plan: I decided to hike down the much easier and shorter red cross route back to Gura Haitii instead. It was a very hard decision to make; almost every fibre in my body wanted to continue, but I knew that under the circumstances (snow, wind force 6 predicted, more rain) it was definitely wiser to cut the hike short and come back later. Besides the weather, I was wearing a temporary replacement rain cape which had… short sleeves. So I was definitely going to get wetter and colder than desirable. Also I had eaten most of my food including much of the spare/emergency portion – I suppose I needed the calories. In short, my reserves were gone, I was pretty tired too so I had to do the smart and humble thing. It took me a while to get over the ‘humiliation’ – I kept feeling it was weak of me to give up and couldn’t help but wonder what others, real mountain pros (I don’t consider myself one of these) would think of me. Of course I shouldn’t do that but I did.

Once back in Gura Haitii I was glad I had made this decision – the weather had gotten very shitty by this time and waiting for more favourable weather made all the sense in the world to me now. Decision making can be so hard; but the mountains do help me to make the right decisions. If I miscalculate or apply bad logic I usually get punished soon enough. Although I don’t like to have to adjust my plans I like that the mountains are teaching me to be more accurate, more realistic, more critical of my own reasoning. As someone put it: not all classrooms have four walls.

I’m resting and digesting in Vatra Dornei now and the weather is just splendid. It looks like the arctic spell has passed; the forecast looks very favourable for the next fourteen days. It’s harder to rest when the sun is out because I feel like I should make the most of the good weather, but I also know that I won’t last very long if I set off too early. I’ve been here for five months; it only makes sense that I’m getting a little weary and need more rest. So I’m taking a week off to pamper myself: massage, sauna, strolls through the park, food, wine, Netflix, no alarm clock. I’m secretly loving it – but am also looking forward to being back on the trail!

Trail info

Day One: Gura Haitii to Rețițiș Peak via Calimanul Cerbului, 5-6hrs, blue circle + red stripe, 16-18km (to be recalculated)
Day Two: Rețițiș Peak to Poiana Izvoarele via Negoiul Unguresc and Pietrosul Călimani Peaks, 3hrs, red stripe + red cross, 9km
Day Three: Poiana Izvoarele-Gura Haitii, 2hrs 15mins, red cross, 10km

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  1. […] my snowy venture into the Călimani during the first weekend of October I returned during the secon...

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