Sunday, January 10, 2016

Aleko Hut - Zheleznitza

The season of winter hiking has been opened!
Yesterday we climbed on Vitosha around the 2 km altitude, from Aleko Hut, through Kupena Hut to the village of Zheleznitza. The forecast was for sunny and warm weather, the ski season on Vitosha hasn't been open yet for lack of sufficient snow on the tracks, so we decided we could risk it and try to hike in the upper parts of the mountain.
However, we had a bit of a rocky start - the car wouldn't start, the battery had died during the last cold couple of days. All packed and ready, we decided to take the bus. We live some 5 km from the gondola lift station, so there is a bus passing through our part of town. But - arriving at the bus stop we found that we had missed the bus and the next was in 37 min. according to the infoboard. So we hailed a taxi. And just as we got out of the taxi we found our that we had forgotten our hiking sticks at home - a bad mistake for winter hiking :( Nevertheless, we boarded the lift and went to Aleko Hut, the starting point of our hike. Arriving at Aleko, we were in for a new surprise - the sunny weather was down in the valley, the peaks were all covered in heavy clouds and there was a very strong icy wind. Our initial plan was to climb Cherni vruh along a roundabout track from Aleko to Kupena Hut and then up to Cherni vruh and down through the plateau or the Wall, if possible. But seeing the meteorological conditions in situ, we decided that Cherni vruh was out of the question. Still, we had never walked from Aleko to Kupena Hut, so off we went, deciding that we'll see how it goes and then settle on our final destination.

The visibility down the valley was amazing

Peak Malak Rezen (2182 m), hidden in the clouds

The snow was melting where the sun managed to touch the fir trees

Once we got out of the woods, we reached a fork - we could go down to the village of Bistritza or continue up to Kupena Hut. We decided to stick to our initial plan and go to Kupena.

And as we went up things got serious. The path was covered by the snow, the clouds got thicker and the wind - very strong. We were lucky, because two persons with a dog had passed before us along this track, so we followed in their steps, otherwise I'm not sure if we would have dared to continue in this direction without a track. Vitosha tracks are all marked, but in winter only the special winter markings, made with high metal poles, painted in yellow, are usable.

The path brought us around the avalanche-hazardous slopes of the peak Golyam Rezen (2276 m)

To the left - breathtaking sunny views hundreds of km afar to the wall of the Balkan mountains

Our aim - Kupena Hut at the foot of the peak Golyam Kupen in the far center of the picture. Unlike spring-summer-fall hikes, winter mountain hikes require careful planning of rests at huts or shelters, stopping for a rest on the snow can be truly dangerous.

To the right - white vastness, clouds and icy wind

After almost two hours of solitary walk our hearts leaped as we noticed that 
the small dots between the fir trees are skiers - back to people, hurrah :) 
Kupena Hut is the mountain base of the National Sports Academy 
and the students were training there.

A lonely brave tourist, daring the track to Cherni Vruh

A snow drift almost as high as me. Because the track was not trodden 
we often sank up to the knees or thighs in the snow

And here it is - Golyam Kupen

Kupena Hut - here we had a short rest, hot tea, dry socks :) 
We had to decide - back to Aleko and the lift (we had bought two-way tickets) or 
down the path to the village of Zheleznitza. The track to Aleko was more interesting 
and extreme, but having to choose between wind in our backs and wind in our faces, 
we opted for going downward.

So, down to Zheleznitza. Last views from the top: to the south - Rila mountains
To the north - the Balkan mountains

A flock of small birds flew almost from our feet and landed a few meters away

The path down was very steep and slippery, so instead of our hiking sticks 
we had to improvise with ... real sticks. It works, though not as comfortable.
I felt like Gandalf and was tempted more than once to hit my stick in the
ground and cry theatrically "You shall not pass"

A total of 4 hours walk and about 30-40 min rest, very satisfying hike.