Sponsored climb to the top of the highest mountain on the Balkans in aid of the new Social Medical and Training Centre in Sofia.
Mountains by moon-light, thunderous hail storms, giant goats, sparkling icy streams in flowery meadows, manic mosquitoes and Turkish toilets…..what an amazing adventure!
Borovetz is Bulgaria’s biggest and highest ski-resort, bustling with skiers in the winter, indeed I was one of them earlier in the year. But in July it is a sunny, sleepy town, and it was here we started our trek, over 4,000 feet up in the Rila Mountains.
Our gently sloping path meandered upwards through fragrant pine forests over refreshing streams, chill remnants of the winter glaciers. As we rose the air became cooler, the trees stunted and the views across the valleys spectacular.
We plodded and puffed onwards and upwards. After several hours the trees gave way to rocky meadows strewn with bright flowers of yellow, mauve, pink, red, blue and even green. I rounded a rocky corner and to my surprise found myself face to face with a giant mountain goat quietly nibbling a rare patch of grass beside the path. He was as surprised as I, and quietly galloped off. I whipped out my camera, but by the time it had booted up, he was out of sight. I gave chase, but he being fleet of foot and me flat of foot with a rucksack, it was no contest. Many people never see these secretive animals, and I had been 10m from one on my first day! Later he appeared again high above us, but quietly cantered off again when he saw my camera….. infuriating!
Our first night’s lodge was beside Ledenoto Ezero = Icy Lake. This beautiful glacial lake is usually frozen in summer, but this year has been warmer than usual, melting the ice and reducing the permanent snow-fields too; global warming perhaps?
The curiously-shaped building was designed like a pyramid to resist snow and wind-loads, particularly suitable for people with triangular heads. It was ‘basic’ but warm, clean and friendly, run by two ladies whose cooking was plain, wholesome, and very welcome! Being used to English trekkers, they even had tea on the menu, and of course, chill Bulgarian beer at about £1 per can.
We slept fitfully in the dormitory, disturbed by the snores of those who did manage to nod off. At around 1.00 am I had to go outside (don’t ask!) and to my delight found the mountains brightly lit by a brilliant full moon. The silent stillness of white and silvery grey was breathtaking, an experience I shall long treasure. By the way, there are no toilets in the higher huts. Previous enquiries were met with the helpful observation that ‘we are in the mountains’, so it was a matter of avoiding polluting the water supply, checking the direction of the wind and learning to avoid embarrassment. Lower down the loos (squat-type) where they did exist were often so dirty that the rocky mountain-side seemed positively luxurious.
Next day we breakfasted early, cleaned teeth under the icy outdoor water-spout, and were on the path by 8.00 am so as to beat the clouds that soon form on the Musala peak 1500 ft above us. An hour later we were on the summit! 9,580 feet above sea level, the highest point on the Balkan peninsula! The pleasure of achievement……we have not let our sponsors down!
Mountain-high spirits, mutual congratulations, and lots of photos. Our guide Rumen, Didi Oprenov (Pastor of Sofia Baptist Church), my elder brother Lewis and I celebrate!
The highest point on the peak is actually the meterological station manned by a friendly scientist who sells tea to the trekkers! I expressed to him my skepticism about the accuracy of his un-calibrated swinging wind-speed vane and was assured that it was more reliable than the high-tech anemometer whose three probes tend to accumulate ice and give a false reading. He didn’t explain, though, how he can read an un-calibrated vane on an icy, wind-swept roof 9,600 ft up a mountain in the extremes of winter.
We covered about 50Km over the five days, mostly in sunny, calm weather. On the third day we experienced a magnificent thunder and hail storm, fortunately at the end of the day so that we soon dried out and warmed up in our hut.
The last day was a marathon 20Km downhill walk to the magnificent Rila Monastery, and a welcome meal of local fried trout. The valley here is spectacular with vertical walls hundreds of feet high, boulders the size of houses, tall pines, vertical ravines with powerful waterfalls, and mountain views second to none anywhere in Europe.
So, what did we achieve? We met wonderful new friends and got to know old ones better. We soaked up some of the most spectacular views in Europe, and dissolved happily into the grandeur and tranquility of God’s amazing creation. We got fit, had fun, and achieved! Our bodies were invigorated, minds calmed and spirits refreshed.
Most importantly, our sponsors donated over £ 20,000 towards a much-needed project that will benefit many very needy people in Bulgaria. So, a very big THANK YOU to every one of you who sponsored us. Every penny will go towards the new Social, Medical and Training Centre under construction in Sofia. Please see www.bulgarianpartners.org or e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy of the