Leader: Alice Chivers
Rila and Pirin Trek, Bulgaria, 12th – 16th July 2019
For our final day we headed up from Bansko to the valley which divides the granite and marble areas of the Pirin range. The first stop on our walk was to admire the oldest tree in Bulgaria. Not put off by the drizzle we explored the Bunderitsa lakes and could just catch glimpses of Mount Vihren through the clouds. The Bunderitsa hut provided a welcome lunch stop for hot chocolates and coffee on the way down before we made our way back to the coach. A smooth drive back north brought us to Sofia airport for our return flight.
We have seen the best of the Rila and Pirin ranges with a good mix of sunshine and some character building weather (rain in large quantities!) but the team have been fantastic throughout, staying in high spirits, rising to the challenge of the hikes and being great fun to hike with. I hope it has sown the seed for more adventures to come!
This morning was a bright start as we made our way to Mount Polejan just east of Bansko. After yesterday’s deluge we were ready for some sunshine! As we took the chair lift up to Bezbog mountain hut at 2200m it looked like the mountains were cloud covered but thankfully these cleared as the day warmed up. From Bezbog (‘without God’ in Bulgarian, so-called because of a historical destructive avalanche) Hut we climbed steeply up through the pine shrubs to Mount Bezbog 2645m, pleased to have done most of the ascent for the day by this point. A rocky descent down to the col was followed by a plod up to the subsidiary peak. I was so impressed by the group today as they rose to the challenge of the hike, keeping together, moving well and looking after each other. We made really good time to the little peak so we pushed on up the ridge to the summit of Mount Polejan 2851m. The team did fantastically – all 18 and staff made it to the top and were rightfully proud of themselves. This was a new personal height record for almost everyone in the group (not counting if you’ve skiied higher!) and took us to the second highest peak in the Pirin range. Looking at the peak from the col, it looked pretty improbable and a really steep slog, so it was excellent to be able to look back up and point out where we had climbed to.
We celebrated the day and our last evening with a meal out in Bansko at a traditional tavern.
Skakavitsa waterfall, Rila monastery
What a difference from yesterday! We had heard the thunder and lightning overnight and fortunately the weather had calmed down but there was still plenty of rain to come. Thankfully our walk was mostly through the forest today. A fairly direct up hill route brought us to the roaring river and eventually up to the impressive 70m Slakavitsa waterfall, which translates as jumping falls and offers serious ice climbing in its frozen winter state. A quick photo and we headed down on the same path, keeping spirits high despite the distinctly damper weather. The group all did fantastically well in the somewhat character building conditions.
Our next stop was the outstanding Rila Monastery, a UNESCO world heritage site which a long and interesting history. The detailed frescoes on the church, huge chandeliers and immaculately maintained decorative paintwork were especially impressive.
We then continued our journey south, leaving the Rila range and meeting the Pirin range as we approached Bansko where we are spending the next two nights.
An intense evening of flicking between the Wimbledon men’s singles final and Cricket World Cup final followed with loud celebrations all round (except us Federer supporters)!
Our first day took in one of Bulgaria’s most famous walks, the Seven Rila Lakes. With a head start up the hill thanks to a chair lift, we climbed steeply up from the Rila Lakes mountain hut to the plateau which gave us a view of the first two lakes, Low lake and Fish lake. As we continued along the path spotting frogs and endemic flowers, Trefoil/Clover lake, Twin lake and Kidney lake came into view. The final two lakes took a bit more effort and we followed the zig zags up to a peak to reveal the Eye and the Tear lakes. What a panorama from the top! We were rewarded by a spectacular 360 of Rila mountains and beyond, as we stood at the top of the cirque which holds all seven lakes. Our descent led us down through the forest and eventually to stunning Alpine meadows which opened up into grassy fields towards the end, perfect for rolling down!
An early start at Stansted saw lots of Adventure Peaks kit bags gather to depart on trips to Bulgaria and Slovenia on two different Ryanair flights. Thankfully with everyone and their kit bag in the right destination, we landed in Sofia to meet our guide Bilyana for a walking tour of Bulgaria’s capital. Taking in the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, the parliament including the changing of the guard, the Banya Bashi mosque, the Synagogue, the National Theatre and the Royal Palace, we were given a gentle introduction to the country’s history and modern day culture. A short transfer took us to our first night in the Rila Mountains via a stunning road weaving its way up into the hills.