Upon leaving Libearty, we noticed a rather squidgy rear tyre so we decided to head back to a petrol station in Raşnov for some help. Luckily there was enough free space to park and replacing the punctured tyre with the spare wheel. A helpful attendent sent us down the road to a tyre repair place which turned out to be less then 500m away. Even though the machanic didn’t really speak English, he was super friendly and helpful. Within maybe 20 minutes he had not only repaired the tyre but also swapped the wheels again and mounted the spare tyre back in its place under Trevor. All for 35 RON!
With everything back in working condition we drove to Zarneşti once again but this time to stay. The woman in the tourist office was super helpful and gave us not only advice on where to camp and the area, but also a free high quality hiking map (which normally costs 20 Lei as we discovered the next day).
Piatra Crailui is a 25km long limestone ridge with countless outcrops, side peaks and rockfaces. Its bottom half is covered in forest while the upperhalf consists mainly of rock, scree and some grass. All of it ranges from pretty to very steep and is described as ‘every Romanian mountain hikers dream’. It is home to a lot of birds and even has two endemic plant species.
After lunch in a nice café next door and some shopping we drove on into a valley around the northern and western side of the national park as there was meant to be some camping.
The owner of the pensiune the woman in the info office had recommended didn’t speak any English and despite the camping sign on the drive way it seemed that we could not camp there. Our last hope in this valley was the cabana Plaiul Foii at the very end with a camping field but no facilities. The field was fine and once the day and dinner guests left also quiet. While we were cooking dinner thr police arrived and spoke to the Romanian campers who had made a small fire in an existing fire pit. After lots of arguing the policemen left and the campers started packing up. This was the first and only time we saw national psrk rules to be policed and enforced.
The best thing about our camping spot was its location right at the beginning of a hike we had contemplated of doing.
Since the hike was roughly 18km long, we left just after 7 the next morning to beat the expected sun and heat. The first kilometer and a half were nice and easy along the bottom of a valley. There were even some farmers out milking cows in a field by hand. After that the gradient increased and we walked along a rocky river into the forest. Some of the ramps were fairly steep and we got hot despite the shady and chilly forest. After one and a half hours we reached a refuge shelter which marked the half way point of our way up the mountain. 15 minutes later we reached our first scree of the day and the fun began.
Our path from there was called ‘La Lanturi’ which means ‘The chain’ and it certainly derserves that name. After conquering the steep scree we faced almost vertical rockfaces with only a steel cable or chain to hold on (sometimes not even that). Our bouldeting experience from Glasgow certainly paid off over the next hour as we went from ‘Wow’ to ‘oh sh**’ within seconds (mostly after sticking out head over the end of a big rock. Finding our way was nonetheless easy due to the high number of painted way markers. We saw a few picturesque rock formations where the tooth of time has carved holes and caves into the mountainside. Luckily for us it was kind of worth it due to awesome views (as long as you didn’t look straight down). Photos can’t do this path any justice; it has to be experienced. For a better impression please google it or watch a Youtube video here: https://youtu.be/ovVasANRizU) Zoës vertigo was streched to its limits and even Matthias (who isn’t normally scared of heights) was afraid. We made it almost to the top before the clouds caught up with us. Thankfully the mountains remained dry. Otherwise the whole rock climbing affair would have been almost suicidal in places.
After an hour of slow yet steady scrambling we reached the top ridge. From there it was only a short walk over to the summit where we met some other hikers. From them we learned that ‘La Lanturi’ is regarded as the most difficult path in Rumania. Had we known about it or seen any photos of it; we would not have attempted it. Sitting in the sun on the summit we felt happy again and a great sense of relief and achievement but also weariness about what was yet to come.
Freshly watered and fed (even had some Gipfelschokolade) we marched on. After all we had only done one third of our distance and it was already noon. Our hope of making up time walking along the ridge soon disappeared. The creators of this path could not have made it go more along the ridge if they tried. Again scrambled over rocks more than we expected to. At least this time round it was up and down rather than just up. In the end the march along the top took us 3.5 hours for 6 kilometers. After about half the distance we could not wait to get off the ridge and back into the valley.
It was roughly half 3 when we started our final descent and left the ridge. The first section lead us through bushes and gave us a strong deja-vu from our descent from Omul less than a week ago. Shortly after this we had a choice of two paths (left or right around some rocky peaks). One of the guys we met earlier had recommended the right one and it had been our preference too so we attempted this side. Very soon the path became very steep with loose gravel. To make things worse the mountain side was very steep and appeared like a sheer drop. Scared of sliding off a mountain we decided to follow the left path and turned around.
Our decision turned out to be the right one. Even though the second path was difficult and even scary in a few places there was much less of a risk sliding of the mountain. The trail led us across and down a few very unpredictable scree slopes of varying consistency but thankfully there were enough stable rocks to hold on to. Strangely there was only one bit secured by a steel rope when we had to climb up one side of a big rock and back down the other side. Going around it would have been the safer option…
We were both very happy when we reached the first big trees and with them the end of scree and rocks. Despite the path still not being easy, it was now a lot safer and easier to walk and for the first time in hours we felt our adrenalin level go back towards normal. It felt great and refreshing walking amongst greenery again and we felt revigorated so it was not long until we reached refuge Diana. Considering the time (5pm) and the state of our stomachs and legs we opted for the short and direct way back to the capana and Trevor. The path through the bear valley (its actual name!) took us another hour and a half. Our newly found energy helped us chatting and talking rather loudly on our final descent both to keep our spirits up and the bears away. Finally and after 12 hours on our feet we arrived at our campsite hungry, tired and worn out. From the map there we worked out that we chose the only two paths marked as difficult in the entire range and combined them with a ‘challenging’ descent. We also should have learned from our last walk in terms of length of our hike. It was a good thing that there hadn’t been much sun so a bucket shower was sufficient before we headed to the restaurant and treated ourselves to a delicious two course meal.
Rain was forcasted for the next day and so (and to give our legs a chance to recover) we drove to the other side of Piatra to visit the gorge. It is not only one straight gorge but has a few branches on either side and is at least two kilometers long. After this the path leads through forest and pastures to a cabana and then either up the ridge or back down. We would have done this walk had we not ended up at the far end of the valley on the other side. The walls range from steep forest slopes to imposing vertical rock faces with lots of climbing routes of all difficulties. Our legs really enjoyed the rather flat walking. We hoped to see some interesting birds which the gorge is renowned for but all we saw were a couple of wagtails. All the way from Zarneşti to the end of the gorge there were unmistakable signs of recent flooding including the road having to be repaved and cleared. After this stroll we decided we had seen enough of Piatra Crailui for the time being and to drive on to see other places.