Crossing the Parâng Range

I expected a longer time to pass before a new update, but I when I saw the trip I'm about to tell you about, I knew I couldn't miss the opportunity. I'd also originally planned on writing this entry Monday morning, somewhere between 4 and 7 AM, but, for reasons that I'll go on a rant explaining later, only ended up doing later in the week. I also expected the entry to be much shorter, but having cobbled it together over the course of the whole week, I was unable to cut out the superfluous bits, so if you find yourself in the middle of the read wondering how much longer it'll keep droning on, I'll not hold it against if you decide to just skip to the end.

A good while back, I mentioned how I'd frustratingly been unable to participate on a crossing of the Retezat-Godeanu mountains; that trip was organised by Cristina, a fellow mountain enthusiast I met last year on another one of her trips through the Făgăraş range. We'd since been on several treks together, ending 2016 with a great journey through the Trascău mountains but, for reasons beyond my control, either medical or work-related, we've been unable to synchronise for a trip the whole of 2017. Which is why, when she announced a week-end crossing of the Parâng range, possibly extending into Retezat, I quickly jumped at the opportunity to join. In summary, the plan was to start from the road, near the Groapa Seacă Lodge, work our way south up the trail, crossing the forest and eventually reaching the Slivei clearing, our campsite for the night, before continuing climbing the next day all the way up to the ridge, tapping the Parângul Mare peak and descending on the south-western slope all the way down to the Jiu Defile. And so, accompanied by Călin, I reached Petroşani late Friday evening and eagerly awaited the morning and the meeting with the rest of the group.

August 26th

I awake hastily, knowing the time for breakfast is short, as Cristina and the others are scheduled to leave the train station at 7 AM, which is about the same time our lodge's kitchen opens. Thankfully there's a slight delay, so by the time the minibus arrives, we've filled up on tea and gobbled down the improvised breakfast sandwiches.

Inside the minibus, which arrives shortly, a large group of people, some of which I've met before, with Nicu standing up in the front to greet us; having not seen him since returning from Nepal, it's a great opportunity to reminisce and make plans for potential future, large trips. We quickly arrive at the destination, a bend in the road from where a trail up through the forest starts. Once we're all out, we take a moment to either acquaint with the people we'd not known before or greet old friends from previous trips, all the while slightly shivering in the cool, morning air.

Once the introductions and reunion hellos are done, we start treading up through the forest, eager not only to see the natural beauties that lay before us, but also to get the damn cold quivering to stop. The trail goes up at a gentle slope, and we advance with relative ease through a mixture of birch and beech (I think) trees, still defiantly verdant before the upcoming fall, followed mostly by evergreen, sharply scented spruce trees. We take occasional short breaks, enjoy each others' stories and, at times, enjoy the silence.
The morning light plays delightful tricks between the branches.

The path goes on for a few kilometers and up for a few hundred meters before slowly transitioning from trees to juniper bushes. We've chosen the perfect time for a foraging trip, as the trail is literally littered with berries, mostly of the rasp and blue variety. Perhaps overindulgently, we make several stops to feast, and I doubt anybody who's ever tasted a fresh mountain berry could fault us for that.
Leaving the forest gives us a first, ample view of the surroundings

Foraging team in action

A short break as we prepare to leave the shaded forest and walk under the growingly hot sun.

Though, thankfully, we still have portions of forest ahead of us

Eventually we do come out though, to once again see the whole valley to our left

Sights like these make my skin tingle slightly when thinking about the upcoming night in the bivvy bag, but fears must be faced.

Looking back on the whole valley

I remember this juniper cemetery from my last passing through here, last year; I wish I'd taken a clearer shot.

Despite being a rather large group (nearly 20 in total), we maintain a good pace and, around noon, arrive at our destination, the Slivei clearing (around 2020 m altitude), home to Lacul Cârja (named after the peak towering right above it) and Lacul Verde (the Green Lake, thus named for obvious reasons). We drop our packs in a roughly flat area that's to be our campsite and head out to admire the Green Lake. Aptly named, its pellucid water offers a sight that I'm not even going to try and describe in words - you have to go there and see it.
This is a tiny lake right before the larger, Green one.

A high view from the northern tip of the lake

..and one from the opposite side.

Doubt relaxation gets much better than that.

Think it looked clear from far away?

Mandatory group photo in front of the lake.

After thoroughly admiring the lake, we head back to set camp, pitch our tents  and enjoy lunch. After that's done, a part of the group decides to go on a trip up to the Cârja Peak, an interesting journey including portions of scrambling and a steep descent down a gravelly slope, while the rest of us, who'd rather avoid that descent (as in my case) or are just too lazy (as also in my case) snooze around camp the whole afternoon.
With the camp set, people prepare to head off towards the Cârja peak

Album cover shot taken by Vlad

A herd of mountain goats surveying our camp from high above.

The hours pass by quickly under the cloudless, blue sky and sultry sun, and before long the departed party rejoins us at camp. Evening is soon upon us, so we gather around in a large circle to share whatever we've each brought for dinner. The day's great views are gradually replaced by an even more amazing sight: without a full moon brightening or any clouds covering the sky, the stars are free to shine scintillatingly above us, numerous beyond count and, glimmering faintly in a hazy, transverse line across the firmament, the Milky Way.
The dinner circle.

The moon greeted us gently at the beginning of the night, then moved on behind the mountains

People preparing to retire to their tents

... and in the process of doing so

Time goes by and, as everybody retires to their respective tents, I hang around for a bit more to take a few more shots of the amazing sky. I contemplate going back to the Green Lake, where the twinkling reflections are sure to create a jaw-dropping image. The path there, though not complicated, does go through large rocks and rather high junipers. I remember how, a mere hour earlier, returning from the spring, I'd have walked right past our camp, had it not been for the people still talking loudly and the few lit head torches. Now, with everybody asleep and not a single thing marking the camp's location in the dark, I decide that nighttime navigation is not a skill I'm comfortable testing, and return to go to sleep myself.

My most successful attempt at astrophotography yet

I wiggle myself comfortably inside the sleeping bag inside the bivvy bag, strategically placed in the middle of the camp, as far as possible from any potential bears, smarter or otherwise than average, and spend a few more minutes just staring up at the canopy in silent awe. Well, silent save from the nearby snoring, which I then spend the next other few minutes trying to ignore.
A look northwards, whence we came; looking at the map, I can't figure out what town that light's coming from

I'm quite happy with these shots, I'll just keep them coming

Fully expecting it to take a while to fall asleep, I'm not overly concerned when I notice time's going by, I keep turning from side to side, and the sweet embrace of Hypnos still eludes me. You're just still not used to sleeping inside this bag. Agnes telling me earlier how surprisingly many spiders she'd seen crawling in the area did, of course, little to ease my growing anxiety.
Trying to mix in a bit more mountain under the sky; probably need to take different shots, then overlap them, but that's a bit above my skill level

On the other hand, it's called an irrational fear for a reason. So they crawl on your face while you sleep. So they bite you. Big deal, can it really be any worse than the damage all those fucking little flies did to your entire face that you're probably going to be scratching for a whole week now? Stop making up ridiculous Alien-esque egg-laying scenarios in your head and just go to sleep. 

More of the same, I'm aware, just, you know.. different angles?

Between the twisting and turning and overcoming mental barriers, enough time has surely passed that, even if I'll have trouble falling asleep, it won't be for long. I mean, the sky seems a bit brighter. Let's see.. 00:43?! Oh fuck me, it's Thorong La all over again, why did I have to bring that same damn sleeping bag? Ugh, better get ready for a long night.

Although.. the Milky Way seems to have changed its position somewhat.

Yeah, now that I think about it, has it moved slightly to the right?

Wait, when did whoever was nearby stop snoring?

Has the Milky Way now rotated at a nearly 90 degrees angle?

Is it already light outside?

Is that people moving and talking around?

Wohoo, you did it, it's morning! 

The better of the two sunrises I'm about to see.

August 27th

I wake up, people already moving around, before the sun rises, and move my equipment onto a rock to dry off the morning dew and nighttime condensation. The morning routine, between the sunrise, breakfast, washing and packing, zooms past us, and we soon find ourselves climbing the steep, bouldery slope towards the Parâng ridge. Before leaving the Slivei clearing, we get a final, wonderful view of the Green Lake, serene under the morning sun.
In case you have trouble spotting it, the lake's the mirror in the middle of the picture. And I didn't go there in the night. Blah.

First look back gives a not unimpressive sight.

People either basking in the sunlight or taking advantage of the low shade.

The path up is a straightforward, if slightly demanding one.

And, looking back, the path up to this point's no walk in the park either.

Group shot. Difficult to get everybody to not move when the timer's set for 12 seconds.

..though I'm sure they were all still when Cristina took her photo!
A last look at the Green Lake.
We were on the right track.

Once again, despite the size of our group, we're able to make good time, reaching the main ridge trail near the Gemănarea peak, then continuing on until we reach Parângul Mare, the highest peak in the range and fourth-highest in Romania (at 2519 m). We take a short lunch and photo break there and, by noon, we start the long descent down the southwestern slope.

Fluttering proudly; it's my fourth time here, I think the flags are multiplying

A view of the upcoming descent. But before we go there..

We mustn't miss the Roşiile and Mândra lakes!

..or the group photo in front of them.

Album cover, mkII. Vlad's was better.
Back to the peak

You shall not pass!

The whole team; thanks, kind stranger.

Thankfully, the way down doesn't feature any painfully or dangerously abrupt portions, it's mostly a gentle, grass-covered decline, with occasional and temporary increases in inclination that we manage with little effort, though not without a bit of a strain on the knees. The weather appears to be uncertain - there are a few clouds across the sky, but we always seem to be at their edge, though given how abruptly changes can occur and not wanting to risk a surprise storm on the ridge, we step on it and make good time.

We go past two chalets, with nearby flocks of sheep, whose guard dogs bark at us defensively, but ultimately let us pass without any incidents. Eventually we reach the forest road, which would take us several relatively comfortable hours to reach the Jiu Defile and the nearby train station. However, because of how early it still is, there's a chance we might make an earlier train than originally planned, so we decide to take a shortcut that cuts down through the forest on an abrupt descent along a small stream; the way down isn't effortless, especially since the path goes through a narrow corridor in the forest, wide enough that the trees on either side offer no shade and no protection from the relentless, scorching sun that always seems to be above us, at the edge of a huge cloud that somehow never ends up obstructing its rays.
They stop barking once we get out of their territory.

Luckily they were probably used to tourists, so they didn't insist too much.

The long way home.

Time to get artsy.

Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf not included.


Bending, but unbroken.

The upside of this descent is that, where yesterday's climb was full of raspberries and blueberries, today we have an abundance of cranberries and blackberries, ripe and sweet, to feast on, making it all certainly worth it. Eventually we once again reach the forest road, and with it the larger river into which the stream we'd followed flows. We take a short rest to cool our singed feet in the wonderfully cold water before starting briskly down the road.
The forest, dense as it may appear, leaves a perfectly clear corridor for us to go down through.

..albeit not without obstacles.

A short while later, a small truck passes us by and, although there isn't enough space for us all in, a few people do get on board, along with most of our backpacks, making the rest of the walk down slightly easier. So, unburdened by the rucksacks and enticed by the promise of a cold beer, we hurry down the road, going at a lively pace, passing energetically through two flocks of sheep and ending with a three or so kilometers jog along the road. 
Na shledanou! (I think?)

Impressive stone wall as we're nearing the Defile

Couldn't not put a small spring in the entire entry!

Much like in the morning, the late afternoon light passes interestingly through the trees.

Briskly walking, nearly jogging the last portion of the forest road

And maneuvering through flocks of sheep

Before actually jogging by the road..

And reaching the train station. Sweaty, tired and hurting, but victoriously on time.

We reach the train station a couple of minutes before the train; half an hour later we're in Petroşani, and not much longer after that we're all around a big table, swigging our beers and waiting impatiently for our food. Unfortunately, after the oh so satisfying dinner (and how can it be anything less, after a 20+ kilometer stroll ending in a 2+ kilometer dash), my own trip ends and, after a round of good-byes and wishes for good weather (the people remaining have two more days of Retezat left!), I reluctantly head towards the Petroşani train station, filled with unbridled enthusiasm at the prospect of a long  night in transit, followed by a full Monday at work.

Which of course leads me to the rant I mentioned right at the beginning of this entry, which, I warn you, is quite long, so feel free to skip it - the best part's already over; if you're determined to read it though, here goes: 
The train was scheduled to leave Petroşani at 22:30. The lady at the counter tells me, unapologetically, that it's running 30-40 minutes late which, knowing how Romanian trains run, I nonchalantly take as well within normal parameters. Refusing to get irritated when the train only arrives at 23:30, I get on board and find my way to my seat which, to my mild surprise, isn't already occupied. The cart, like most modern Romanian carts, has forgone compartmentalization in favour of having just one, long corridor with chairs facing each other on either side, you know, to more optimally fit the maximum number of sardi..people in. The chairs themselves must have been designed having in mind some sort of humanoid species with reinforced neck muscles that allows them to rest with their heads at a 45 degree angle backwards. The cart is packed full with people who, from their expressions, no doubt share my excitement at traveling in such upscale conditions. After an hour or so of staring blankly and trying in vain to spontaneously hypertrophy my neck muscles so as to support any semblance of sleep, I decide to adventurously explore the next cart, which is nearly empty. I awkwardly sit, leaning my head on the window (there's still nothing to lie down on, but at least the window provides better support than the chair's backrest).

I manage to briefly doze off, catching fragmented sentences from around as I drift in and out of consciousness. The train comes to a halt in Simeria, and I hear the lady on the station loudspeakers announcing its delayed departure to Cluj. And, funnily enough, another train's departure to Deva; I wonder if that one's as late as well. Come to think of it, we're already late, why are we spending so much time in Simeria? And why's this cart so empty, when ours is packed to the brim? Also, why's there a different conductor in this cart? The it hits me - this is the train going to Deva, this cart anyway; the original train is being split. The (different) conductor confirms it and, as the carts are already being disconnected from each other, I go outside to retake my old seat, a minute or so before the train departs.

Time tends to expand the more uncomfortable you are, and as seconds turn to minutes turn to painfully slow hours, it becomes abundantly clear that the one hour delay with which the train arrived in Petroşani was nowhere near its potential, so I'm slowly beginning to see the second sunrise this weekend, a much less impressive, though not by any means less awaited one, shortly before arriving in Cluj at roughly 06:30, just in time to catch a cab home, take a quick shower, have a large, hot coffee and head back right back out to work. The train was scheduled to arrive at 04:14.
Now I realise this last part must look a bit whiny, and I apologise for that (especially since I told myself, while traveling on broken Nepali roads that I'd never complain about Romanian infrastructure again, but I just couldn't let this slide!), so not wanting to dwell on the shitstain that the Romanian National Railroad Company is on the collective, international public transportation system, I'm just going to go ahead and say that this was an absolutely fantastic weekend, filled with awe-inspiring landscapes, great stories with old and new friends, a fair bit of exercise and lots and lots of berries. 

It's the same one from earlier, true, but it makes for a far better ending that what I've written in the last few paragraphs.