The homeland of Vlad the Impaler, commonly called Count Dracula, is undoubtedly one of the most interesting countries in Europe. It has become a more and more popular destination among European tourists, willing to either witness the birthplace of the culture’s most popular vampire or simply visit its stunning towns and castles. Romania lured us with something much different – picturesque and solitary mountain ranges of Rodna and Fogaras.
Romanian mountains brought us to heel a couple of times, to be honest. It happened once in Rodna Mountains – after a few cycles of finding the trail and losing it all over again, we finally reached the desired ridge path. That’s when it got really bad – a real downpour began. Luckily, we managed to use a tiny shepherd’s path to find our way into the valley. Another time in Fogaras Mountains we were looking for a trail that was almost non-existent – nobody has used it for years and the only way into a small valley below was a steep gully. Once again the sheep saved us – a tiny trail was at hand to help us, surely trampled down by our wooly saviors. We were able to use it to ride through beautiful plains of mountain pines and a small river dale right into some more populated location. This is what happens when you do true school enduro – exploring is always a game of give and take and risk of getting lost is a cost everybody accepts.
Apart from these adventures our trip to Romania was all about serious riding. Rodna and lower parts of Fogaras offer some pretty fast trails that are full of mountain biking features. The upper sections of Fogaras offered really exposed, steep chutes, hairpin turns and huge rocks. It was a blast.
The latter, that is the tallest mountain range in Romania peaking over 2500 meters above sea level, has a ridge that seldom peeks out of a thick layer of clouds – usually in the night and early in the morning. We spent quite a few moments in Bâlea Lac mountain shelter (2000masl) waiting for a weather window allowing us to see the mountains in their full glory. We finally earned our moment of truth and made the best use possible out of it. We climbed the ridge at 6AM, just to see the clouds roll over the mountain tops. A dozen meters thick layer of mist flew over our heads shooting out of one of the valleys straight into another side of the mountains. The temperature was just over 3 degrees Celsius, even though this was a middle of summer. From time to time the fog got spread by wind so we were over the ceiling of clouds. That’s when magic happened – we could see our shadows casted upon the clouds below, clad in a rainbow-like aura. The phenomenon is called Brocken spectre – a rare sight in the mountains associated with a weird mountaineering superstition. The belief, widespread among Polish mountaineers since the 1920’s, says that seeing the spectre means dying in the mountains. To break the curse you need to witness the phenomenon two more times – that’s what we have to achieve from now on, apparently.
One of the most characteristic sights in Romanian mountains is herding. Huge herds of sheep were present in almost every valley. The cheese is transported across the mountains by donkeys that are super skilled in conquering the trails that aboard a mountain bike are doable only for Hans Rey. Thanks to widespread shepherding we had a chance to discover new trails on a day-in day-out basis, while being able to gorge ourselves with some of the tastiest cheeses we encountered in our lives – all in the Bâlea Lac shelter. Being an Enduro explorer has it’s downsides too, however. The herds are guarded by dogs that are not that used to people - only in the areas with strong tourism the herding dogs are more accustomed to meeting mountaineers. In other cases the trick is to keep your cool and wait for the shepherd to calm the dogs down – in the end they are very obedient.
Talking about Romania you cannot omit the Transfogarian Road that cuts through Fogaras Mountains from the north to south. This, undoubtedly, is one of the most picturesque mountain roads in the world – mildly molded into a very exposed mountain terrain. Without much effort, it climbs to the places you’d not expect to meet a Chamois, then it crawls through a tunnel to another side of a mountain peak. It was filmed by the Top Gear crew – Jeremy Clarkson was driving an Aston Martin there screaming in awe over it’s beauty. For us, traveling around in a sock-smelly van, it was a great convenience to use the road to access the heart of the mountains and quickly move around their different parts in search of good weather.
The Romanian mountains gave us a hard time but the time there was more than satisfying. What we have seen so far left us with hunger scorching our insides. The only real hunger a mountain biker should feel – the urge to explore. And we have to say – in Romania the room for exploration is unlimited.
Written by Tomek Dębiec