Monday, 5 August 2013

The Black Mountains Of The Balkans – Day 4

Wednesday 24th July 2013 – Bjelasica Mountain

Total Distance: 16.13km / Total Ascent: 741m / Total Descent: 1115m

Another morning of early mist gave way to another glorious day.

Turkish-style villa, Gubavac - our home for 3 nights

Unusual wooden road

This morning was our last morning at the villa, so we spent a few minutes pottering round the place before another mammoth breakfast was served (complete with more local specialities).

Turkish bridge over the river

Our walk today took a route over Bjelasica Mountain, after which we would transfer to the town of Gusinje in the shadow of the Prokletije mountains. The term “mountain” might be slightly misleading in reference to Bjelasica: it is, in fact, the name given to a range of peaks – more a massif than a single summit – topping out at just over the 2100m mark, and which includes the Biogradska Gora NP on it’s western flank. In total, the area comprises some 630km² and measures roughly 30km across at the widest point. Much of the high ground consists of gently rounded summits and grassy ridges, and so the area is much more reminiscent of The Howgills than other, rockier ranges.

View from Cmiljace Mountain Hut

Today’s walk began high up on the mountain at the Cmiljace Mountain Hut (1760m). Saying that makes the transfer sound easy: in fact, it took a 4WD, an hour and the not-inconsiderable driving skills of Musa Ramović to negotiate the tortuous, twisting, washed-out track. It has to rate as one of the more interesting and dramatic transfers to a trailhead that we have ever made. 

Bringing the cattle in for milking

From Cmiljace Mountain Hut, we made a steady climb that before long brought us out on to our first summit of the trip, Turiak (1970m) – a minor but named bump, where we paused for photographs. There were excellent views all round, particularly to Bijelo Polje way down below.

The team (CJ, Missy G & Jules) at Turiak summit 1970m

Moving on, we skirted a low secondary summit and descended to a katun where we stopped for a break and to eat cheese with the owners. As a word of caution, it pays to enjoy cheese if you come on this trip, as it plays a huge part in the life, diet and economy of these people. It is usually young and soft in nature, ranging from cream cheese to a Mozzarella-like in texture, can be made from sheep’s, goat’s or cow’s milk and is, of course, unpasturised.

Homemade cheese

Katun where we ate cheese and bought lunch

A short distance away, a new church had been built on a rocky knoll. This was completed about 4 years ago especially for the farmers who live in this remote area and couldn’t otherwise get to church, and would only be used in the summer when the katuns were occupied.  

New church (left hand side)

We followed a clear track for about half an hour as it contoured round the hillside and into a small bowl of pasture surrounded by low cliffs. We took lunch here, dining on bread and cheese bought from the farmers’ wife we met earlier.

Track around hillside

After lunch, we made the steep climb out of the cirque on to a level plateau. Patches of late snow still lingered in places on the north facing slopes.

Snow patches fringing the cliffs

We followed a feint trail over grassy levels. For all the world, we could have been in the Yorkshire Dales, just at three times the altitude and with less substantial farms. After a quick stop for water beside the spring, we descended through the woods to reach Siško Lake, a beautiful glacial lake nestled below a backdrop of mountains.

Siško Lake

The route out of the mountain was every bit as memorable as the way in. We followed a stony track through a beautiful valley where scenes of daily farming life were playing out in seemingly idyllic circumstances. 

Near the village of Kurikuće

We picked wild strawberries, watched men and women working in the fields and saw trucks pass piled high with loads of hay, topped by laughing children.

Waymarking - possibly after a visit to the Happy Machine

We finished our walk at the Planinarski dom Suvodo and enjoyed a welcome cold beer.

Leaving the National Park

Our exit route led us off the mountain in a completely different direction to our arrival: towards the city of Berane. The drive out was almost as tough as the drive in, though, as the road was under re-construction after bad weather earlier in the season had caused landslips that had blocked the road for several miles. Even as recently as the previous night, Musa wasn’t sure whether the road was passable and, as it was, we had to leave by a certain time or risk being stranded!

The transfer to Gusinje in the shadow of the mountains of the Prokletije, via Berane and Andrijevica, went without further incident. We arrived about 7.20pm, checked in and showered before our evening meal. We had a very nice mixed grill with salad, during which time the entire town was hit by a power cut. Luckily, a handy generator came to the rescue, and we weren’t compelled to eat our dinner in the dark.

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