Saturday, 19 October 2013

Albania: The Labëria Highlands & Ionian Coast – Day 5

Thursday 26th September – Qorës Summit of Mt Çika, Llogora NP
Total Distance: 5.60 miles / Total Ascent: 1250m / Total Descent: 1250m
It was back to earth with a bump this morning, for an ascent of the 2005m Qorës peak of Mount Çika. Looking at the stats – low mileage and moderate ascent – belies how tough a day this actually was: it was good fun and very rewarding, but hard work nonetheless.
Mount Çika: our route ascended the wooded ridge (right hand side) to the
saddle (just right of centre) then followed the curving rib to the summit 
We began, as usual, with an early breakfast. Fortunately raki, at least in moderate quantities, doesn’t seem to lead to a hangover (if a tumblerful can be considered a “moderate” quantity). Perhaps its undoubted purity is a blessing in disguise – or maybe I’m just getting worryingly used to the stuff!. Either way, there was no adverse reaction to the fried eggs and sausages served up for breakfast (alongside the usual bread, honey, yoghurt, tea and juice – all of which went down quite well).
A quick minibus transfer took us back to the top of the pass. Starting the day at a whisker over the 1000m mark definitely gave us an advantage. On the other hand, we had another 1000m to do, so any thoughts about taking it easy were rapidly dismissed.
Looking out to sea over the Karaburuni peninsula
We began by picking our way up a clear path into the woods. The first part of the trail was very reminiscent of many a mid-altitude Alpine trail, winding up through the woods on a rocky path, sometimes steep and always climbing, but perfectly manageable at a modest pace. With legs in first gear and brains in neutral, a steady rhythm was adopted.
Winding up through the woods

It was a cool morning. An 8.00am start had given us the chance to avoid climbing in the midday heat, but by 9.30am, the early brightness of breakfast time had given way to a thick, swirling mist rolling in off the sea. So, as we set about gaining height, we were limited to mere hints of the views we might have enjoyed, although every now and again we could catch a glimpse of coast or mountain peeking through the cloud.
The Karaburuni peninsula as seen from near the saddle

At the saddle with our objective behind

After climbing for about an hour and a half, we reached a saddle at around 1500m. As luck would have it, the mist kept away while we were there, so we had the full benefit of the views, especially northwest along the Karaburuni Peninsula and south along the main ridge on Mt Çikës.
Starting the climb from the saddle in swirling mist
Ahead lay another 500m of climbing, this time on much steeper ground. The first part wasn’t too testing in that a fairly clear path led up from the saddle. But that soon dissolved into a network of feint grassy ledges, animal tracks and dead ends that before long fizzled out into nothing more than pathless mountainside.
By now the gradient was such that upward progress was reduced to a slow clamber. Loose scree, grass and earth, covered in a slippery carpet of dry pine needles, twigs and cones, made real the concept of two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back. Energy was often wasted pushing against the frictionless surface, and the constant need to skirt rocky outcrops and dead trees slowed us yet further.
Four legs good, two legs bad - even with poles
(Photo courtesy Gent Mati/Outdoor Albania)

As steep as it looks, with loose rocks and dead trees adding to the difficulty
(Photo courtesy Gent Mati/Outdoor Albania) 
Hindsight showed we had got a little to the right of the best route, but eventually we gained the summit ridge and walked the final few steps to the top. The views were fantastic. Fortunately, the cloud billowing up on the seaward side of the mountain was non-existent on the landward side.
The view that greeted us on reaching the summit ridge
(Tërbaç just to the right of centre) 

Looking southwards along the summit ridge
Reward for our efforts came in the form of wonderful clear views into the Shushica valley, with Tërbaç almost directly below us, Kuç in the distance across the valley and the Lightening Mountains behind.
Reaching the summit
Way below us in the foreground, Sunday’s conquest – the St George Pass – looked surprisingly low and insignificant, dwarfed as it was in context with the surrounding peaks. Then there were views along the ridge and away to the south, as well as those over the coast and out to Corfu. Magnificent!
Ridge after ridge of mountains away to the southwest 

Relaxing by the summit cairn

Reasons to be smug #3: summit panorama
(Photo courtesy Gent Mati/Outdoor Albania)

Group at the summit
(Photo courtesy Dan Painter/Walks Worldwide)
The descent was almost as tough as the ascent. With so much loose stuff around, it was difficult not to dislodge rocks and inadvertently send them hurtling down the mountainside. As with the climb, concentration was required for EVERY step – having seen for ourselves once before what can happen when melon-sized rock meets human being, we were fully aware of the danger this represented to those below.
On the descent
Eventually, though, we were all safely back at the saddle, with nothing worse than a couple of blisters amongst the group to show for the experience. Here we met up again with Russ, who had opted not to try for the summit but instead decided to monitor our progress from the half-way point.
Woodland flowers #1
Woodland flowers #2

Woodland flowers #3
The remainder of the walk was relatively straightforward. Retracing our steps on the more gentle descent through the woods, we soon made it back to the restaurant, where well-earned, leisurely beers glued dusty smiles on to our faces, and a relaxed contentment set in. A walk like this can seem hard at the time – even unpleasant. But the real rewards come afterwards, when one can look back and revel in the thought of a challenge met, of difficulties overcome and of effort rewarded. And those views!
Actually, it was a cracking walk!
Having a rest: even Piotr has run short of energy
Back at the hotel, we opted for a rest before dinner and a drink with Russ, Pete and Anne before the meal was served. Tonight we had soup, beef roulade with a savoury stuffing, potatoes and salads, cheese and bread, with a delicious honey-flavoured cake for desert. And a little bit of raki, just for good measure.

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