Monday, 4 August 2014

Peaks Of The Balkans: Albania, Montenegro & Kosovo - Day 9

Day 9 – Kukaj & Pyramid 18

8.66 miles / Total Ascent 1452m / Total Descent 1267m

We had the regulation early start again this morning, even though some of the group had been out till all hours watching the World Cup final (nearly midnight, I'll have you know). 

Beautiful morning in Rrogram

So we were again underway by 8.30am, on what was a promising morning of blue skies and early sunshine. A pattern of nice early, cloud and/or rain later had established itself over the preceding few days, and we hoped this would be the day that bucked the trend and remained sunny all day.

Outside our guesthouse, readying to leave

View back towards Valbona

Looking eastwards down the valley

Braided channels in the dry riverbed

The first stretch of the day was along a beautiful woodland path climbing the side of the valley on the way to the small hamlet of Kukaj. I say small: if it had two fewer houses, it wouldn’t exist at all! It’s in a gorgeous spot, though, and we were all looking forward to spending the night here.

Tahir's farm, Kukaj

More of that later, though. For now, we had the serious business of walking to do. We followed the car road into the valley before branching off on a woodland path to gain height. It was about here we reached last time, on a very hot, lazy day, when we ended up sitting beneath the trees to read and snooze.

The way through the woods

This time we had a more distant and much higher objective in mind, so we carried on. One major difference between the two visits was that sometime in the last three years there had been a significant rockfall, a massive landslide that had affected a wide swathe of woodland and caused the path to be re-routed.

Rockfall: wouldn't have liked being there when that happened

We zig-zagged upwards, through woods and across meadows, until we reached a small shack sited at about 1600m. We stopped for drinks and chatted to the owner for a while.

Chatting with the locals during a rest stop

Pushing on, we moved over rockier ground on a steep switchback path that followed a gully up to the ridgeline. Alpine flowers lined the path, and Alpine Choughs skimmed chattering overhead.

Alpine flowers #1
Alpine flowers #2

The ridge marks the border with Montenegro, and the path crosses it at a point known as Pyramid 18 (approx. 2000m). Although there is currently no evidence of the trig-point-like border post to which the name refers, a small cairn seems to mark the spot.

Pyramid 18 on the border, with Montenegro behind

Beyond the pass, the path descends into Montenegro, eventually bringing the hiker to Vusanje, but our route simply retraced our steps back down to Kukaj. We had hoped to have lunch at the pass, but the familiar pattern of clouding over as the day progressed had played again, and rain (or even thunder and lightning) looked more than possible.

Alpine flowers #3

Alpine flowers #4

So we descended for half an hour or so, before finding a grassy spot to eat our sandwiches. Fortunately the rain kept off, but it is better to be safe than sorry as far as mountain weather is concerned.  

Mountains and grass #1
Mountains and grass #2

In increasing sunshine, we descended past the shack, across the meadows and through the woods, heading back to Kukaj where we are spending the night in one of the village’s two farms.

Descending to Kukaj past more evidence of the rockfall

Looking back on our day, from the gate of Tahir's farm.
Pyramid 18 is in the notch in the skyline just right of centre

Tahir, the owner, welcomed us in the traditional way – fulsome handshakes, tea, coffee, and raki – as we sat in the shade of the covered decking.

Our room

We are all sleeping in the same room tonight, so it was good that there was time for everyone to set out their stuff, make their beds and take a shower before dinner.

Burek: delicious, but as filling as it looks!

We sat outside on the decking, making the most of the last sunshine and warmth as we ate our meal. Tonight's fare was vegetable soup, followed by Burek (a dough-like dish made in a coil and flavoured with cheese and wild herbs, served with drinking yoghurt - salads and a sweet Turkish-style dessert for afters. A great end to a day low on miles but high on everything else!

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