Trip to the highest peak in the Balkan mountains
Climbing up to 2376m (7795ft) above sea level with an SUV
So hearing the news of the community going down, somehow I felt motivated to share one of my epic trips up to date. I really hope that you enjoy reading it, as much as I enjoyed doing it.
It all started in the spring of 2021...
....when I saw that 4x4 Trips Bulgaria are planning to make a trip to the summit of Balkan Mountains in late June the same year. There were some conditions to be met, as Botev peak, being the highest peak of the Balkan Mountains, is located in a national park with restricted access. One of the conditions is that only a specific amount vehicles may enter per day and per route (there are a couple of routes) and you have to get permission to enter and drive through the park. The guys from 4x4 Trips Bulgaria made amazing planning of the event and... Oh boy, that was a really fun weekend.
I had several months to prepare mechanically...
...my trusty Opel Frontera. Several months before the trip I finally got some muddies and just before the trip I've lifted it by 2'', replaced some worn-out bushings, and etc. Also, I had a streak of bad luck and cracking the radiator and rubbing through some of the radiator hoses just before the event, so naturally
I was scared- there was no way of getting Road assistance up in the mountains...
And everything had to be in perfect working condition
On my way to another of my questionable decisions
So the event was in the span of 3 days - Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Friday was more of a day where everyone was expected to come to the hotel at the bottom of the mountains. Some chaps made the trip on dirt trails and were properly stretched for the next day.
Saturday was THE fun day...
The beggining of the journey
...It was the day I was looking forward to for the past several months. I got really early and around 8 AM I've made my way to the hotel. Unloaded my backpack and was eagerly awaiting the briefing. After a quick briefing of what to do and what Not to do, we checked the tire pressures... which I messed up completely and we set off. We started climbing through one of the most spectacular views one can imagine. Going up in a convoy, it was really hard not to stop on every corner and just enjoy the serenity and the magical views. Sadly when we crossed the 1800m mark, we entered in a cloud...a really thick fog was in the way, and I had trouble following the 1st gen RAV4 driving 20m from me. The dirt road is quite well maintained, as there is a weather station and a radio tower on the peak and they have to get supplies and new shifts regularly.
some of the views at the start
The gang climbing up to the fog
Everything was going smoothly until in the fog we got kinda lost and took a wrong turn, which made us find ourselves onto the hiking trail and not on the dirt road. It was really steep and the only safe option was one - Forward. I was in the middle of the convoy and everyone made it up to the road 50 meters ahead and 20 meters above me... except one - the 1st gen RAV4 that was driving in front of me and lacks low-range. This was my second big event of offroad driving, the second time of me driving behind a RAV4, and the second time the RAV4 couldn't get through an obstacle and failed ...well on the first occasion the RAV4 which was 2nd gen blew its clutch, so at least this time it was better or I hoped so at least. So anyway he moved aside and I attacked the Hillclimb.. the Frontera was struggling with it, moving from side to side, and eventually, it made it through, went 200 meters, and stopped waiting for the convoy to make it through... I heard radio chatter- someone was going to use a rope and pull the RAV4... 15 mins later everyone had made it..mostly intact....well kinda intact..the whole front end of the RAV4 was ripped off from the rope pull. And while I was waiting for them to catch up, I lost the people driving in front of me.
So thanks to the tablet in my car and my dumb luck now I was a leader of what it has become now the second convoy.
Waiting for the rescue operation of the RAV4
Great. Just great, a bunch of strangers is now entrusting me of not driving them off a cliff... I can't even change a radiator of that damn Frontera without nearly bleeding to death and now I'm the guy with the navigation and everyone is expecting me to lead them to the destination. As I was wondering what was going on, I saw a road to my left, turned, and started climbing really steeply. 15 meters into that road and I'm kinda stuck, kinda without any power, and according to the GPS - kinda away from the road. Yup guessed it right - I've made it once more onto the hiking trail, landed on some big boulders, and with a hill so steep even on 1st gear low range I barely had any power... At least I got lucky that the guy behind me questioned my ability to lead and was still on the road, onto which I reversed quite hastily. Remember the fog is so thick, that I could barely see my hood, onto my right was 300m drop, and onto my left, the hill was..well not so steep anymore. As I was staring at the GPS with the corner of my eyes I saw some buildings... We were at the top, but nobody realized it due to the fog. on 27th June, in quite sunny and hot Bulgaria, my thermometer was showing me -3 Celsius and it was freezing. And as I thought the weather couldn't be worse and feeling relieved that all of the vehicles are in great running condition, the radio chatter brought me back to reality with one simple statement "Heey my car just suddenly started charging the battery really well. The voltmeter showed 21V" ... Yup the alternator on one of the vehicles had gone bad. several mins the statement was kinda relieving but still not much better "well it's gone back down, it's charging 12.5V...12.4V" Yup dead alternator, and the closest shop was 30kms away, and 2kms below... I hope at least the battery was good, as the car was with a petrol engine. The good news were that the battery is AGM and it should provide longer life over conventional one.
Suddenly a building emerged from the fog - we were at the peak
We took some photos and decided to take the long way down...
...which was 20kms longer but through some of the most epic parts of the mountains. We turned back, drove around 5kms of the tricky terrain on which we got lost, and went onto the hiking trail. And after we found ourselves onto quite a big meadow we turned to one of the exits. After a while the convoy stopped, and as I wondered why the fog lifted a little. I wasn't sure what I was looking at. Looked like a big white whale laying on the road....Upon a closer inspection it turned out to be a glacier...huge glacier that was at least 4m high, and on the trail... as many people, including me were already turning over and heading back, a couple of chaps got some shovels and started digging some of the snow at the end of the glacier, to make just enough space for a vehicle to kinda safely pass bellow it and not turn over into the ditch. It was really tricky part, going down off the track, hitting hard right onto some of the snow, and then steep uphill to get back to the road. As I was terrified and chickening out, there was one chick, nearly my age. I told her "You might wanna turn back as the obstacle is really tricky" and she was like "OK, what do I gotta do?" "Go down there" - I said and just watched in shock as she didn't say anything and just drove to the obstacle. I'm a wise man and my car was already ready to head back but man, that was a hit on my confidence as a man. Some guys, driving far more equipped vehicles than mine were already making their way back, and soon I was the last one standing and couldn't make a decision whatever to do... well headed towards the glacier, and passed it... it was 27th June, I had sen guys shoveling snow in shorts and I was praying to any god out there that I could make it to the other side. Well as you might've guessed, I came back alive as I'm currently writing this. It wasn't so hard. I might have fallen down while on feet, but the lift and the mud tires made the difference and I made it unscratched...mostly... I had to scratch the adrenaline off the seats afterward, but it was worth it and now I have the right to boast that my Frontera had gone to places even Patrols couldn't go.
When shoveling snow in the summer remember to do it in shorts!
Here is a picture of the glacier when the fog started lifting up. This photo is from one of the participants, but I dont remember who.
This was the leading vehicle. Judging from it flex you could tell that the terrain was really steep
The fog finally lifted up, so we could enjoy the scenic views...and man, they were breathtaking. We had to make some river crossings, and everything was so green that I couldn't help but imagine seeing some elves coming to us and asking us to help their kingdom..or seeing a dinosaur. Everything was nothing short of a fairy tale. Tre road had some ruts and big some big muddy puddles but it was quite ok so we were making some serious progress. We made it to one of the most scenic waterfalls in the area- Kademliisko Praskalo waterfall with its 72 meters of fall. it was simply astonishing.
My Frontera at the Kademliya Waterfall
After the waterfall, we made it to Triglav hut (Triple-head hut, located under the peak with the same name), and made a stop for late lunch. Eating delicious food, with all the surrounding views is nothing short of amazing... I would call it a lifetime memory.
It tastes even better than it looks. Yoghurt with wild berries jam
The trip down to civilization was quick and uneventful..until we made it to the village of Tazha, where we were wondering how we're going back to Kalofer, our starting point...everyone decided it should be on dirt roads so we went ahead with the plan..and got lost several times. We headed to a road called "It's a shortcut I know it really well" and 5kms into it it was a really dense forest and a creek, where I started hearing some suspicious sounds from my suspension... I wasn't happy so I had to turn around and find the real track to Kalofer...it was getting dark, but half an hour later we were at the hotel.
The following day
we decided to take a hike to "Rai" Hut and waterfall (translated from Bulgarian - Rai means Heaven/Heavenly and I kid you not- it is a well-deserved name) As our permits were still valid, we decided to take our SUVs at least to the halfway, so we could spare some time, as the hike is really long - 6h walking in every direction. We almost halved the time it took us to get there and while it was drippy, it never rained on us. I will skip the part of long walking as it took most of the day...Some beans soup and beer in front of the waterfall were enough to make me feel in heaven. It was a long and tiring weekend, but it made an impression of a lifetime.
Rai hut and Rai waterfall (Heaven hut and Heaven waterfall)
One of the highest and most stunning waterfalls in Bulgaria
Lunch - Beans and beer with a view...life doesn't get any better, eh?
I really hope that you liked my story and the pictures. It was amazing to be part of Drivetribe all these years. Farewell fellas and stay strong!