Perhaps you remember that last summer I climbed Dikeos, the highest mountain on the Kos island. You may remember too that in fact Dikeos consists of two peaks, and one of them is named Christos.
Well, to continue in the same manner, I recently climbed another peak which is the highest in its neighbourhood and has a name with religious implications. We are talking about Musala mountain, the highest in Bulgaria and in the whole Balkan Peninsula at 2925 m (9596 ft for British&Americans – by the way, I’ve been always envious at these guys because it’s so easy for them to reach altitudes expressed in many thousands – feet, in particular -, while I have to spit my lungs out to get to two thousand. Meters…).
The name Musala (stressed on the last syllable) was given during Turkish rule and comes from Arabic: Musallah means ”place of prayer” or, depending on the context, ”close to Allah”. It may be surprising that a Christian people kept this name after the end of Turkish domination, but the only ”original” thing Bulgarians could come up with was renaming the mountain to ”Stalin”, between 1949-1962 (about the same time our city Brașov bore exactly the same very imaginative name). In the end they decided that a Turkish name is preferable to a Soviet one and stuck to it.
The most convenient way to reach Musala is to approach it from Borovets resort. This is the way I did it too, during my one-week ski holiday I spent there with my family.
The gondola will take you from the centre of the resort up to 2369 m in about 20 minutes. Plenty of time to admire the beautiful view to the North:
and of course Borovets, with its colourful villas and hotels, like the one I live in and where I left my sealskins… OH MY GOD, I NEED TO TURN BACK !… I cannot climb with my touring skis without sealskin !!
Back to the hotel I retrieve my sealskin kit, then I rush back to the gondola, which is of course very crowded now. That causes another half hour wasted in the line. Finally again in the gondola for another 20 minutes, plenty of time to admire the beautiful view to the North:
…have I said that already ? Ok, I’ll skip it and jump out of the gondola directly on the ski slope. Since we always have to go down before going up (I heard this valuable adagium dozens of times from a lot of presidents and prime-ministers of Romania and many other countries, so I guess it should be true), I rush downhill to 2100 m, where there’s a chairlift that takes me up to 2500 m, on the very ridge that runs southwards to Musala. Quite a bargain, I’d say: I only need to climb another 400 m ! So it’s no big deal that it’s already past noon. I think I can afford to spend a few minutes taking pictures – the view is absolutely fabulous.
Bulgaria isn’t a big country, and if you’re up here on a clear winter day you’ll see it for yourself. I am somewhere in a corner of the country, but I can see far to the North, beyond the impressive chain of the Balkans.
In Bulgarian they call it ‘Stara Planina’, meaning ‘The Old Mountains’. Of course they are old… they are Mesosoic (turning Paleosoic next April, if I’m correct). The Balkans are most (in)famous not for their natural splendour nor for their rich biodiversity, but for having given the name to the whole Balkan Peninsula and, by extension, to an entire way of life and behaviour – the Balkan spirit, which is despised most by the Balkan people themselves, rather than Western Europeans as we sometimes imagine.
The Balkan range spans across Bulgaria from West to East. The easternmost part lowers into the mist, somewhere not very far from the Black Sea. The central part is covered by snow and it looks as if it were nearby – in fact it’s over 100 km away in a straight line !
To the NW lies the spectacular Vitosha Mountain, an extinct volcano that looks pretty much like a smaller Balkan version of the mighty and famous Mount Fuji (never been there, and now I don’t even see a good reason why should I).
It seems to be within 15 min worth of walking… but it’s 40 km away !
To the West, also about 100 km away, lies the Osogov massif, at the border with Macedonia.
Since all these mountains lie in fact much farther than they look, the only wise thing to do is to stick to the initial plan and go to the mountain that not only looks near, but it actually is – Musala. So the sealskins are on and so am I to my final goal.
It’s a great day for hiking, plenty of sun, the snow is wonderful. Right ahead, as if showing the way, smoke comes out on the chimney at giants’ house.
But soon it will turn out that my chairlift bargain wasn’t a bargain at all. You will find out why soon, in another cartoon.