Monday, December 10, 2012

The ridge of the Fagaras Mountains, the great romanian classic

Also called The Romanian Alps, they are truly the grandest this country has to offer. Not to belittle the other mountains in our country, size alone is not enough to make anything the best, and we have yet to decide a number one mountain in our hearts.
Placed in the center of the carpathic arch, there is a plethora of acces ways, both from north and south, and trails to keep you busy for a lifetime. But, because time is short, in this post I'll stick to the ridge, lodges, shelters and ways to reach the ridge.

The story I'm about to tell is from several of our trips covering most of the ridge. The high chalets and access points are in separate posts.

The Făgăraş Mountains start from the enormous valley the Olt river carves in the west and are stopped in the east by the river Dâmboviţa and the mighty blade of the Piatra Craiului Mountains. If you like, the ridge can be trekked the whole way, but it takes very long, so usually it's only done from Suru Peak to Urlea or just Sâmbăta.
Here is a great map from which you can manipulate to gain a spatial reference of the described trails.

View Larger Map

My story of the ridge starts from the refuge at Scara Peak. We got here from the town of Avrig, over Mount Bârcaciu. We first went west, towards Avrig lake, then went back east to trek the rest of the ridge. It's not the most logical way of doing it, but we had plenty of time.
The trail first climbs Scara peak, then descends and goes below the rocky Garbova peak, then descends north and east under Ciortea Peak, into the Avrig Caldera.

Scara Peak

A shepherd on Puha ridge

Looking back at Scara refuge

Never seen this before, later edit: Urocerus gigas, thanks to Cosmin Manci

Mount Bârcaciu from Scara peak

The first glance of Avrig lake

The trail behind Garbova
On the ridge towards Avrig and especially in the upper caldera of the lake Gentiana punctata still hasn't lost the battle with Veratrum album, although it is hevily grazed.

Avrig valley

Avrig lake
 The Avrig caldera is quite special. It is guarded by three peaks: Ciortea West, Ciortea East and Turnul Lacului (The lake's tower). The last has big veins of quartz-studded reddish limestone

Hedysarum hedysaroides

A beautiful Scabiosa

A tiny Draba

Quartz and limestone
Saponaria pumilio, only found in Iezer and Fagaras mountains

The Avrig caldera is very impressive and we'd never been there before, so it took us till evening to look around at the flowers and climb the rocks. We remained there for the night.

The next morning was even more glorious than the one before. We took to the ridge trail as the sheep were climbing to graze.

 We took little time to reach Scara again. The goal for today was Călţun Lake. On this stretch, the ridge trail follows the ridge line closely for most of its distance. The ridge trail marking is a red line.

The shiny back of Scara Peak
Passing the shiny back of Scara we take one last look at the old and the new shelters and continue east. Descending into Scara saddle we sight Negoiu Chalet on the sharp back of Şerbota ridge.
The main ridge first narrows until Musceaua Scării Peak, then descends into a large saddle and widens into a sort of a plateau, the long time grazing field for many sheep.

Shelters on Scara

The massive scree on the south side of Scara

Serbota valley and ridge, Negoiu chalet and Saratii ridge

The large saddle behind Musceaua scarii

The sheperd built himself a wall to hide from the wind

Looking west from Serbota peak
From Şerbota peak one can follow a trail marked with a blue line to Negoiu Chalet.

Serbota ridge
To continue on the ridge you must pass Custura Sărăţii a very narrow rocky ridge, descending steeply and ascending back toward's Cleopatra's saddle. This segment is the most difficult marked tourist trail in the Făgăraş mountains and maybe Romania. It's about 1A I think, and very, very fun!
It can be avoided by descending in the caldera to the south called Căldarea Pietroasa (the rocky caldera), using the yellow line trail.

Custura Saratii

Allot of people in the narrows today

Easy peasy
Silene dinarica, endemic to the Romanian Carpathians

Almost half way through

Looking back

Useful in the wet

Looking back at the ridge...

...and forward
Şaua Cleopatrei (Cleopatra's saddle) is the crossroad of the ridge trail with the blue triangle trail coming from Negoiu Chalet and the trail ascending from Căldarea Pietroasă.
Read my other post to learn about access from Negoiu Chalet.

The steep climb continues to Negoiu Peak.

To Negoiu
On a clear day you can see all the way to Moldoveanu Peak in the east, Vidraru lake in the south and the Cozia Mountain in the south-east.

The western ridge, seen from Negoiu Peak

A panorama from Negoiu Peak

Cozia Mountain
Moldoveanu - Vistea trapeze in the back. Can you spot which one?

Vidraru lake
To get to Caltun lake from Negoiu you must first descend into the steep-walled eastern caldera beneath the peak. In the past this used to be done through one of the two narrow passes: Strunga Dracului (The Devil's Pass) or Strunga Doamnei (The Lady's Pass). You can probably guess which one is more difficult. However, The Devil's Pass has very brittle rocks, and recently some of the chains were lost in a rockfall. Due to it's unstable nature, the pass is now closed and I advise against using it. Even if it should pose no significant challenges to the seasoned trekker or mountaineer, it's in a place of intense traffic and you never know who could be above you, sending a bunch of rocks your way by mistake.
The easier trail descends and goes around the walls of the caldera, entering it from the south. It takes less than half an hour more to get to Călţun lake.

Descending towards Călţun
Just around the corner...

Strunga Doamnei (The Lady's Pass)

The walls around Lady's Pass are shorter, thin and sharp

The caldera before Călţun
The rocky caldera between Negoiu and Călţun is often ignored, but if you stop to look it's quite a magical place. In the middle of all the rocks there's a marshy little stream, full of Stellaria and Saxifraga, and when the clouds invade, getting stabbed by the rocky fangs of the upper Călţun caldera, you get a misty show.

Marsh patch

Hello! Now go away!

Călţun Lake
 Although the sunset itself is blocked by rocky walls, if the clouds descend on the lake in the evening they reflect the golden light filling the place with a warm, eerie feeling.


Sunrise is a great time to pack your stuff and hit the ridge trail some more, after coffee and some breakfast.

So we followed the steep ridge trail leading east,over Lăiţel Peak. You can easily get to Fereastra Smeilor shelter in one day, or take a detour through Bâlea Caldera and spend a few hours eating mici and kurtos kalacs and drinking beer, and then climb back on the ridge and camp at Capra lake.

From Caltun to Capra
 The climb makes you work up a good sweat but the view is well worth it.
Looking down and west from Laitel

The view: Turnul Lacului, Negoiu Peak Strunga ciobanului (the shepherd's pass) and Piscul Saratii

Caltun lake, perched high in it's rocky caldera

Looking east towards Laita and Paltinului peaks

The rocky tower beneath Paltinului Peak
We saw a chamois in the rocky saddle between Lăiţel and Lăiţa peaks. By the time I put the tele on it went down to the valley to the north. The saddle narrows to a small rocky pass where the trail gets slightly more difficult. Chains are provided for extra safety.

Just before Paltinu, the ridge widens into a big alpine meadow, used by shepherds for their flocks.

Two good friends

Looking back towards Laitel
The ridge narrows again into a rocky pass, the trail passing first north, then south, under the beautiful, pointy tower beneath Paltinu peak.

Just before Paltinu peak there's a very big spring. In recent years, a severe drought sets in after July and even this spring was almost dry. We managed to find some water by moving some rocks. It took half an hour to gather the 3 litters of water we needed.

The spring beneath Paltinu

The northern slope is very steep and rocky
From Paltinu we got the first glimpse of Mordor, I mean the Bâlea Caldera. For more about Bâlea, read my other post.

Balea Caldera
The trail climbs over Paltinu peak and continues towards the next peak, Iezerul Caprei, and lake Capra. Because of its proximity to Bâlea, lake Capra is also a crowded place at times and some very noisy people could camp next to it. If this is the case, you can just camp on the north side of the lake, a bit further away and above the lake, in a small dimple in the caldera, where it' quiet. Be carefull with your food and look out for bears. Dogs could also try to steal your stuff. It's best to camp at Capra only if caught by nightfall, because there's a shelter about 2-3 hours away, at Fereastra Smeilor.

From Balea to Podragu
Capra lake, seen from Iezerul Caprei Peak, alternate camping site is either the brown spot or the green spot left of the lake
Descending towards Capra you get a great view of the Bâlea and Capra calderas.

Balea Valley and the Transfagarasan
After Lake Capra, the trail descends quite allot and doesn't return to the ridge untill Fereastra Zmeilor.

Leaving Lake Capra

Fereastra Zmeilor Shelter in the distance
The tourist trail cannot follow the ridge here because it's very difficult and it requires climbing gear and experience. The view, however is great and the scree and meadow below the Vârtopel rocky tower are amaizing.

Vartopel - Arpasul Mic

Bumblebees on a Cyrsium

The meadow under Vartopel
A pink Allium

Looking back
Portita Arpasului (The Gate of Arpas), or Fereastra Zmeilor (The Zmeu window). This is truly a place of fairy tales, and not just because of its beauty. Zmeu is a magical creature from the romanian folclore, sort of like an ogre or even dragon endowed with magical powers and antropomorphic shape. The place itself is another limestone vein sculpted into a beutiful arch by erosion.

Portita Arpasului / Fereastra Zmeilor
We took a small detour down to the shelter to avoid a rain shower. Right after the rain stopped a para glider flew above, waving at us.

Paragliding in Fagaras
The shelter is brand-new, just like the one on Scara, but we forgot to take a picture. The old one is broken, probably by an avalanche.

The old shelter, the ridge and Arpasul Mic Peak
Here the ridge has a short narrow portion which is very spectacular. The trail continues north of Arpasul mic through a big caldera, towards Mircii Peak (2461m). An alternative to follwing the ridge trail would be another trail, marked with blue cross, going through the 3 upper calderas straight to Podragu lake.

The narrow ridge

Cables, I prefer rock

The ridge trail above and caldera trail below

Looking back

The big Arpas Caldera and Mircii Peak in the distance
After exiting the caldera, the ridge narrows again and climbs over a small, sharp peak, called Paru de Fier (The iron rod), giving a spectacular view of Buda Lake.

Buda Lake

Paru de Fier Peak close and Mircii in the distance

Looking from Mircii Peak towards Podu Giurgiului lake and Podragu Peak
There was a new shelter at Podu Giurgiului lake, just like the others but now it's completely destryed.  From the extent of the damage on the heavy steel beams it looks like an avalanche may be the culprit.

Podu Giugiului lake and the destroyed shelter.

A look at Vistea Mare and Moldoveanu from Mircii Peak

Podragu peak
We followed the brutal descent along the eroded trail to Podu Giurgului lake. The trail From Bâlea to Podragu and Moldoveanu is the most traveled in Făgăraş.
The storm clods we feared initially dispersed and the sun was shining its last golden rays of the day. We were heading for the Podragu Caldera curiously followed for a brief time by two hawks.

A hawk investigating us

The Podragu caldera, lake and chalet
Because it was late and we were the only ones on the trail we got to see quite a few animals.

Two ravens bathing in the last rays of the sun
We were greeted by some chamois while we were descending in the caldera to have a beer at the chalet and find a tent space.

Chamois in the upper Podragu Caldera

Rainy days with allot of fog followed and we ended our trip at Podragu, taking pictures of chamois, marmots and a bear. More about it in my other post. We don't think it's worth going in the blind unless you have to. We go mainly for the view.
So the next part of the trip is from 3 years ago, when we caught superb weather on Moldoveanu.

From Podragu to Moldoveanu
 The ascent to Moldoveanu peak presents no technical difficulty. The altitude difference is not to much and the view is great on clear days.

A great northern glacial valley

Vistea Mare and Moldoveanu

Looking towards Portita Vistei and Galbenele Peak

Clouds and crowds going to Moldoveanu

Moldoveanu Peak

Valea Rea (Bad Valley)

The western part of the ridge, seen from Moldoveanu Peak
If you wish to continue the ridge east, the descent from Viştea is steep and rocky but not very difficult and full of beautiful flowers.

Looking toward Portita Vistei - The old shelter

Hartopul Ursilor Caldera

Vistea Mare - Moldoveanu, seen from Portita Vistei
Just under Viştea Mare Peak there's the Portiţa Viştei shelter. There's also a new, more spatious, solar-powered shelter there as well but the last time we went we used our tent.

Small lake in Valea Rea

Waking up at Portita Vistei

Valea Rea lake

A butterfly feeding on a Hieracium aurantiacum
Portita Mare a Sambetei is the furthest east we were on the ridge. We climbed there from Sâmbăta chalet, which, from what I understand, was renovated and looks great. It also has a new keeper which is supposed to be a great guy so it's probably a great place to stay.

Portita mare a Sambetei

Sambata valley

Silene dinarica

Climbing in the ridge

Sambata Chalet

A view of the ridge from Sambata Valley
I hope you enjoyed my description and found it useful. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments and we will try to answer them as best as we can.
Come and visit, but please do it in small groups and respect the environment.


  1. Thanks for your grateful informations, am working in Tourism Portal, so it will be helpful info for my works.

  2. Amazing photos, so beautiful! My boyfriend and I are about to go to Romania for a week of hiking and would love to do some of the same route or other ones exploring the mountains, how do you know where the shelters are and can you just turn up and stay at them? Thank you!

    1. Hi! If you use openstreetmap, the shelters are marked on the map. There is an app called osmand, for both android and iOS. There is no need for rezervations, but you have no way of knowing who you can find in the shelters, and, during the summers they may be quite busy. Right now there is still allot of snow up in Fagaras, and there will be snow all they way to mid june. There will not be many people in the shelters during this time, except weekends. Also they are unmanned so there are no supplies or meals to be bought.

  3. Hi, I'd like to do this walk with some friends from London. How long does it take to walk the ridge? do you think 4 or 5 days? thanks, Andy

  4. Andrei. We are thinking if doing this walk in one week. Late August. How do you get food when hiking for 5 or more days? Do you have to carry all of it or are there some shops? Thanks. Also, how do we reserve these shelters?

    1. Hello! There are no shops on the ridge, haha. You can get some cooked food (mostly meat, cheese and junk food) from Bâlea lake. There is no reservation system for the shelters, we usually carried a tent because some of them (Călțun for example) tend to always be full in the summers and some people are loud. August is pretty dry, but you could still find water at Podragu. Most of the springs are low, so we would boil water from the upper lakes (not Bâlea). Also there are a few springs marked on openstreetmat (osmand app for smartphones), and they usually still run throughout the year (we once took 45 minutes to fill our 4.5 litters for the day). So we mostly used spring water for drinking and lake water for tea and soup. People tend to be very disrespectful of the glacial lakes so drinking from them is really not advised.