When one of our team members was invited to join a three day trip into the mountains from Rimnicu Valcea on an ATV, is seemed like an opportunity too good to miss. The trails are challenging at times but the breadth of scenery is stunning, and the weather forecast was good for the first two days with the possibility of rain on the final day.
The plan was to spend the first day going from Rimnicu Valcea through a series of villages (Valea Babei, Stoenesti, Radacinesti, Poiana and Calinesti) to some uncharted parts of the Mountains of Lotrului. Our end destination for day 1 was to stay with Frati Jderi in Pascoia, not too far from Buzoi. From there we would head up via Dealu Neagru (2091) and exploring the Mountains of Lotrului to Obarsi Lotrului and stay at a small pensiune. We would then spend the final day working our way back to Rimnicu Valcea via Ranca. We knew that the plan was stretching but it promised to be fun and that we would be surrounded by the raw beauty of the Romanian countryside.
The day started well – the sun shone, breakfast was hearty and the ATV’s rumbled in a reassuring fashion. Looking at the maps I was slightly surprised at the lack of detail and rapidly came to appreciate the real depth of information available from an Ordnance Survey map in the UK (which are so detailed that you can almost spot a comfortable place to sit). Little did I realise at this point that the maps were about as useful as a chocolate teapot and that they were really taken along as a rough guide or a lucky charm….
However, being in the company of experienced and enthusiastic locals wishing to do some exploring of new trails, I was caught by the lust for adventure, and off we set. We were soon off the normal roads and onto logging trails and forest paths. We passed through one point where there was a strong mint aroma. I realised that my smile and mild salivation was due to the subconscious thought of an ice cold mojito – it was warm under my jacket and helmet! The morning went well, and we reached Calinesti in time for the sandwiches that we brought for lunch.
Once again fed and watered, we headed deeper into the hills in pursuit of new routes. I was really getting the feel for the ATV that has steering that is more talkative than a youngster on red bull. The Porsche 911 is famed for the clarity of steering feel through the wheel: this sensation is eclipsed by an ATV on a rocky mountain trail!
We stopped at a chaotic looking logging operation to ask directions (which none of us masculine types would normally consider but needs must). The helpful man, with an awesome collection of gold, teeth directed us to drive up the track then turn left to take us towards Pascoia. The state of the logging operation should have warned us, but with the choice of following directions or using the map, we followed the directions. This turned out to be the big mistake of the trip.
We stopped in a very pleasant meadow for a snack and some water and set off down the hill. This proved to be the most challenging route that I have seen in Romania, but we by moving the occasional fallen tree we were able to press on. We then came to some downhill tracks where there had clearly been some heavy water flows as there was a junior version of the Grand Canyon carved through the middle. This means that the correct positioning of the ATV is vital or a wheel can drop into the gap. This finally happened. The language used in the retrieval of the ATV was not for the faint hearted, but after some extensive pushing, pulling and heaving we were on the way again.
This led us to the next canyon followed by the new challenge of jump the fallen tree onto a steep descent with a sharp left. This was not for the faint hearted, but we braved the jump and journeyed on. For five minutes. The first really major obstacle was not far down the road (after negotiating another canyon) as the road ended with a washed out road covered with an assortment of large rocks and trees with a fast flowing stream running through the debris. This dead end was not good news; the malfunctioning throttle was bad news. After some time trying to repair the ATV we decided to abandon it and press on as darkness was starting to fall.
Two on an ATV really designed for one is no fun, but we had to keep going in the absence of alternative options. We passed the tree jump and down the next hill to the next fallen tree, halting progress once again. It may have been possible to shift this tree with the aid of the winch and some good old fashioned brute force, but sense prevailed and the reconnaissance trip was mounted. The road forked after about 400m. The right hand fork had four large trees across it. The left fork had two enormous trees across it. Neither road was passable so the decision had to be made – should we stay of should we go now? It was almost dark, common sense prevailed and we decided (by majority vote) to camp.
We were not exactly over equipped for camping as we had a ground sheet and three head torches. The wisdom of bringing a smoker along was rewarded with the use of a cigarette lighter, and the innate talent of the Romanian male for lighting fires under any conditions meant that we soon had a good fire blazing for some warmth, and more reassuringly, some light. Memories of the Blair Witch Project were uncomfortably at the forefront of my mind, but I refrained from asking my fellow campers if they were familiar with this low budget classic.
The campsite was not ideal as the flat ground had a stream percolating through it and the dry ground had a 30 degree slope and a generous share of roots and rocks, but we had a groundsheet to keep us dry, jackets to keep us warm and the fire to keep our legs warm. At least we had a continual supply of fresh water, and after an afternoon of pulling ATV’s out of trouble we were all thirsty.
Some digging into the rear section of one of the ATV’s also yielded an amazing bounty – chicken breast and schnitzel, tomatoes, cheese, bread, onions, fresh garlic and tuica (we were still thirsty). This was glorious discovery for two of us and the source of great pride for the third. Under the circumstances, this was ambrosia and we tucked in with gusto. A large hunting knife was produced that was sharp enough to slice through food with easy accuracy. The tomatoes were real, fresh Romanian tomatoes that were deliciously sweet.
Fed and watered again, we now attempted to sleep, which proved to be the biggest challenge of the day as the limited traction of the ground sheet combined with the slope to cause a downward slide. Add to this the sound of trickling water and the roaring fire; sleep was never going to be easy. Add in the dulcet snore of my companions and sleep took a while to arrive.
Still being blessed with an active mind, the prospect of wolves or bears occurred to me; thoughts I did my best to banish. On the plus side, being awake gave me more than ample time to look for firewood and admire the galaxy of stars in the clear sky. At points where the fire was in need of more fuel, some of the stars were so bright that they were visible through the leaves of the trees and it was in all quite a display. It reached the point where I had to choose between the glory of the stars or the blaze of the fire: a rapidly cooling head saw more wood being thrown on the fire.
The lack of a phone signal meant that we were unable to contact anyone to inform them that we were not going to reach our planned resting place. We were all worried that this could cause some concern, but resigned to the fact that there was nothing we could do. At least we were safe if a bit lost.
END PART 1 – we leave our brave explorers now but we will bring the story of their escape in xxx weeks time. Stay tuned 😉