How I almost died in the mountains of Romania

I have often thought about my death. That may sound a little strange and creepy, but it comforts me in a certain way. I know for sure that I will not die as a 90-year old lady, chilling in my house while I can’t walk anymore. I will die in nature: the place where I feel most comfortable. Where I can truly be myself. Where I’m in my element. Although I never thought that would almost happen in the mountains of Romania. But let me rewind to the beginning.

Welkomsbord-Piatra-Craiului

Hiking in Romania: different than hikes I’m used to

Romania has a lot of amazing nature parks and a bunch of options if you wanna hike. I was immediately in love with Piatra Craiului National Park, not far away from Brasov. Gigantic, steep rocks that are decorated with green trees. Although some of them are already yellow, orange or even red. It’s the beginning of autumn after all.

Hiking in Romania is not what I am used to. And I have done a lot of hiking in countries all over the world. In countries like Germany and the States the trails are well organised, maintained and you will always have people around you. Even on the hikes that I made in Latin America or Southeast Asia there are always other people. In Romania you can hikes for days and maybe meet only 2 people in total. Even the roads that are considered easy are not THAT EASY. And on top of that there is barely any information about the trails and the hikes. If you’re lucky there is a travel story in English. But you probably need Google Translate and ask some other travellers in the area for information.

It’s always a risk if you’re hiking by yourself. ALWAYS. A good preparation is essential. How many places are there to fill up your water? Are the trails tough? How many hours does it take to go from A to B? How is the weather and will it change along the day? Do you have an emergency number in your phone? And a map with the trails – or at least a photo on your phone? Which animals live in this are? And what do you do if you encounter a bear or an angry shepherd dog? A lot of questions you have to ask yourself before you head to the mountains.

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Hiking to the mountain ridge of Piatra Craiului National Park

After a couple of weeks in Romania I had some experience with hiking in this country. So I felt it was okay to go on a solo adventure. There are more hikers in this national park, so it should be alright. What can go wrong? I send my family a message that I will be in the mountains for a couple of days. I even make a joke: if I don’t respond anymore I’m probably attacked by bears of I fell off the mountain. The irony.

The first hike is tough, but beautiful. It feels like I’m walking around on a filmset of Lost. Or Jurassic Park. Or Into the Wild. After climbing for a couple of hours I reach the cabana: a mountain hut where you can eat and even sleep. I get myself some hot chocolate and start to talk with some other hikers. The cabana is fully booked, so I go for my plan B: hiking to the mountain ridge, to find the refugiul. Refugiuls are Romanian shelters in the mountains where you can sleep if you bring your own sleeping gear.

Google Maps shows me that the trail is 2,5 kilometers and it should be a hike of only 45 minutes. The sign shows me that the trail is more like 2,5 hours. I’m gonna climb more than 700 meters, so I trust the walking sign a bit more. Luckily I have more than enough time to take photos along the way, drink some water and enjoy the amazing views.

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Sleeping in the refugiul

The sunset from the ridge is simply magical. There is almost nothing that feels as much as freedom as being on this beautiful place, with nobody around me. The sun sets and in a few minutes it becomes way colder. And windy – really windy. I want to open the door of the refugiul, but exactly at that moment the door goes open.

The Portuguese Filips opens the door. He is doing a hike of 2 weeks in different mountains in Romania. To be honest: it’s nice to not sleep by myself in the refugiul while it’s so windy outside. There are moments that it feels like the shelter would be blown away any minute. We keep ourselves entertained the rest of the evening by having dinner and talking about cool expeditions, amazing places to hike and of course life. We drink some chamomile tea with some alcohol, I go only one time outside to pee and then we fall asleep.

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Being brave: it’s a good quality – or isn’t it?

“You’re brave that you do this by yourself”, Filips tells me while we are having breakfast. I’m surprised.
“You’re sitting here as well, right? And your hike is even way longer and more difficult.”
he nods. “True, but you’re a girl. That’s different.”
I never thought about it like that. It reminds me of a conversation that I once had with one of my best friends. I asked him about THE quality that described me best.
“You’re brave”, he answered instantly.
“Really? That’s the reason why you think I’m awesome and why we are friends?”, I answered a bit annoyed. I preferred an answer like being funny, empathic or creative.
“You’re all of those things as well. But you’re lack of fear makes you so unique. You do the most insane things, all by yourself. Things most people probably would never do by themselves.”

And now I hear it again. Not from my best friend, but from someone who knows me less than 15 hours. We exchange phone numbers so we can meet in a couple of days after the hikes. We tell each other which trail we will take, wish each other good luck, a big hug and then we both go our own way.

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My near death experience in the mountains of Romania

For at least an hour I walk on the mountain ridge. Along the way I see some mountain goats and big black birds are flying along. It’s almost a pity I have to leave the ridge when I see another sign. Just another hour to the mountain hut. I just have to follow the blue line downhill. I’m on a roll. If it goes like this I will be eating something nice in the cabana within an hour.

The hike downhill is always more heavy than uphill. Of course you’re sweating when you’re going up. It’s tough. But the most accidents happen when people go down again. You have to be careful with literally every step you take. The trail mainly goes over a road made of stones and little rocks. And the road becomes more and more steep. There are even a couple of places where I slide a bit downhill.

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Wandelschoenen-Jessica

I start to curse. Who the hell said this road was a hiking trail? I check again and I see the blue line on one of the rocks. Maybe I should go back and follow another trail over the ridge. It’s longer, but hopefully less steep and dangerous. I try to turn around, but a couple of stones under my feet slip and I slide a couple of meters downhill.

I grab a plant next to me. My backpack falls off one shoulder, so all of the weight is in one place. This is not okay. I don’t wanna fall all the way down… I try to put my backpack off my shoulder, on the rocks. Hopefully it stays exactly like that.

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But that doesn’t happen.

The bag starts to roll downhill. Faster, and faster.

Shit, shit, shit, shit!

As careful as possible I try to follow the bag but it’s going too fast. I can’t keep up with it. Then I see the precipice. The bag stays there for a sec and then disappears in the abyss. Holy fuck. I just stare to the place where my bag disappears.

EVERYTHING is in that bag.

My purse.

My passport.

My water.

My camera.

Even my phone – that I normally always keep in my jacket or pockets.

I look around. I’m stuck in this steep valley and surrounded by these damn rocks. Climbing up doesn’t looks too difficult, but going down via the abyss is impossible. I can’t even call an emergency number, because the phone is somewhere in the valley by now.

God damn it. This is it. This is the place where I will die.

With every movement I make the stones under me starts to move. I have no idea how long I’m standing there like this. It’s probably only a couple of minutes, but it feels like an eternity. I would love to cry, but somehow the tears don’t come. I just keep staring to the place where my bag dropped hundreds of meters into the valley.

People experience a near death experience in different ways. Some see people that passed away. Others see a white tunnel. I see my life flashing by. Not in a way how you see it in movies: with some nice flashbacks in slow motion, so you have time to realize what you see. For me it feels like someone is showing me hundreds of pictures at once. Like checking out a photo album at the highest speed possible. A photo album with important moments in my life.

One thing in common with all those near death experiences is the feeling of enlightment. You feel relieved. The feeling of letting go is totally okay. It’s a feeling that you can’t really describe to people who never experienced it. And weirdly enough it is a nice feeling.

It wouldn’t be that bad if I would die right here, right now. I’m in the place that I always imagined when I would think about my death. I had 27 incredible years and it was a beautiful life. It’s okay to let go.

But then I see the faces of my mum passing by. And my sister. The flashes seem to slow down a little. Those people have NO CLUE what is happening with me at this moment.

It feels like I wake up: I’m not in a daze anymore. Some kind of primal feeling takes over and I feel the adrenaline rush. I grab some roots next to me and push myself upwards. I put my weight against the stones as much as possible. And this way I climb up again, back to the trail.

“Not today”, I keep saying to myself. “Not today”.

The mantra is the only thing that I remember when I crawl up on the trail.

Bergen-Piatra-Craiului

Searching for the bag with the mountain rescue team

After another hour I arrive at the mountain hut. It’s weird: seeing people having lunch and fun with each other. After a glass of water I explain myself to the lady of the mountain hut. She calls the Mountain Rescue Team immediately and makes me some soup. Soup never tastes THIS good as right now.

Soon Marian and Sebastian show up: 2 members of the Mountain Rescue Team. Sebastian is my age, Marian is around 40 years old I think. “Do you still have some energy to go up the mountain with us? That way you can show us the place where it happened”, Sebastian asks. I nod. Now I have to climb that fucking mountain again. The guys are still optimistic.

Even when it starts to rain.

Even when there are thunder storms passing by.

Great. This mountain really wants to see me dead today.

I appreciate the positive thoughts of the guys, but I’m a lot more pessimistic. After some climbing we reach the spot. It feels like I have a stone in my stomach. My whole body feels heavy. Like it wants to say: stop! Don’t go there silly you. But I have to.

The guys check out the area and climb downhill. When I check the valley there are already out of sight. After some nerve-racking time they climb up the same way how I did it that morning. No backpack.

But they are still optimistic. We walk a bit downhill again and they try to climb again to the spot. Again, without success. “We will bring you back to the cabana so you can rest. We now know where to search”, Sebastian explains.

Along the way Sebastian tells me about people he had to save in the mountains and the work they do. You can immediately tell that they both love their job, even though Marian doesn’t speak English. “Amazing, amazing”, he keeps repeating in his own language. “You’re doing great”, Sebastian translates. “You’re a pretty brave girl.”

There we go again. I think my lack of fear put us in this shitty situation. Not only me, but them as well. I’m not so sure anymore if I like that quality about myself.

Cabana-berghut-Piatra-Craiului

The giant valley and searching in the dark

At the cabana Sebastian explains the plan again. They will search in the valley via a different trail, I stay in the mountain hut and don’t move.
“But it’s almost dark already”, I answer. I don’t want them to risk their lives for my bag. Sebastian is laughing.
“No worries, we have flashlights with us. It’s our job, we are used to this.” Also Marian is convinced they will find the bag, even in these conditions.

The lady from the mountain hut calls me inside and brings me some tea. I check out the book shelves. All Romanian books. But then there is a yellow cover: a National Geographic from 1994. In English. I try to read the article about beluga’s in Canada, but my mind wanders. I stare out of the window the entire time. By now it’s getting dark. What if they had an accident? Or if they are attacked by bears? Al those thoughts make me exhausted and my head heavy. I put it on the table. Just for a minute.

2 hours later I wake up. The lady turned on the lamp in the room. “You want to have some dinner?” She brings me some cabbage, bread and a delicious apple pie. She also made a bed ready for me.
“Thanks, that’s really nice. Is the Rescue Team already here”, I ask. She shakes her head en walks towards the kitchen again.

Not much later the door opens. “They are back!” I check the window and I see 2 shadows moving around, towards the entrance. I look at the door with a tense look.

And then…

Marian opens the door. No bag. He talks with the lady. That doesn’t look promising. Then Sebastian steps inside.
“Look what we found!”, and he puts my black Osprey bag on the table. I stare at him with big eyes. Is that really my bag? Then I turn towards him and give him the biggest hug possible. Marian follows. The bag is wet, but it looks surprisingly fine. I am afraid to open it, to see what’s the damage.

“Your bag fell more than 300 meters down into the valley. Al your stuff was spread over the valley.” He shows some pictures on his phone. 300 meters downhill.. That could have been me.

I open my bag. The passport is fine. Even my cash money is still in the purse. The camera is a bit damaged, but I thought they would find it back in at least 20 pieces. Even the chocolate bar is still in it. How the hell is this possible? This must be a miracle.

Mountain-rescue-team-Piatra-Craiului
Photocredits Sebastian

How much a rescue like this would cost? I have no idea. But I’m sure I don’t have enough cash money with me to pay them. They probably need my insurance. But the only thing the guys want is a thank you-letter that I can send to the office. So their chief knows what they did. And a picture with me, of course. I offer them food or a beer, but they don’t wanna have anything. “It’s our job”, they keep saying. They are ready to go home. Marian says something in Romanian language.
“What’s up?” I ask. Sebastian laughs.
“Marian says he’s happy that you are happy again. And that you have a beautiful smile.”

After saying goodbye to the guys I check my bag one more time. Even my phone is alright. The battery level shows 10%. I should probably send my mum a message about what happened today. She will forbid me to hike by myself in the mountains again. But maybe that’s not even a bad thing.

Jessica-bergrug-Piatra

I don’t want to scare people with this story, but it is a warning. I consider myself an advanced hiker and accidents can still happen. Go to a place where there are more people hiking, be really well prepared and always tell someone where you are going. Would you like to hike in Romania with a tour? Then I would recommend Dan from Outdoor Activities in Romania. I hiked in several places in Romania with him. He has a lot of knowledge about hiking, shows you less touristic places and amazing nature parks. Besides that he is just a delight to hike together with: funny, sociable and entertaining!

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