Romania: hiking in the mountains of Iezer Păpușa (for real adventurers) + VIDEO

It’s 5.30 in the morning and it’s pitch dark in the streets of Bucharest. But we have to leave this early: in an hour there will be already huge traffic jams in this Romanian capital. Besides that it’s a 3-hour drive to the mountains that we’re gonna explore. So it’s necessary that we leave in the early morning.

The upcoming days I am exploring beautiful nature parks in Romania with Dan, the owner of Outdoor Activities in Romania. We start with a 2-day hike in the mountains of Iezer Păpușa. Months ago we meet each other online and we both loved the idea of hiking together and promoting hiking in Romania. Also: Dan is a big photography lover, so that makes it so much easier and more fun to explore together.
“Ready to go into the mountains?”, Dan asks. I believe so. Although I maybe need some coffee to stay awake during the drive. “We will stop soon at a gas station for coffee. Is that alright?” As if he can read my mind. Amazing.

Beforehand I tried to find some information about the mountains of Iezer Păpușa. There were a couple of hits on Google. Mainly in Romanian language. There was 1 travel story in English and some tour companies give some basic information about this place. But besides that – and seeing some amazing pictures – I am clueless and I have no idea what to expect.

Also read: monks and mighty mountains in Buila-Vânturarita, Romania


Cabanas and refugiuls: sleeping in the mountains of Romania

The first 2 hours driving I don’t see ANY mountain, but once we are near Câmpulung we’re surrounded by them. What a lovely view. We park the car at Cabana Voina. In Romania there are 2 ways to sleep in the mountains. The cabanas are the mountain huts where you’ll find a restaurant and some (basic) beds. The food is most of the times delicious and cheap.

But tonight we will sleep in Refugiul Iezer. Refugiuls are refuges in the mountains. They are mainly build for the mountain rescue team, but hikers sleep in it as well. These shelters don’t have toilets or electricity (sometimes there are solar panels for the lights). So you’re really going back to basic. You can only sleep here if you bring your own sleeping stuff. So be prepared to carry a lot with you. These refuges are in the middle of nowhere, so you have to put some effort in getting there. But that’s totally worth it!


Hiking in the mountains of Iezer Păpușa

Beforehand Dan had asked me how fit I am, if I have any hiking skills and what other hikes I made in the past. It maybe sounds a bit like an interrogation, but it’s really important Dan knows if someone is really up for it and physically able to do it. There are all kinds of trails in Romania, both for newbies and more advanced hikers. So he can check which hike suits you best.

During the first day in the mountains of Iezer Păpușa we will climb for about 1200 meters. Along the first hour I already start to sweat, puff and gasp. But it’s quite alright. We’re still in the forest and there is a lot of shade. Dan seems like a robot. I don’t see ANY drop of sweat and he doesn’t need to catch his breath. He is even singing and humming most of the time. I thought I was a fit person, but next to Dan I look like a 60-year-old lady with a broken hip, trying to climb a mountain. Luckily Dan is great at reading people. He knows exactly when to stop to catch my breath or take some amazing pictures.


After an hour of hiking in the forest we leave the trees behind us and we stand in a sea of yellow grass: the meadow. The sun shines and warms our faces. It’s a beautiful day. Literally every 5 minutes I want to stop to take pictures. And more pictures. And some more. I constantly repeat myself. “Wow, look at this!” and “Do you see those mountains? Amazing!” Probably Dan is laughing the whole time. He has seen these mountains already many times. Still he seems impressed by the views and the beautiful landscapes. I don’t think you can ever get bored by this.


Sheep shit and angry shepherd dogs

Climbing at the meadow is a bit harder, because of the bright sunshine. Along the way I see some turds. And then some more. “Are these from rabbits or mountain goats? It’s not from bears right”, I ask Dan. He laughs.
“No, it’s sheep shit. There are many shepherds with their sheep in the mountain. Although I have never seen them in this area.”
If the sheep can climb this road, for sure I can as well. It becomes a nice mantra for the moments the climbing is hard. If those sheep can do it, I will absolutely be able to do it as well.


The higher we go, the more mountain tops we see. Bucegi. Piatra Craiului. And at some point we see our final destination for today: the refugiul. Little yellow balls are moving around the refuge slowly. Are those things plants? I put my hand above my eyes and check again. No, it’s not some moving plants. There are sheep around the building!
“I have never seen sheep in this part of the mountains before”, Dan says in an enthusiastic way. We move towards them. Just a couple of hills and then we will be there.


And before we realize it we are surrounded by 9 barking dogs. They make a circle around us. I freeze. What the hell should we do? Stand still? Should I look them in the eyes? Look away? I’m happy Dan looks like he knows what he’s doing. “Stand still and don’t make any sudden movements.” He yells at the shepherd in the valley. The shepherd doesn’t really look like he’s impressed by this situation. He yells something back at Dan.
“What did he say?”, I ask.
“He says the dogs don’t bite.” I look at the big, furry black dog in front of me. For sure this dog looks huggable, if you don’t look at his angry, intense eyes. The dogs bark and growl and the situation for sure doesn’t get any better. After a couple of minutes – although it feels like an eternity – the shepherd walks towards us. He walks towards the hill and takes all the dogs with him. They move on. Fucking finally.


Breathtaking sunrise

We climbed 1200 meters. Iezer Refugiul is located on 2135 meters above sea level. That’s pretty awesome, right? The refuge looks better than I imagined. There are 2 rooms, there are a couple of lights that work because of the solar panel and there is a tiny kitchen. But if you wanna use that you have to bring some wood.


After the sun sets we fill our water bottles in a nearby stream. And then it’s time to put on some layers, because it’s gonna be COLD. The wind is moving around the refuge like a storm. Dan has been so nice to bring me vegetarian pâté. We eat some fruit, nuts, bread and chocolate before we crawl up in our sleeping bags and fall asleep.


The next morning Dan wakes me up.
 “You still wanna see the sunrise. It’s about to be light soon.” Quickly I grab my camera and tripod to go outside. And within a couple of seconds I’m inside again.
“What’s up?”, Dan asks.
“It’s still pretty cold, I will stay in my sleeping bag outside while we’re waiting”, I answer. And just like that I’m waiting to see the sun rise over the valley.

And when it happens it’s almost like magic. The sun breaks through some clouds. The colors of the valley looks way more intense than at daytime. Like someone’s changing the saturation of the view. The yellow grass looks like golden hair on the mountain ridge, moving around in an elegant way.


We start to move again early. We wanna see the sunrise from a higher point, so we climb another 200 meters. This viewpoint is even more breathtaking. We see the refugiul, the glacial lake and the rest of the valley. I don’t even know what to say.
“Amazing, right?” But that doesn’t even come close to the description of this view.


The hike back to the cabana is pretty easy. The view over the mountains will not bore me. After a while we stop at a small house.
“These buildings are used by the shepherds when they have to stay in one area for a while. It’s not well isolated, but it’s better than nothing.” We eat something and after that it’s time to go back into the forest again.


I hate descending during hikes. I don’t mind climbing, but during descending more accidents can happen. Besides that I fell as a kid during ice skating, so I my knee hurts quite easily (stupid meniscus). Descending in the mountains in Romania is even more hell. There are no normal trails, but you climb down via fallen trees, rocks and roots. Not my cup of tea. Although the lunch in the cabana (polenta, fries, bread and a lot of garlic sauce) does taste EVEN BETTER after that last part of the trail.

Photocredits Dan – Outdoor Activities in Romania

Travel movie: hiking in Romania – mountains of Iezer Păpușa

Do you love to hike in the mountains of Romania as well? I would highly recommend to go with a tour guide, especially if you’re a solo traveller. I went into the mountains of Piatra Craiului by myself and I had an accident and a near death experience. Dan from Outdoor Activities in Romania is funny, safety is his highest priority and he will show you some amazing, off the beaten track places in Romania. Any questions? Just let me know in the comments or by email!

This article is written in collaboration with Outdoor Activities in Romania. More information about collaborations you’ll find here.

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