Pirin National Park
We took the 12km twisty road up to the furthest carpark we could reach without being stopped by snow on the roads, and spend two nights parked there. We were surprised at the amount of snow still around and hw the temperature dropped- after all we were almost 2000m above sea level here.
On our first day we did a hike that would lead to a few beautiful lakes, but seeing the snow all around us, we weren't sure how far we would get. We took the trail from the carpark up into the mountain which eventually became more and more difficult with the snow being pretty unstable in places. The view was incredible despite not being able to reach the lakes, so we stopped to enjoy the sun, the backdrop and the powerful river gushing down the mountain beside us. We figured that if we had cross country skiis (or even knew how to do it) or snow shoes, we may have been able to do more hiking, but for now this was as far as we got, and we even got to see the 1300 coniferous tree on the way!
The second day there, we took a shorter trail in the opposite direction that would 'eventually' lead to the peak of Mt Vihren, which we knew wasn't going to happen, but again we decided to walk as much as we could before the snow stopped us again. The views were absolutely beautiful up in this region, despite there being chilly evenings and mornings and the restaurant was extremely cheap- I paid €4 for soup, fries, garlic bread and a beer!
On the way back from the hike we took the route through the town and then to the old town, by passing shops, cool looking bars and restaurants and smiling faces. Bankso was absolutely beautiful and even when i took a look in the real estate windows I was so surprised to see beautiful furnished apartments for sale here for as little as €12k, It was such an amazing area! Needless to say we were both shattered when we returned to the van after god knows how much distance we had covered, but It was such a great half day out.
Today we headed off on what we thought would be a short hike through the woods and back again, but which turned into a lot more than we bargained for- in a good way! Following the trail on Maps.Me, I had planned to do a hike to the lake in Panichischte which seemed like a decent day hike- and it would have been, if we didn't go the wrong way! We began by taking the trail into the mountains, starting at St Petka church, where the red arrows began. Instead of continuing straight, we went right for about an hour which was beautiful but in the end, was not leading to the lake. I then turned around and returned to the beginning and following the main road, came t the trail head of the hike to Panichischte lake. path was straight for most of the beginning, and led past some picnic spots, water fountains and a fast flowing and refreshing river- which Gimli took advantage of.
As we continued it got steeper and steeper for the last two kilometres which was doable and relatively moderate, apart from the fact that we had walked two hours earlier in the wrong direction. The trail was very easy to follow with red arrows the whole way and eventually leading to a main road, with water fountain and entrance to the wild lake. Gimli had a nice dip and after four hours of walking, we decided to head back. the trail around the lake could be continued and would be very nice if you wanted to extend your day. We took the trail all the way back down to St Petka church and through the town, back to the van. I found the trail on the app Wicilocs, where there were many more, shorter and longer ones to take advantage of. We had the 7 Rila lakes coming up, so we were saving ourselves for this.
Rila National Park
We parked in the small town of Sapareva Banya, where I had done my previous hike, and made our way up to the Rila chair lift with Dennis van. We decided not to bring Gimli as I knew it would be a long hike and I could only imagine him jumping off the moving chairlift. He was happy enough to chill in the van, after his almost 15km hike the day before!
When we got there, the lift was broken so they offered us a jeep ride about three quarters of the way up to where the lift would bring us for €7.50 return each and the chair lift would have been €10 return each, so we took it.
The German military G Class monster jeep brought us steep up the muddy, rocky mountain in ways we had never seen before, this was an adventure in itself. It ate up everything in its way and carved its way through the crazy terrain, to finally drop us at the area where the snow began, where we would hike the rest of the way to the beginning of the trail. We walked for about 30-45 minutes to get to the start of the hike, and didn't see anyone but three workmen making their way down. I was getting the impression we were the stupid ones, hiking to the lakes in the snow, but no ne mentioned anything to us.
The trail began with some snow here and there and a flowing river weaving in and out of the area, but as we carried on, we noticed the snow got much deeper, and even worse was that the river was somewhere beneath us, so we had to navigate by the previous footsteps and the noise of the river in the hops of not falling through the snow into the river. I fell through twice and my left leg was submerged up to my hip in snow, but luckily it wasn't at the river. Still though, this was becoming very challenging and as we began to meet a few people on their way down, we were getting more of a taste of what was to come. The lakes were apparently frozen, and with the depths of snow, would take hours to reach, as well as the continuation of this damn river beneath us. We decided to continue to the first lake which was frozen but still pretty majestic, and then onwards to the second lake which we figured would provide a good view of the others in the distance. The climb up here was like something out of a mountain disaster movie, as we climbed almost hands and knees up this steep snow wall- with no equipment obviously!
At the top we caught a glimpse of the second lake but with frozen and soaking hands and feet, we were already planning how to descend. Returning the same way was a no go unless we wanted to risk rolling down the snowy mountain and falling through a crack in the snow to the river below- so we decided to take the higher 'trail' which went along the mountains edge, and looked treacherous but that just shows how much we didn't want to return the way we came. Step by step I walked and tried not to fall down the mountain and as the wind grew stronger and the snow fall came, I really felt like a character in Everest. After a while we finally made our way back to the chair lift and eventually back to the starting point where the jeep had dropped us off. He picked us up again and to finish off the day, it ended up that our driver was an ex Olympic cross country skiier, who now drove this epic monster jeep 6-7 times a day up and down the mountain. His enthusiasm for this 42 year old rock solid machine was contagious!
Our day in Rila was nothing like we had expected and we were certainly not prepared, but looking back, It was a crazy but cool adventure. According to Mr Olympics, this was one of the first years in a long time to have so much snow in May, so we were just pretty unlucky. We will try again in the future hopefully! Don't worry though the story had a great ending because Dennis had discovered an old thermal bath house beside our vans, with hot water from the local geyser, so we put on our swimwear and spend some time warming up in this epic stone bath house with the hot therapeutic healing water- followed by another amazing dinner at our favourite restaurant of course!