Four Days in the Rila Mountains in July 1999

Beginning our trip at the Rila Monastery
We enjoyed a four-day, three-night, hike in the Rila mountains from July 22-25, 1999, with a group of nine (plus our cocker spaniel, Jackie). The trip began at the beautiful and historic Rila Monastery. Here's most of the group. From left to right are Pavel (a former colleague of Rali's at a previous job), Stelian (a current colleague of Rali's), Katya (our neighbor, who walks Jackie at lunchtime every day), Rali, Irina (a former English student of Rali's), Kirilka (another former English student), and Ivan (Kirilka's older brother). Goro, Rali's cousin, was waiting at the monastery's gate, watching the backpacks with Jackie, and I took the photo.

Crossing the ridge
From the Rila Monastery, we started climbing. About 1000 vertical meters and 4 hours later, we reached the ridge below the Ivan Vazov peak. This was the highest point in our Day One hike, so it was an ideal place to stop for a few photos. Here's the group again, this time with Goro and Jackie (standing).

Rich and Rali on the ridge
The photo above was from the ridge, facing approximately east. This one is in the same place, faxing approximately south. The weather was perfect. From our altitude we could see the horizon in all directions. About 90 minutes after this photo was taken, we reached hizha Ivan Vazov, where we spent the night.

Beginning the climb up Mt. Maliovitsa
On Day Two, we hiked from hizha Ivan Vazov to hizha Maliovitsa, a six-hour walk. Again, the weather was perfect. We walked over a small peak and along a scenic ridge for some time before the final ascent up the 2,729-meter Mt. Maliovitsa. Along the way, Stelian generously volunteered to carry other backpacks. Here he is, wearing three backpacks: his own, Irina's, and Rali's! I managed to avoid the same fate, fortunately.

At the Maliovitsa bar!
Maliovitsa is my favorite hizha, not least because it has a delightful cafe/bar as part of the complex. Here are Rali and I in the bar, along with two "regulars" at the hizha. The gentleman on the left is a doctor from Dupnitsa, a city just north of Blagoevgrad, where we used to live, while the gentleman on the right is "Jambo", a famous Bulgarian mountaineer. He took part in the historic Bulgarian expedition to climb Mt. Everest in 1984, and he's now an instructor in "alpinism" for the National Sports Academy.

Leaving Maliovitsa early
[Rali takes over narration from this point] At Maliovitsa we split the group into the A and the B group. The A group was led by me (here's our "Before" picture). We got up very early and left for hizha Mechit at 7:45 a.m. After a steep climb of almost two hours, we arrived at Strashnoto Ezero (literally, "the Frightening Lake") and enjoyed some brief skinnydipping in the freezing waters of the lake. No skinnydipping photos on-line, though--we don't want the site to be deleted without warning! After the swim, we had a long and difficult hike to the peak of Goliam Medarnik mountain, but the view was absolutely worth the effort. We enjoyed a long lunch on the peak, and we were very lucky to have wonderful sunny weather all day.

Rali and Irina on the way to Mechit
This is our last climb before descending to hizha Mechit. It may look very steep but we were on the top in less than 15 minutes. From there we had just two hours' walk down to the hizha. The last half an hour of it though was through "tunnels" in thick pine scrub. I remembered the tunnels from a hike some five years ago; I had loved them then and I loved them now. But my enthusiasm was not contageous. The rest of the group hated the dusty, narrow path through the pine scrub, and did not appreciate me for taking them through it.

The group at Mechit
The "tunnels" were to blame for the weary look of A group in this photo (the "After" picture). Were all headed to the outside cold water sink, where we took our "showers" (we filled bottles of cold water and poured them over ourselves while standing outside in bathing suits). In the evening we had the best dinner we've ever had in a hizha, unfortunately served by the most surly hizha keeper we've ever met. After dark, we started a bonfire, although it was quite windy. The last people from the group left the fire at 2 a.m.

The next day after breakfast, we had just an hour's walk down the mountain to the village of Govedartsi, where we started our bus trip home. A little tired, a little sunburned...but we'll do it again soon!

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