The Piatra Mica in winter

Last winter I was lucky enough to spend some time in Romania in winter – for the first time ever! After celebrating New Year’s Eve in the Buila-Vânturarița with friends and exploring the nearby Cozia Massif with Wilbert, I headed to Brașov to revisit the Piatra Craiului Mountains with some friends, old and new. Since the winds were too strong on the main ridge we restricted ourselves to do the Piatra Mica circuit. But as you will see, it was well worth it! So here it is: the Piatra Mica in winter.

Chimneys and cables

From Brașov, we drive to Cabana Gura Gura Râului, right at the start of the Zărnești Gorges. The going in the gorge is fairly easy, but ascending to Cabana Curmatura gives us a taste of what is to come: heaps and heaps of fresh snow to wade through. So after putting some hot food and beverages in our stomachs at Cabana Curmatura, we put our crampons on and ascend through the forest to Crapaturi Saddle, a beautiful vantage point in between Turnu Peak to the left and the Piatra Mica block to the right – a smaller massif split off the main Piatra Craiului ridge. With its steep ascents through narrow chimneys with cables it is serious enough in summer – snow, cold and strong winds definitely make it extra challenging – and enjoyable!

Visibility is low and it looks like we are going to have to deal with grey skies. To our surprise however, the sky change from completely overcast to bright blue in seconds while we are taking our crampons off again at the foot of Piatra Mica. Joy!

So we start scaling the sometimes near-vertical walls of this impressive chunk of limestone, aided by cables and now and then, our ice axes – to arrive on the ridge, completely exposed to strong winds and hence freezing cold. We take a few quick snaps and then speed on towards the peak.

Now Piatra Mica Peak doesn’t amount to much in itself, but the aforementioned clambering and the ridge-walking towards it are exciting. Also, the views towards the main ridge of the Piatra Craiului and the Bucegi in the east are impressive – if the clouds clear, that is.

Dramatic clouds

The clouds are reluctant to part, but then again clouds in themselves are pretty cool, so I feel privileged to be at their level. Ultimately, we do get a view though. And what a view it is! I’ll never ask for clear skies again because clouds make for the most dramatic interplay between sky and earth on, well, earth.

After traversing the ridge and a meadow we reach the Heroes Cross – from where we speedily hop down to Poiana Zănoaga again and return to Cabana Curmatura, where we spent the night. I didn’t bring my sleeping bag and the provided blanket isn’t exactly thick, so I keep all my clothes on to be able to fall asleep at all.

Enchanted forest

The next morning looks bright and beautiful, but the winds are so strong that we don’t consider it wise or safe to head up to the main ridge, as planned – so we descend back to the gorges via a different route and get treated to a magical forest. Not bad at all.

Seeing these pictures, and everyone’s winter pictures, makes me want to go on another winter trip, but there are limitations to my time and energy and besides I don’t want to fly all the time. So for now, I’m going to hold my horses, watch the pictures and patiently bide my time until a good opportunity arises to go on that night train to Vienna, rail onwards to Romania and put my crampons on again. Meanwhile, I am planning lots of hikes, so stay tuned! And I am rather busy with promoting my guidebook, The Mountains of Romania, which you can now buy here! Hurray! Hence the low blog frequency – but if you buy the book that should keep you going for a while and help you while away winter if, like me, you do not live in a mountainous area. When I am in the mountains again I promise I will dump fresh stories on you again!

Winter risks

Please be aware that winter hiking comes with risks of its own, so you should come well prepared. At the very least, you should bring and know how to use crampons and an ice axe. Also, inform yourself about avalanche risks. Ideally, go hiking with a guide or someone who knows the area and the risks. If you do go unaccompanied (never alone in winter!), pick a trail that is considered safe in winter. For a good overview, see Alexandra Pușcașu’s brilliant map here and look at ‘Ture pe zăpadă’. Do you want to know what the Piatra Mica looks like in summer? Read more here.

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