We crossed the mighty Danube river into Bulgaria and did a wonderful quiet drive through an area of forested hills, rising mountains and prostitutes. There seemed to be a hooker every 2km, waiting in truck size pullouts. We started playing spot the prostitute ‘there’s another!’ ‘We got panties on show to the left!’. Some were in their early 20s, in fishnet tights and hot pants. While others were older and had tits hanging like marrows – the bargain pullout.
We turned south into the Iskar Gorge, not expecting much. We were a bit gorged out after Romania. But this one was very cool! It started with steep, white, rock walls. There were creepy black caves all over them like a mouldy cauliflower. A milky brown river gushed below us and followed us along the drive. After a few bends the scenery changed to forested slopes, then rocky outcrops appeared through the forest, shooting out in spikes and sheer edges. The rocky walls gradually became redder and more crumbly. Rocks were piled along the road from slips and the river changed from violent rapids to dead still like a big flat puddle.
We took a wide berth around Sofia but still managed to get caught up in traffic and witness a crashed car that had ploughed into a lamppost. Then we followed some GPS coordinates to the start of Malyovitsa summit hike. It’s part of the Rila Mountains and after taking a thin and winding road up we were grateful to see a park office for info. He told us that a) we had come the wrong way for the hike and would have to go back via Sofia, and b) it would be too snowy to hike up. Dammit! On the plus side I also wanted to hike the Seven Rila Lakes and the start was only 5km away. He was a very helpful chappy and pressed his hand against his chest when we left and wished us a happy and sunny day.
We drove up the road, where much to our delight was a ski lift. It only cost €5 for the nerve wracking experience. I’m sorry but I had little faith in the clanky noises it made for 20 minutes with the steep drops below. We were envisioning it breaking down and having to jump onto a tree branch and climb down. Then we realised the trees were pine, which are really spiky, so we ran out of escape options and just avoided looking down.
We rose to just over 2000m and snow was already on the ground at that level. We followed a loop trail towards the lakes. The day was just perfect, clear and crisp. We were actually struggling a bit with the altitude and going pretty slow uphill. The trail was a mix of snow, slush and mud. Then it was just snow. We soon reached kidney lake at 2280m. It was beautiful and crystal clear, surrounded by snowy peaks. The info guy said to not continue onto the two higher lakes but we decided to, and I’m really glad we did as the views were amazing!
We went through a shady patch and all the snow had frozen and ice swirled around the rock wall in pretty patterns. Small chunks of ice were constantly falling down and making a tinkling noise as they slid towards us. The steeper the walls the more icy tunes we heard. The snow went from 1ft deep, to 2ft and it was very slow going. Either you followed someone else’s deep foot caves, or made your own. Sometimes you were lucky and would float on the surface, other times you’d just fall through and get snow all in your boots.
We continued up to a summit at around 2600m. We had a birdseye view of all 7 lakes that varied in shape and size. The snowy mountains, ridge lines and lakes were incredible, we couldn’t of picked a better day for the hike and everything looked so perfect coated in snow. Even at such a high elevation, it was a nice temperature, maybe 20 degrees and not a farts wind.
We had a very slippery walk back down through the snow and veered off to walk a different route past other lakes. On the way a man walked towards us, barefoot and topless. He had long, greasy blonde hair and reminded me of Handsome from Scary Movie. He asked us what the conditions were like where we’d come from. Snowy, icy…probably worth avoiding if you have no goddam shoes! What the hell?
The route back was shit. It was all boggy from snow melt. We were sinking into hidden puddles in the grass and then the path became a stoney stream. It had running water all the way through it and our feet were drenched.
We’d hiked for 4 hours, and they were tough as we had to use more muscles while consciously trying not to slip at every step. It was 5.15pm and we were not in the mood to hike down the hill with the ski lift laughing from above us. So we went to the lift and asked if we could pay the difference of a return as opposed to another single. He said no, we said we’d walk, and then he said ‘come come’ and positioned us for the next chair down, for free. Thank you Bulgaria!