Transylvania Trek, Day 2: Bucegi Massif

After the ‘warm up’ walk of day one, day two upped the ante somewhat to a 20km walk with a height of 2180mtr. The sun was shining brightly and the walk through the woodland path to the stunning mountain range was beautiful. We were again joined by a four-legged friend who made the walk look easy!

All the way up the mountain we were serenaded by the sound of cow bells, clearly rolling across the hillside – my overarching memory of the trip is soundtracked by those cowbells! The day seemed like a day of reflection for many of us, with people moving in and out of friendly conversation to reflect on the reasons for signing up to the trip. Many of us were there because of our own personal experiences: loss of a loved one, our own journeys with mental health problems, a need for adventure, a need to prove something to ourselves or simply to raise money for Mind, the mental health charity. Regardless of the reason, for me the day felt like a real sense of achievement, albeit almost surreal that after all of the months of training, I was actually doing it for real!

Soon the grassy hillside gave way to a more challenging shingle gravel and the brilliant sunshine disappeared behind a wall of clouds. We quickly realised that the Transylvanian interpretation of the word ‘undulating’ was very different to what we’d originally expected. For clarity: ‘undulating’ to a professional walker is my definition of a ‘steep climb’!!

At the top of the ridge, we came across a storm shelter – a little round hideaway to provide safety from any passing bad weather. Luckily it wasn’t needed and we trudged on across the ridge to start our descent down the mountain.

The group naturally split into walkers of different speeds throughout the day, however there was a constant swapping of faces – some walking quicker to join a conversation with the people up front, some stopping to remove or add layers of clothing depending on the temperature and ending up as part of a slower group. The ebb and flow of people throughout the clumps of walkers was my favourite part of the day. Sometimes you were ahead, sometimes behind (I was often behind!!) but regardless of the position in the group, no one judged anyone else and everyone was entirely focused on supporting each other through the day. This consistent swapping of groups also meant that new conversations were initiated over and over, helping us to learn about each other, our likes and dislikes and our backgrounds really quickly. I’m probably well- defined as an introvert and I often find it hard to navigate small talk, however, by cutting through the trivial conversations and really learning about each other, with no distractions other than the view, it was easy to bond with people, quickly stripping away any awkwardness and resulting in long and loud discussions about the passions we share.

For the full trip posts, visit the links below:

Transylvania Trek 1: Moeciu to Cheile Gradistei

Transylvania Trek 2: Bucegi Massif

Transylvania Trek 3: Castle Bran and Piatra Craiului Mountains

Transylvania Trek 4: Postavarul Massif, Tampa Mountains and Braşov

Half Dome: Subdome

You can read part one and part two of our trip up half dome here:

Part one

Part two

The Sub-dome was in sight! After a gruelling but beautiful hike past Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls and through Little Yosemite Valley, we reached a sign to say that Half Dome was a mere 2 miles away.

By this point, I was done in. I was struggling to breath (asthma and altitude do not go hand in hand) my voice had gone almost completely and I was shattered. I also knew that we still had a roughly 4-5 hour hike back down to the valley. I am a very stubborn person and I refused to turn back until I made the Sub-dome. By this point, I’d accepted that there was no way I was going to make it to the top of Half Dome. Physically, I was too knackered to pull myself up those cables, and I’m not sure if I’d have been entirely ok with the height, but I was determined to meet my goal of reaching the Sub-dome.

After some challengingly steep switchbacks through the forest, we passed through the section of the trail where a permit was required and broke above the tree line.

Being that high up, and that close to the Sub-dome was incredible. Despite feeling broken, it was probably one of the biggest highs of my life!

The views were incredible. Snow-topped mountains in the distance, blue skies and harsh granite surrounded us from all angles. It felt like we were in the sky and Wandering Beeb was in his element, snapping pictures of anything and everything! We had achieved our goal and it felt amazing to have been successful at something so physical.

After spending some time taking in the views (and catching our breath), we decide to retrace our steps and head back down the trail. By the time we hit the bottom of the waterfalls, it was almost dark. Torches on, we continued to navigate our way down. There were few people left on the trail and as it got darker, we realised that we must have take a wrong turn somewhere. We could see the lights from the toilet block across the river but there was no way we could see of reaching them. The path had gotten narrower and we were both starting to feel panicky. Afterwards, we admitted to really understanding the dangers of the park at this point, given that we were in bear territory and unsure of where we were.

Trying to remain calm, we hiked back up the path, eventually realising that we had taken a hidden fork in the trail and had headed down a bridal path instead of the main trail. It was such a relief to find the right path and head down past the toilets and water fountains, knowing that we would soon by back in the Valley, surrounded by people rather than bears and mountain lions.

We eventually arrived back in the valley at about 10pm. We were hungry, knackered and sore, and still had a 45 minute drive back to Wawona to our tent. It didn’t matter. We’d reached the Sub-dome, we’d pushed ourselves to the limit and we’d almost touched the sky.

Wash your spirit clean

– John Muir

Half Dome: Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite Valley

You can read part one of our trip up half dome here.

The two trails up Half Dome split at the top of Vernal Falls. The Mist trail takes a short detour to the top of Nevada Falls (adding a little distance on to the journey), whereas the John Muir trail is a more direct route. We never want to miss anything (especially as it takes so much effort to climb Half Dome!) so each time we have taken the Mist Trail.

It’s about a 2 mile hike from Vernal Falls to Nevada Falls, characterised by switchbacks and some rocky pathways through a forest area. The sunlight weaving through the trees and the light reflecting off the water at the bottom of Vernal Falls created beautiful little rainbows in the mist.

The top of Nevada Falls is a beautiful place to sit and chill, having gained an extra 1000ft above Vernal Falls, taking us to a total height of 6000ft above sea level. On our first trip, this was as far as we got. We’d set off far too late in the day and didn’t really want to hike in the dark, so we chose to stop at Nevada Falls, spend some time exploring and then headed back down the trail.

One of my best memories of that particular trip was taking off our shoes and socks and paddling in the calm water of the Merced River before the waterfall. It was a perfect way to refresh ourselves after the steep climb!

Our subsequent trips have seen us hiking much further up the trail. Leaving Nevada Falls behind, Little Yosemite Valley is a much flatter part of the hike. Surrounded by trees, it offers some welcome shade from the blistering heat. I loved the surroundings here; the sounds of the forest and the smell of the trees. The scent was almost overwhelming and it makes me think of adventure every time I smell it. This was a stunning walk with glimpses of Half Dome through the trees.

Little Yosemite Campground was a big milestone for me – I hadn’t expected to make it that far!! If I was to do the trail again, I would definitely consider camping at this campground to acclimatise to the altitude and rest up before attempting the climb to the top of Half Dome.

The Mountains are calling and I must go

– John Muir

Half Dome: Vernal Falls

Half dome is not for those who are only half prepared. We prepped *a lot* and we only made it to the subdome. Only is a funny word though. For me, only reaching the subdome isn’t a failed attempt. What some would call failed, I call successful (and arguably one of my biggest achievements).

Half Dome is probably one of the most iconic sights of Yosemite National Park. It’s hulking outline stands tall over the whole park and it’s easy to see why it’s the one sight that everyone wants a photo with.

Our journey on Half Dome actually started a couple of visits back when we first stayed at Yosemite. Three friends with ambitions of making it to the top. We were fuelled with the optimism of those who have never attempted it before and bolstered by the sense of adventure that can only arise from watching ‘In to the Wild’ in a tent in the middle of Wawona the night before. We thought we could conquer it with gusto. That’s not to say we came to it green – we’d done our research; training as much as we could by getting hiking trips in back home (although to be fair, nothing like the height of Half Dome) and we’d kitted ourselves out in all of the right gear.

On that first occasion, we started out on the wrong foot by setting off far too late for the trek. By the time we had driven from Wawona to the trail head in Yosemite Valley, it was probably about 9am. Although this sounds fairly early, most people recommend that to get to the top and back in good time, you should be planning to set off on the first part of the trail at around 4/5am. As the first part of the pathway is paved, this makes sense. Trust us, you want to make up time on the way up as coming down the route in the dark because you have set off too late is no fun at all.

Getting ready for the hike is no mean feet either. The whole trail takes around 10-12 hours walk, gaining an elevation of 4800ft (8,800ft above sea level). Being prepared is so important. For me, this meant 2 hydration packs, 2 additional bottles of water, breakfast and lunch and lots of energy boosting snacks. That’s a lot to carry on your back for a hike or this length but, it is absolutely necessary!

The first section of trail is only about a mile or so of paved pathway, but it’s very steep (at this point of the trail, we were 4500ft above sea level). After a short hike up this path, the water fountains at the top are a very welcome sight. This is the last place to get water on the half dome trail (and also the last place for flushing toilets – prepare yourself!!). I have to say, this water is the best I have ever tasted. Ever. I actually ended up emptying one hydration pack and filling it up with water from this fountain instead. It’s that good, and I’ve tasted water from a glacier). I have no idea why it tasted so amazing but every time we have decided to do the half dome trail (about 3 times), the thought of that water fountain has been my motivating factor for getting to the top of the first mile!

After passing the footbridge just past the water-stop, the steepness increases massively as huge stone steps lead up to the first major waterfall on the trail; Vernal Falls. This part of the hike, although strenuous, is stunning. The steps are cut into the side of the waterfall, meaning that the water roars down to your left as you ascend. We’ve done this trail in the middle of summer and early spring. In summer, the steps are hot and dry, but in the spring it’s clear to see how the Mist Trail gets its name. In a huge contrast to the first time we took this trail, visiting in spring left us soaked! The force of Vernal Falls generated a spray which make us feel like we were hiking up the middle of the waterfall rather than the side. It was slippy and soggy work, but by the time we got to the top of the waterfall, we were grateful for the cooling effect of the spray.

The top of Vernal Falls was incredible. At 5000ft up, rushing of the water and the view across the valley below made the hard climb all the more worthwhile.