Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hajde Korab, heren e dyte or What a difference three years makes

Right after my COS (close of service) from Peace Corps, I went with my father, three other volunteers and two kids from Peshkopi to climb Mali Korabi, the highest mountain in Albania and Macedonia. We had a great time, but there were some issues. On the Albanian side, the trail was not marked and when we asked for advice from the people in the village (Radomire), we were basically told to "go up" which is all well and good, except for the fact that there are easy and hard ways up mountains and this mountain has several peaks. We ended up on the hard way and on the wrong peak. Not a big problem, but kind of annoying. In fact, we didn't have time to continue even though we thought we could see the top because we had to get back down the mountain in time for our ride back to town. It took nearly four hours to get to or from Peshkopi, so leaving on time was important.

And now here we are three years later. I am here again with my dad, although it is just the two of us this time. The first big change: the road has been completely done and the time is cut in half. The second change, a Polish climbing club has marked the route up the mountain. Now when you ask in the village how to get up the mountain, they say "go up, and follow the painted trail marks."
Two marked trails!
A cow visits our camp
 There are two marked routes up the mountain. One (marked with red and yellow), is shorter and goes the the West Ridge. The second is longer and goes to the East Face (marked with red and white). We arrived in the village in early afternoon and wanted to find a place to camp on or near the route. We chose to start following the shorter route. After about an hour of walking with ALL of our gear (camping and climbing equipment weighing probably over 100 pounds between us) we found a nice flat spot to camp near a rushing mountain stream. It soon became clear that this route followed the rushing mountain stream up for at least a little ways and that the path crossed the stream a few times. Our campsite was near one of the numerous shepherd huts (stone houses) built at intervals up the mountain and we soon met several local residents. The cows and sheep tended not to bother us and we were lucky to not meet any dogs without their owners. Despite what we had been warned by nearly everyone we told of our adventure, the weather was quite nice and it did not get very cold, even at night.

On Thursday we decided to see if we could find some rocks to climb. As I've mentioned, one of the main reasons my Dad wanted to go back to Albania was that I did not allow him to bring climbing gear the last time he came and he saw lots of good rocks to climb. Of course, getting to those rocks turned out to be a major challenge. There was a group of good limestone rocks that we could get to pretty easily, but the base of most of these faces was a steep scree slope that was not safe to approach. We found one face that had a good approach and also a way to scramble up the side so my dad decided to try to set some anchors at the top. Unfortunately, when he got to the top of the rock, he found that the ground was uneven and had a lot of scrubby brush and trees that made walking around difficult. Therefore, he could only anchor from certain points . . . and the faces that were below these points were not accessible from the bottom! After about an hour of this, it had started to rain a bit and we basically gave up and returned to our camp. At least we tried . . .

The next morning, we decided to try to make the summit. We followed the red and yellow trail as it followed the river. We crossed over once with some difficulty and then had a good two-three hours of
My Dad and me on Mali Korabi
fairly easy hiking as the trail headed up. Around 2 in the afternoon, we came again to a place where the trail indicated that we cross the stream (for what I think was probably the last time). It was clear that we were not going to be able to cross the stream- it was flowing very heavy with snow melt and we did not see any safe place to cross. The place indicated by the trail markers was not very wide, but the water rushing below made a jump very dangerous and while I MIGHT have been able to do it, there was not way that my dad could. So we had a few choices: above the crossing was a rocky area with large patches of snow. We could have continued for a while on this side of the stream up the rocks and snow and see if there was a place farther up to cross or even if we could find the head waters and go around. After a while walking this way, we decided that crossing the melting snow was becoming dangerous and we took our second choice: turn back.

The peak (maybe next time . . . )
Both my dad and I were of course disappointed to fail to reach the summit for a second time, but I don't think that either of us regret our choice to turn back. When we had to recross the stream to get back to the campsite later in the afternoon, both of us struggled to get across safely and my dad took a stumble that could have ended very badly had he not anchored himself with his ice axe. In any event, he got a bit wet and banged his leg, but didn't get washed away. We learned that like in Lura, April/May may be too early, because the melting snow made this track almost impossible. But we also learned how easy it is now to get to the mountain, how much the village has improved for visitors (there is a hotel now) and that at least for now, no one minds if you camp in the middle of a cow pasture. Based on these facts I do not think it is impossible to think that this will be my last time on this mountain. Who knows, maybe third time is a charm . . .

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