How to Find Brown Bears In The Wilderness?
IN EUROPE THERE are about 8000 brown bears left and 5500 of them inhabit the woods of Romania. Having trekked in 50+ countries around the world, I never had the chance to meet a bear in the wilderness. So given that I recently reallocated to Romania, this became my top adventure desire.
A new Romanian friend offered to introduce me to local hunters who can help me find the bears, but would that be so simple?!
After quick arrangements, three guys in average age of 31 agreed to support me in exchange for two requests. First, not to make any pictures of the crew – OK, that’s an easy one; and a second to lead them to the top of Mt. Moldoveanu, located just a stone thrown away from the woods that we will visit. High mountain experience is what they wanted. Despite that this peak is just 2544m, the access to the summit is notorious for its frequent weather change, steep slopes, and limited trail marks. Nevertheless good planning, strong motivation, realiable equipment, and we should be able to get there.
So in the last weekend of June we departured togehter from Bucharest in the early afternoon full of positive vibes. I was a bit nervous because i didn’t know what to expect from my first meeting with the brown bears. During our travel, the hunters shared lot of stories of killed dogs, cows, ships, even people by the bears driven by the hunger. This wasn’t very motivational, although my desire to explore the woods of the Carpatian Mountain range remained strong.
Into The Lands of Brown Bears
Southern side of Fagaras Mt. is less known and very wild. There are plenty of valleys locked between the mountain ridges.
We moved around by SUV till we reached a small meadow surrounded by old forest from all directions.
The hunter leader turned off the car engine and requested all of us to leave. Nearby there was big oak tree and we had to climb the improvise ladder to its crown where a small house was hiding between the branches. It was something like a watch tower. While I was climbing followed by two more guys, the leader started spreading left over of industrial chocolate and some cereals. Then he moved the SUV about 500m back the road before he climbed the tree and join us in the watch tower. All this was done in order to attract animals and remove the smell of humans. It was exactly 19:00. As soon as he came, birds, nesting in the nearest trees, started to scream. It seems they were trying to warn all creatures in the forest about the presence of a big predator. Just a moment later and a powerful roar came from behind the hill on North-West. It was a reindeer. There was also a strong sound of breaking branches. Something big, and powerful was chasing the reindeer.
I was looking full of anticipation and to my surprise, instead of a huge predator; I noticed a fox trying to sneak towards the spot covered by the chocolate.
And then from nowhere, a young bear appeared. Interesting!
And a second bear! And forth, and fifth! Two more foxes as well! I was speechless!
It was impressive to watch them. Then the sunset came, all the food we left was gone as well. Also the bears and the foxes disappeared. It was time for us to return to the car that was 500m away. Knowing that bears are all around us, my pulse was beating like a marathon runner. The hunter leader told me, it is important that we move very slow, and speak with laud voice. We had to show that we stay our ground and we are not scared, otherwise bears might attack us. He was convinced we have been watched by the bears hidden in the forest.
Each step felt like an hour but we got to the SUV unharmed. Then return to a nearby village where we were supposed to sleep in the hunter’s house. Big dinner landed on our table. However, now I had to prepare the guys for the next day. On the following day I had to bring them to the top Moldoveanu peak. Big worry replaced my initial excitement of today’s experience. Two of the guys had obesity problem (100+kg), none of them had proper clothing despite that I had told them in advance what they have to prepare. Fortunately, their shoes were okay-ish. Nevertheless, I start to question myself, if we will be able to climb the mountain at all?!
Trekking Moldoveanu Peak, Mt. Faragas, Romania
Waked up at 5:00am, followed by a powerful breakfast with home-made country style food, quick adjustments of the luggage and we hit the road. In front of us there were 40km of off-road driving till we reach the starting point near Valea Rea.
The view was absolutely breath taking. Wild forest and a big wall with a huge waterfall was where we had to hike. Clouds came from North East. To our luck, the weather forecast was promising. Nevertheless, I rushed the hunters to start moving, because at this part of the world often time there are storms in the early summer afternoon.
Our pace was 1.0km/hr. Just about 300m from our start and one of the hunters start vomiting. He complained that it was difficult for him but he still wanted to carry on. We continued for 400m while ascending about 150m on the steep slope. I looked for a moment behind my back and I noticed that a second hunter is seating on the ground. He was holding the wet grass with both hands and he was shivering. I approached him to check what was wrong. It turned out he was scared from the height and already this slope was bigger challenge. He wanted to quit. All his face was covered by fear. I knew that going up required also walking a long rocky ridge, so didn’t want to push him too much. I tried to encourage him to keep walk with us. All my efforts went in the vain. That guy decided to give up and wait for us in the car.
Everything, but brilliant was our start of the day! So, two hunters and I decide to continue.
Almost at every step I had to tell the hunters some good motivational words, to make them push harder and keep going. My mouth became dry from so much talking. Despite those difficulties, we managed to ascend from 1400m altitude to approximately 1950m, where we got to a kind of terrace before the next big challenge.
There was also snow on this flat part. The entire horizon was covered by the clouds where Moldoveanu Peak was hiding. I was wondering, if we should continue due to the weather, but quick estimation of the atmosphere stability let me believe we can carry on. But what other surprise may wait for us in this cloud?!
As soon as we crossed the flat terrace, we got to a kind of junction between two paths. The first one was leading towards nearby mountain shelter, while the second one was going to the top. From here it was level IV rock climbing along a 1.2km ridge
Relatively easy, if you ignore the fact that on one side there is about 200+m vertical wall, while on the opposite 400m a slope of 60~70⁰. To remind us to stay focused, there were several memorial plates of people who had accidently died on that path. But the weather was with us and started to clean up.
Finally our group of tree adventurers reached the top of Mt. Moldoveanu (2544m). Amazing view! It was 15:00! Usually by that time we should have been up and down of the mountain. As the Swahili climbers of Mt. Kilimanjaro say “pole-pole” (go slowly). After a 30min break, we descended. It took us about 4 hours. However, I was happy to bring the hunters unharmed back to the starting point. Even though they were extremely exhausted, huge smiles covered their burned by the sun faces. Later that night, the two hunters told me they had experienced something special on top of Fagaras Mountain. It seems they have fallen in love with the magic of the mountain. Perhaps they could be the new local mountaineering heroes?!