18 August 2013

Reconnaissance Run in Ciucas Mountain

There is one more month until the popular Ciucas Marathon trail running competition. A good time for a "reconnaissance mission" on the race route. Last year I ran the half-marathon race. This year I registered for the full marathon. More than half of the marathon route follows trails that I did not knew at all. I did this running tour with Cristian, a very experienced trail runner and orienteer. The route of the marathon is a bit changed from the last year race so Cristian was also curious to explore the new route.

We ran 32km of the race route. We skipped the first and last kilometer through Cheia mountain resort and also the 5.5km loop between the second and the fourth check-points. I had my GPS device with me and I loaded on it the race track as provided by the organizers. It helped us to find our way on the new route sections although the orienteering skills of Cristian were often better than the GPS track on my device...

Here is the the GPS track of the run as recorded by my GPS device during the tour:

We started and ended our tour by the national road DN1A, near Cheia mountain resort, at an altitude of roughly 1050m. The official start/finish line is in the center of Cheia resort, a bit more than one kilometer away.

First 8km of the route are through mostly beech tree forest, heading westwards along the foothills of Ciucas Mountain. The route goes uphill until the point where it separates from the half-marathon route. It then goes mostly downhill until it reaches the beautiful meadows of Poiana Stanei.

From Poiana Stanei, the official marathon route has an 5.5km loop on the wooded hills on the right side of Stanei Valley. We skipped this loop as we did not want to run much more than 30km and we also wanted to reach the top of Ciucas mountain.

From Poiana Stanei, the route follows the Stanei valley. This was the new part of the route which neither of us knew. The valley gradually narrowed. The forest road became a single trail that followed the bottom of the valley. Soon the valley narrowed and became an gorge. The trail disappeared but the trail markings showed us that we have to follow the valley uphill through the gorge.

This was the most technical part of the route, with frequent small rocky thresholds between runable sections on the gravel and sand gorge floor.

At some point up the valley the water stream disappeared. I guess that it flowed deeper below the gravel and sand. Without the water stream, moving along the gorge became easier.

We enjoyed much the gorge. It was the surprise of the day. What I imagined that would be a rather dull run along a valley through the forest became a route full of surprises and small obstacles. However I would not like to be in this gorge during a flash flood caused by a summer storm...

Out of the gorge, at about 1400m altitude we reached the high pastures of the eastern flank of Zanoaga mountain. Here we followed the GPS track and soon Cristian, with his orienteering sixth sense realized that we made a small detour from the marked trail which was shorter.

Soon we reached the shepherd hut where the fifth race checkpoint will be located. A large pack of rather aggressive dogs "welcomed" us here... Luckily Cristian had his walking poles and gave me one of them. The shepherds were also there so they could call the dogs before we had to use the poles... I hope that during the race the dogs will be taken somewhere else, far from the trail... Especially that I do not plan to take walking poles with me during the race...

Out of the forest we finally got a glimpse of the Ciucas peak.

We soon reached Ciucas chalet where we stopped for some extra hydration as our water reserve was half consumed. I found the surroundings of the chalet very depressing. A large area around the chalet looks like a big abandoned construction site that scars the mountain. The chalet was full of pseudo-hikers having their lunch in a kitsch style decorated restaurant. We spent about 12 minutes here resting a bit before climbing the peak.

From the chalet we started the final climb towards the Ciucas Peak (1954m). We met many hikers along the route. The peak was also packed with hikers. It was just a little bit windy and as our t-shirts were wet we decided not to stop here, but to make a short break lower, below the peak.

We descended from the peak on the trail that goes to Bratocea pass. A pity that the entire trail is not included in the marathon route as this is a very nice trail for running and has great panoramic views. From Tigailor saddle we turned to the south back to the chalet, following the trail below the spectacular southern rocky side of the peak.

We passed again by Ciucas chalet, but this time we did not stop there. We continued with the steep descent towards Berii valley. This is a really ugly and very steep dirt road, the main access to the chalet. Lower on the valley floor there is a water spring, just in the middle of the trail. We stopped here to refill our bottles with the fresh cold water that gushes out on two pipes. Soon we left the valley and headed south on the marked trail to Muntele Rosu.

From Muntele Rosu, we followed another rather steep dirt road through the forest and we reached a beautiful meadow that offered us beautiful views towards Zaganu Mountain. The half-marathon route follows Zaganu main ridge, while the marathon route goes around it.

From the meadow until the national road near Cheia, where the car was left, the route follows an almost flat but very rocky dirt road. I ran slowly here. It was quite hot, I felt quite tired and did not want to twist an ankle now, towards the finish.

It took us less than 5 hours to return back to the car. Not a bad time as we ran quite relaxed, stopping several times during the route. I also stopped many times along the route to take photos and I ran the downhills at a safe and relaxed pace, making Cristian to wait for me on almost every descent...

I liked the route. I found the most enjoyable parts to be the Stanei valley gorge and the Ciucas peak with its wonderful 360 degrees panorama. However I think that the half-marathon route which I did last year is more spectacular as it follows the entire Zaganu ridge.

So now I am a bit more prepared for the marathon race. See you there!

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