29 September 2013

Uphill Run on Transfagarasan

Transfagarasan is a spectacular mountain road that crosses the highest and the wildest mountains of the Romanian Carpathians: Fagarasi Mountains. The road reaches the upper glacial circus of Balea valley at an altitude of about 2050m, passing by the beautiful Balea mountain lake. Here a tunel under the main ridge of the mountains links the southern and the northern sections of the road. The road was built in the early 70's during the communist regime. It was meant to show the superiority of the communist system and the strength and glory of the "new man". Building it in the steep and wild mountains was a huge task. Many died during the construction and of course the regime tried to cover all the deaths.

The road was supposed to have an important strategical and economical value. However it is too high and steep to be an viable transportation link and moreover, the heavy snows of the mountains keep it closed for up to 8 months every year. Today, the spectacular Transfagarasan is just a popular touristic attraction. During the summer it is packed with tourists from all over Romania and abroad. It is the quickest way to get to the heart of Fagarasi Mountains.

On Friday, Sam, an enthusiastic mountain biker, asked me if I would join him on a day trip to Transfagarasan - by car to the base of the mountain, then by bike up to the highest point of the road, at Balea Lake. I hadn't plan anything special for the weekend, and this trip sounded good, especially that I wanted to do some kind of training for the comming Piatra Craiului Marathon which takes place in one week, on the 5th of October. My knees are tired after a summer with too much running so some sort of cross-training was just what I needed. However, after Sam told me that his wife is also joining and that she will drive the car the whole way up, I changed my plans and decided that I am going to run it uphill and then return with the car so I would not stress my knees too much.

We started from the southern end of Cartisoara Village at about 600m altitude. The road up to the lake is 25km long with almost 1500m of elevation gain. The winding road has a quite constant slope and is constantly going up for the whole route. The slope is not extreme so there are no special challenges for an experienced cyclist or trail runner.

We left Brasov at 6AM in the morning and two hours later we started the ascent of the mountain. The early hour meant that there were almost no cars on the road making me to enjoy the ascent a lot. It was quite cold and it got colder as we gained altitude. Luckily there was no wind and no rain. The cold weather was in fact perfect for running... I had no choice, but to keep going up in order to stay warm. There must have been just a few Celsius degrees above 0 on the high part of the route. As soon as I reached the top I rushed in the mountain hut to change my clothes with warm and dry ones and to have a cup of warm tea.

It took me 2h39 to complete the route, including several very brief stops for taking photos. Quite a good time - the cold weather helped it. I did not carry an GPS device, but I had recorded the track two years before when I did the same route on my bicycle. Here is the track that I recorded then:

Here are the photos of the day taken with an 6 years old compact camera that I have carried in my hand along the route.

On the first kilometer
Morning Blues...

First glimpse of the mountain
Motorists, be aware!
Glimpse of Balea waterfall 
Misty forest
A look back into the valley
Mountain graffiti
Step by step
The upper Balea Valley
Action! - A filming crew up here... they also have an helicopter!
One step closer to the goal
Balea valley
Danger! Drive carefully!
Mountain Snake
Last 100m!
Balea Mountain Chalet
Lake view
A pile of snow from an earlier September snow storm
Sam enjoying the downhill

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