27 December 2017

Ultra Light Skiing

Ever since I started to be more serious about trail running I was fascinated by how light the running equipment can be. I love the fact that trail running gives me the freedom to move so efficiently and quickly through the mountains. However I cannot say the same about my winter favorite sport: alpine skiing. It feels like from year to year the alpine skiing equipment gets heavier and heavier. Well, we also have ski touring equipment which tends to get lighter every new season, but it is still quite complex... ski boots, special bindings, skins. And my problem is that the touring ski boots are not quite suitable for walking.

What I want to do is to leave home and get on foot to Postavarul Mt. top, then ski back... On the most direct route, from home to top, it is just a bit over 10km, with 1200m elevation gain. In summer I can reach the top in under 2 hours (my record is 1h36min). Of course, in winter it takes longer, but the descent on skis is faster and more enjoyable...

With the warmer winters we have in the last decades, it is quite common that there is no enough snow to start on touring skis from the city. So if I want to do the whole round trip on foot, I have to carry the ski-boots in a backpack... but I hate backpacks. I would also fix the skis on the backpack, and the resulting weight to carry on my back is about 8-10kg... Not very comfortable.

Last years I was skiing mostly on short skis (a.k.a. snow-blades or ski-blades). They are easier and lighter to carry, but still I have to carry my boots. It is also a lot of fun to ski on ski-blades.
As I am a good skier I was wondering if I could ski in normal mountain boots. In fact when I started skiing I did it with leather boots... Then I remembered that I saw somewhere that snowboard bindings would work in short skis...

Time to experiment! I had a pair of ageing ski-blades just right for the experiment. I went and bought a pair of cheap but very decent snowboard bindings. I needed to add a riser, to lift each wide snow-board binding so it would not touch the snow on steep slopes. I made the risers myself from two pieces of oak wood that I had lying around in my garage. So here is the result:

I already used it tree times. What a joy! I can leave home in my boots without any backpack. I carry the ski-blades on my shoulder, using a strap ans that is all! I can quickly get to the top; no boots changing required, no skin removing from the skis on the top. On the top I just have to tighten my boot laces and put the skis on.

Skiing down is a lot of fun. Skiing in normal mountain boots forces me to be more careful and thoughtful about each move I make and about the route. It feels like in the old days! I ski slower.. so the pleasure of the descent takes longer! And what a feeling of accomplishment when I reach the base!
As I am an experienced skier, I find it quite easy to ski with this setup. The groomed ski slopes make it even easier. I would strongly do NOT recommend such a setup for a beginner skier and also not for off-piste skiing!

Skiing in boots on ski-blades gives me such a liberating feeling! I also think of my grandmother. In her time they did the same: walked up the mountain on boots carrying the skis on their shoulder, and then downhill on skis.

Here are the photos I took during such a ski tip I did yesterday morning. Not the best photo quality as I took them with my phone.

On the way to Poiana Brasov ski resort. I started early in the morning  so I would reach the top of the mountain before 9AM when the cable installations start bringing skiers up to the slopes. It was dark when I left home at 6:30 and I had to use a head-light for the first two kilometers through the forest. You can see that there is not enough snow for skis on the forest road.

Close the the top. I can see the Brasov Depression covered in fog. Up here the sky is cristal clear, and the snow just perfect for skiing!

On Postavarul Summit at almost 1800m altitude. What a view! And what a ski slope! It is just 9 AM, time to start the descent before the other skiers start to crowd the slopes... Almost 800m of elevation down on 3 km of perfectly groomed slopes await me!

Walking back to Brasov on the on Poiana Road. There is no snow for skiing down... Hopefully we will soon have more snow also on lower altitudes.

03 December 2017

What a difference few days make!

These two photos are taken in the same place, just few days apart. But the order might not be what you think...

On Tuesday this week I made my way across the forests on the hills above Brasov through knee deep fresh snow... The winter lasted two more days... Today I went again on the same route. After a few warm and rainy days there was hardly any snow patch left...

29 October 2017

Autumn Photos

The cold and windy weather of the last week stripped away the leaves from the trees. Winter is around the corner. Like every year, we had wonderful autumn colors in October. Some days I slowed down from my daily runs, took my better camera and made some photos of the beautiful nature. Here are some of the photos I took around Brasov during the month of October.

25 September 2017


Ro what? Rogaining?
What the heck is this??
I have never heard this word before!

This was my reaction when Nic, an old friend of mine told me that there is a new orienteering race format. Well, it is new in Romania, but quite old and popular in other countries.

So how does it work? Simple! Each team of 2 to 5 runners gets a detailed map (usually 1:25000) with control points, a time limit and after an hour and a half of studying the map and planning the route, off you go! Each control point is worth points. The more remote and more difficult to reach, the more valuable it is! The competitors decide for the best strategy to collect as many points as possible.

Saturday I competed in the first official Rogaining competition organised in Romania! Carpath Rogaining Trophy. It wasn't planned, but just three weeks before the competition my friend Nic broke his leg... He was already registered in the 8 hours race, and eager to participate, after winning a smaller scale demo competition earlier during the summer. So why not! Let's do it!

We had a bit of an unfair advantage as the competition area covered most of my usual running trails between Brasov and Postavarul Peak. However, most valuable checkpoints (9 points) were located in the thick and wild forests on the eastern side of Postavarul massif where I have never been before! So at least for half of the route it felt like on foreign lands...

There were only about 20 teams at the start, about 12 in our category: 8 hours men open. I hope that next edition there will be more teams. Even if this was the first edition, it was very well organised at a high standard! We had electronic sticks (SI-card) for quickly registering at the check points and they worked flawlessly. The map was of good quality, printed on a water resistant paper. There were 51 check points covering an area of about 90 square kilometers. The lowest ones were at about 650m altitude, the highest at 1500m. There were three points with water and food (bananas and energy bars). At the finish we had a pizza party... after 8 hours of running, the pizza and a big hot tea tasted soo goood!

Here is the map of the competition. Click on it for more details.

My team mate, Ion is a forest engineer. He has better skills than me at reading maps. On the other hand I knew the terrain better and I was moving a bit faster than him. Overall we complemented well each other and the teamwork went very well!

The weather was perfect for such a competition. Cool (10-15C), overcast and without wind. We had a few rain drops, but we were lucky. The proper rain started just 30 minutes after finish.

The start/finish area was in the ski resort of Poiana Brasov at about 1050m altitude.
Once we received the maps we immediately noticed that the east side of the map had the most valuable checkpoints. True that the terrain was more difficult and the distance between check-points greater, but we instantly knew we have to  start with the difficult part of the route and collect the fat points.
The initial planned route worked quite well. We planned a main route and decided later along the route which checkpoints we take and which we skip. We skipped just one 9-points post.
The plan was to take the easy ones at the end of the race on the return path. We did not have too much time left, but we arrived at finish 8 minutes before the end of the race... each minute of delay is taking away 1 point... not worth risking!

Towards the end of the race we missed one obvious 5-point checkpoint (number 59) as we misjudged the distance from the previous one - The path was downhill and we were moving faster that we thought.

At the end we surprised ourselves and the other finishers with a total of 179 points collected! Only one other team managed to get that many. A team from Estonia, the only foreign team. However, we finished about 50 seconds faster so according to the rules we took the first place! The third place was very close with 176 points! A team of experienced orienteering enthusiasts, but they did not venture far enough as we did. I am sure that they reached quite a few more checkpoints than us, but of smaller value.

As for the team from Estonia... well we were very impressed! On "neutral" terrain I am sure that they would have beaten us by a large margin. I am sure that for a foreigner, the area of this competition was not at all easy! Mostly in thick forest on steep mountain slopes with lots of deep valleys. I wished I had talked to them after the competition, but right after the medals ceremony the DJ pumped-up the volume of the music far too much... it was time for me to leave...

This was my very first orienteering type race. I have to say that rogaining is quite addictive! I will probably participate again next year at the second edition. Will I win again? I do not really care. I just hope that the bar will be raised, so there will be more and better teams! I am also now looking for a good mountain runner to form a faster team next year... In the meanwhile I should get more precise and faster with my reading skills!

I congratulate the organizers and the volunteers for a very well organised event at a very high standard! And thanks to all volunteers who endured the cold autumn weather.

Here is our route of the competition. A whole mountain marathon and a quite demanding one!
Notice the shape of the route... a running rabbit.. or fox...

Here are a few photos taken along the route. Well there was not much time for photos...

The first autumn colors

Following a shortcut on a trail left by a forest tractor

The view from the most spectacular checkpoint

One of the checkpoints with the electronic device on top.

Running on the Edge!

Almost exactly 3 years after my first successful run along the entire main ridge of Piatra Craiului, here I am again on the Queen Mountain of Romania! Since last time I was several times up on the ridge but I did not cover the whole length.

September 16 2017 had the perfect conditions for the strenuous run/hike along the rocky Piatra Craiului Ridge. A day with perfect blue skies and not too warm weather. The weather was warmer than normal for mid-September, but the wind on the heights kept us cool for most of the day.

Vlad, my work colleague was my running partner this time. We followed almost the same route as last time as I find it to be the best option. It gets up on the ridge quite quickly. The route up to Turnu Peak, the northern-most peak of the ridge, is varied and this makes it seem short and easy. There are only a few cables on the rockiest part of the route.

We did the Ridge faster than last time. 4h07, including a lunch break on La Om peak (2238m) the highest point of Piatra Craiului. This time we took some easier alternative paths that go around some rocky sections of the first quarter of the ridge route.

The descent on the eastern side from the southern end of the ridge (Funduri saddle) is the only runnable access route to/from Piatra Craiului Ridge and is my favorite descent route. It was already mid-day as we were descending. We started to feel the heat, but soon we reached the deep and cool limestone Prapastii canyon. Vlad's car was waiting us at the exit from the canyon...

Here is the route of the day:

And some photos of the Queen Mountain of Romania: