Friday, May 20, 2011

Lacul Burtan

Ernest: "You're not going to find it; it could be on the other side of that ridge up there."
Dom Pecut: "It must be close. Look how the mountain is shaped right here. We have to be close."
Ernest: "Let it go. We've got a good place to rest, eat, and then we'll turn back."

It was late in the day to finally stop and eat lunch. It was almost 4:00pm when usually lunch time is at 1:00ish. The group had threatened to turn back a few times already but there was always one person that persisted. I was never that person. Those who know me know that I'm not really a decision maker when I'm in a group. When Doamna G or Domn P persisted I quietly followed thinking that we would not end up finding what we were looking for.

What were we looking for? Hours earlier after an easy 45 minute hike on a gently sloping forestry road the veteran hikers of the group (everyone except myself) opened up the map. We could continue following the road to the shelter where we would break and push on up the mountain until we reached Tomato Lake. I had been to Tomato Lake only once on my way down from Parangul Mare. The other option was to turn up the hill to the right following a dry stream a few kilometers where we would hopefully find a lake. It was a new hike for all of those involved and Ernest went first blazing the trail up the steep slope.

It didn't take long to arrive at a small dam. Where there's a damn there must be a trail that transported all of the equipment. We didn't find that trail but continued on up the hill. The next major find was a large waterfall. Domnul P called it the Niagara Falls of the Jiu Valley because it was the largest waterfall that he had yet seen in the area. The beauty in both the sight and sound of the waterfall was reason enough to take a long break. On my right there was a multi-level waterfall with large rock walls on its right side, and the view to my left was a ridge across the valley that climbed up to a saddle eventually leading to Romania's fifth highest peak. You could look across and see where the pine forests ended opening up to an alpine meadow. Lying back on that grassy wall I could feel the warm morning sun on my face. There aren’t many better places to be at 11:00am on a Saturday morning.

Soon after reaching the top of the waterfall the forest opened up to meadow. The view took me back to the first day in Retezat on our way to Lacul Gales exiting the forest and looking up to see high mountain peaks ahead in the distance. Up ahead in the distance we saw a waterfall surrounded by dark green. The dark green was the color of a thick juniper forest and after a half hour of following the stream it stopped us dead in our tracks. We entered the juniper and after about 15 minutes of walking branch to branch pulling ourselves through the thick forest I had already had enough. Looking up over the trees I could see only the dark green forest surrounding the waterfall and no sign of a lake. Looking up at the mountains I thought that the lake could be up above that waterfall, but it could also be much higher. There was no guarantee that crawling through the mess of thick branches would result in reaching our destination, plus I was getting hungry. I wasn't the only one who wanted to turn back. Both Domnul E and Domnul P were showing signs of doubt but Domna G decided for the group to keep going. She wanted to get up above that waterfall to see what was there.

Another 20 minutes of hard hiking and we exited the juniper on the right of the waterfall in a small open spot in the forest. Doamna G went ahead and we witnessed her from far away as she searched for a trail and eventually climbed up a rock face disappearing back into the Juniper forest above the waterfall. We decided to follow. The rock face was fun to climb. Even though the juniper was hard to climb through even the smallest of branches will bend without breaking. You can count on them to resist as you pull up through them at the top of a steep rock wall. Unfortunately the rock led straight into an even thicker section of juniper. Eventually we found an open spot were we could sit, rest, and declare defeat before turning back.

While the rest of us were resting in the sun Domnul P insisted that the lake must be close. The rest of us doubtfully watched as he left his bag behind and entered the thick woods continuing to search. Sure enough it wasn't 10 minutes later when we heard the next word from Domnul P. "I found the lake" he yelled. The voice didn't seem like it was too far away. I looked over at Domnul E and the statement hadn't fazed him. He didn't believe what he had heard but Doamna G and I were much more trusting of Domnul P. I was next to enter the woods in search for the lake in the direction of Domnul's voice and sure enough I arrived at it. After hours of hard, slow hiking, finally the lake abruptly opened out of the dark green juniper. Back at the lunch spot I asked Domnul P what made him so sure that the lake was there. "I noticed by the shape of the mountains here, the sound of the stream, the location of the waterfall, it had to be here." Maybe after years of doing what I love, wandering in the mountains, I too will be so sure about such things.

Like most hikes the way down seemed so much shorter than the way up. We decided to ride the hill a little further away from the stream before descending. It was a steep, fast descent and we passed a viper on the way down. We were able to get close to the viper and take pictures. Apparently they don't bite if it’s cold. Walking that last 45 minutes of an easy downward slope, the rubbery sensation of muscles used all day long kicked in. It wasn't so hard to fall asleep later that night.

The word of the day was the verb "a chinui" meaning, to torture. Before moving on to the rock wall Doamna G mentioned that she didn't want to end the hike without finding the lake after we tortured ourselves up until that point.

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