Hiking Peaks of the Balkans

Peaks of the Balkans Day 2: Valbona-Çerem

After a hearty breakfast we are trudging ourselves uphill. It’s 8:30am.

The first meters are fine, on an old track leading to a cellphone tower. The next 500 vertical meters that follow are steep, switchbacking over rocks, small forest, loose gravel until it finally flattens out a bit across a meadow. Antonio spots a snake, which later turns out to be some kind of viper, the most venomous snake you can encounter here. Luckily it was shy and it slithered away.

We are walking towards the Proslopit Pass, going around Zla Kollata Mountain. This is not the official Peaks of the Balkans trail but an alternate route. The official trail leads from Valbona to Çerem over the road. First asphalt, then crushed stone.

Although we weren’t convinced of our capability to climb 1300m today (without trail legs and a pack with 4 days of food) the roadwalk really didn’t sound appealing, so we’re giving it a shot.

Near the pass

Café Occasionally Open

Just below the first (false!) pass we spot a pin on our digital maps: ‘Café Occasionally Open’. We look around and see nothing, and aren’t particularly hopeful. Yesterday we had the odd pop-up café but that was a popular hike, and it’s not high season anymore. But lo and behold, we round a corner and see circular stone cattle pens and a small plywood and tarp shack and a small sign with ‘Kafe’ pointing towards it.

An older shepherd lady (we’ll meet her husband and the sheep further along the trail) happily serves us cups of strong Turkish coffee.

Antonio in particular can use the energy boost because he’s dragging himself uphill. But the coffee, nor the lunch we have less than half an hour later seem to restore his energy.

Low Battery or…?

Even after the pass he’s literally dragging himself along the trail, poles trawling in the dirt behind him, barely mustering the strength to make it down the slippery limestone. If coffee, food, and breaks don’t help, something else must be going on.

Passing a border stone crossing back into Albania after a brief visit to Montenegro

Unfortunately we don’t really have a choice aside from plodding along. We could stop and camp once we have water, but the first spring marked on our maps is dry so we keep going until we meet another shepherd in his hut, this one selling very welcome sodas, and water is flowing from a pipe which we use to fill up our bottles.

We could camp here in the meadow, but it’s 5 or 6 km left, downhill, to Çerem with a few guesthouses. So maybe an hour and a half at this pace? The thought of a shower and bed is appealing and we plod along at a slow pace until finally we make it to the village.

Once there Antonio curls up in bed, shivering but hot to touch. It’s 25 degrees out so that means something is very wrong.

To be continued…

Trail Tips

  • Bring plenty of water when you leave Valbona, because the first spring is well after the pass. The spring marked in maps.me or many.cz was dry in mid-September, but there’s another spring at the shepherds hut on your left side another 100m down or so.
  • Lots of wildcamping possibilities around the pass and on the descent towards Çerem if you have enough water
  • We encountered two flocks of sheep with sheep dogs, which were surprisingly chill
  • Just after the pass you pass a cave with cool air coming out of it. Natural a/c on a hot day! For us it wasn’t helping as it was actually raining when we passed, but looked like a nice spot for a break
  • Can recommend Kujtim Goçaj’s guesthouse, which is the first one you see coming this way.
Slippers waiting for guests in Kujtim’s guesthouse

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