After experiencing the most famous road-trip in Romania, the Transfagarasan Highway, we were not expecting to be even more impressed by the hiking possibilities in the surroundings of Balea Lake! We stopped at the highest point of the road, where this high mountain crystalline basin is delighting its visitors, and camped for one night with the intention of exploring further the area.
We have already described in another article our experience hiking around Balea Lake and Capra Lake, so in this article we will focus on describing the second part of the day, including the last hike to the top of "Varful Vanatarea lui Buteanu" the one that inspired us the most!
Hiking to Fereastra Smeilor
Of all the short hikes we have done during our day, "Fereastra Smeilor" was probably the one with the lowest ratio of amazement/effort. This doesnt mean that its not worth doing it, but if you are short in energy or time, you might consider just walking the first part, that is really rewarding instead.
Starting from the monument in Capra lake, you can proceed towards the main path, cross it and take the higher path, going around the edge of the mountain. In just 10 minutes of walk youll have surpassed the rocky slopes that were obstructing the view towards the opposite side, opening up a totally different panorama. We suggest to walk at least this ten minutes to reach the first curve and have beautiful view of the Transfagarasan road going up, the mountains behind and the valley on its side covered in Alpine forest, compressed all together in the same frame.
From here you can see a white semicircular shelter on the opposite side of the valley: it looks like one of this construction for scientists in Antarctica that you see only in documentaries! Thats not far away from the ending point of Fereastra Smeilor hiking path. We also saw a big block of frozen snow on the left slope of the mountain, and thats the primary reason why we eventually decided to adventure on this route.
Since Im more rational, I was mentally calculating the different points of view we would have encountered along the track and I thought it was not worth it; Oti instead is really emotional and she insisted because she was eager to walk on the snow even in summer! And since females always take decisions, you can guess what we ended up doing.
So we embarked in this other leg of our hike, and we soon started going down. Down, down and much more down than it looked like from the top! We started to meet hikers coming the opposite way struggling and wheezing, and we understood it was probably going to be quite an effort to come back.
The view was beautiful, but mostly just with a slightly different point of view than from the top. Once we reached the snow, Oti was totally accomplished and shyly proposed to start our way back. At that point it was me to refuse since we were so close to the end of the hike! So after a food break we continued on the last part that started to go up quite abruptly.
Eventually we reached "Fereastra Zmeilor", that could be translated in english as "Window of the Ogres". And in fact here there is a small arch in the rock, form were the name is deriving. It is a crossing point of several paths, and going further down it's possible to reach Lake Podragel.
Exactly here is passing also the border between the two Romanian counties of Sibiu and Arges: we misinterpreted the map and thought it was an alternative trail, so that we were planning to do a loop and to go back from this different route. But once we arrived at Fereastra Zmeilor we had to find out that there was no alternative route, and our only option was going back the same way!
All in all it wasn't that bad, and it took us around 1:50 minutes to get here from Capra Lake, including lunch time, mostly downhill and 1:15 minutes on the way back going up with little stops.
Hiking to Varful Vanatarea lui Buteanu
This was our first day outdoor after a couple of months spent in total laziness visiting Oti's family in Romania. Without any previous training and after seven hours hiking since the early morning we were quite tired and considering going back to our base camp in Balea Lac. Oti was particularly exhausted, but I eventually decided to make a last effort and go anyway to the top on my own. I was quite sure that Oti wouldn't have accepted the "defeat" and would have followed me shortly; and so in fact it happened!
To reach the top of Varful Vanatarea lui Buteanu, you first have to reach the fork at the pass we described in the previous article, on the way from Balea Lac to Capra Lake.
From here the route is mildly going up: as you gain altitude you start seeing Capra Lake below your feet, and at the same time the view on the South West side is opening up, with Negoiu peak visible on the background.
It was a really beautiful panorama and we were quite lucky to have the track all for ourselves since we got here quite late! So we just chose a flat enough spot and silently sat in total admiration of this inspiring and harmonic picture that nature had created for us. After some time spent mesmerizing and an equal time meditating, we collected enough energy to proceed further.
We reached the top of the trail, and here the view is opening up also on the opposite side: to be sincere not as much impressive in this case. From the end of the trail the real peak of Varful Vanatarea lui Buteanu is not far, but demand some free climbing on the rock.
Even if that meant to reach "almost" the highest altitude in Romania, we considered that we were really satisfied with what we accomplished and reaching the top was a challenge we were not interested in achieving, since it was not going to have any better view than where we were.
So we happily went back, but we couldn't help from stopping once more for some minutes in the same magic spot where we rested on our way up.
We eventually proceeded all the way down to the fork and then towards Balea Lake.
It took us about one hour to go up from the fork to the end of the path, including a long break, and around 40 minutes to go down.
Tip: while going back, stop once more at the fork, a great place to take some photos of the many hairpin turns of Transfagarasan road including also the Lake of Balea in the shot!
In the meanwhile some clouds appeared over the lake, and combined with the light of the low sun, created a quite mysterious atmosphere with the top of the many cars standing still in the parking and reflecting the sun, being the only visible object from so far away.
It was an intense and rewarding day hiking in the surroundings of Balea Lake, that made us wish to go back to the Transfagarasan highway next year and explore some more of the amazing hiking possibilities of the area! If you have any suggestions just let us know!