Eisleck trail in Belgium

Finally the beautiful summer arrived to Belgium. Momentarily at least. We had a short weekend hike planned in the Ardennes. We had our minds set on the Eisleck trail, or at least a short part of it. The plan was to follow it from Houffalize to Nadrin and camp at the bivak zones close to the trail.

On Friday everything was packed and we, Waffle, Waffle’s colleague and her son plus I, were heading down south with two cars. First car was dropped off in the small town of Nadrin and we continued with one towards Houffalize and our first camping spot.

The bivak zones are a great thing these Belgians have come up with. They offer room for tents and a fire place in a shelter and they are for free. Often times they also have water available too!  This one was close to Houffalize, on top of a hill, next to small field, there were other people too, enjoying their evening.

We quickly guided our friends to the secrets of erecting a tent, had dinner with some wine and watched the sunset. Even I managed to stay awake past 10 in the evening. That normally never happens if we are on a hike.

Saturday woke us up with warm sunshine and a nice choir of birds. We were looking at a hike of around 15 kilometers that day and the red wine was still lingering around me. Good thing we had some extra coffee with us to get things going.

Our convoy left towards the car again where we dropped off excess stuff before heading to Houffalize. There we did some shopping for cold drinks and something extra to nibble on on the trail, plus brand new scarves to cover the heads of the ladies once the last shower would be only a distant memory..

The trail took a short climb up from the valley where the village is and dived into a forest that surrounds the river Ourthe Orientale. It was a bridle way, a hikers highway, but still we mostly got to enjoy solitude. We passed through forests and fields and dropped down to the river, with rather pleasant picnic spots. Our original plan was to make it all the way to the bivak zone in Engreux, but we started to reconsider, since it would leave us only a minor distance to walk on the last day and that bivak was far away from the river.

The map showed us an area along the river with not too many places of civilization close by and we decided somewhat in unison to find our camping spot from there, a little bit off of the Eisleck trail. The unmarked path followed the riverside  for a while, climbing to higher grounds only slightly. Which was a good thing, since my knees were complaining again and some sings of tiredness began to emrge in the group. We were in luck! By the trail there was a smooth spot of mossy ground in an old spruce forest. Perfect for sleeping! Some old fire pits were there already and the river was close by, it was sold!

We popped the wine for the evening into the river to cool down a little, put up our tents and built a campfire. It is very handy to have a boy from the scouts with you, they will immediately attack the fire building duties. It was a relaxed evening, listening to the streaming of the water and birds in the trees. The soft evening light is so beautiful in a forest like that, giving a whole different nature to the shades of green.

The evening went by, we ate, talked, checked for the route for the following day (straightest trail to the car). The bathing in the river was also a refreshing experience; flowing water never really gets too warm. After that dive it was so nice to crawl in the tent and let the sleep take you to the next morning.

We had our breakfast and slowly got on our way.Soon the trail took us to some cliffs right at the river side. There the heavy rainfalls had loosened the soft ground and taken our trail to the river and replaced it with fallen trees. To get through that, we needed some improvisation. Waffle went ahead to find a safe route to get higher, on top of the cliffs, where we would hopefully be able to carry on without too much trouble. That plan worked, up until the next cliff, where we had to scramble again a little higher. We progressed slow and Waffle had to carry some extra weight too, to get the whole group through.

I think we were all more or less happy to finally find a trail that didn’t disappear into a muddy landslide after 20 meters.  It was smooth going once we found the Eisleck again and started to follow it towards Engreux and the Lake of Nisramont. On the go we even found some trees chewed by beavers!

The trail was very beautiful and it passed plenty of viewpoints, either to the river and the lake or to the beautiful Belgian countryside. Still I was happy, when a sign said that Nadrin was only 15 minutes away. In the village we sat in a cafe with less than friendly service, had beers and compared the amount of tick bites.

After that little rest, we packed ourselves into the car, drove back to the other car in Houffalize, found some more ticks and headed for our own separate ways.

I think I learned a thing or two on the way:

  1.  Waffle is an absolute hero. He keeps his calm, takes care of everybody, deserving or not, and makes things so much funnier and easier.
  2. I am a bloody lucky bastard to have a Waffle.
  3. You should always allow yourself to spend time with those people who you can be grateful for, and who are grateful for your company too. That will create positive energy and enjoying the beauty of things is so much better with them.
  4. Red wine doesn’t solve all the problems in the world. Not even with chocolate.

P.S. Sorry for the pictures. We noticed too late, that there was a smutch on the lense, now there is a smutch on all the pictures too.

 

 

 

 

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Montenegró – A Fairytale – Part 1

We had 10 days of holiday ahead of us, all gear stuffed into hand luggage and car heading for the Charleroi airport. This time Ryanair would take us to the capital of Montenegró, Podgorica. We were both having high hopes. The pictures of that small mountainous country had made both of us drool a little. Discreetly.This day was the anniversary of Karhunkierros. The hike on which we met for the first time. It made the trip a little bit more special.

We had managed to check the flight time wrong, so we paraded around the military guarded airport and hour too early. We had plenty of time to keep guessing the nationalities of our fellow passengers and things like that, what you usually do while waiting for things like a flight or bus or a microwave meal.

Once our time to take off came, the runway was soaked, the planes threw up massive shoots of water as they soared to the sky. Soon we too were swallowed by an endless whiteness of the thick cloud cover. A couple of hours later we saw got to lay our eyes on our destination for the very first time. We saw the Tara canyon, mountain everywhere and ice blue waters flowing here and there. It was hard to confine the excitement.

Once we landed it was immediately obvious that we had found summer. The heat was overwhelming at first. Cooled down by the cars air conditioning we headed to the center of Podgorica. We needed to find internet and do some mandatory shopping. The city center is a curious mixture of the soviet past from the Yugoslavian times and a fast moving modernization. It is not a pretty city per say, but an interesting one.

Our first night we spent in a small apartment hotel in a village of Kolašin. It was a sleepy ski town, where the hot tourist season lives with the snow. Now the magnificent mountains were green and tourists missing. That wasn’t bothering us at all. But anyhow, we were soon leaving. As the sun went up to the sky, we were already heading for Vusinje. It is a small, very small, town on the bottom of a valley, not far from the Albanian border. We drove there via a narrow mountain pass that takes you first to Plav and then onward, deeper into the mountains. It passes some very beautiful and tiny farming communities, a true pleasure to drive through.

Our hike to the peak of Zla Kolata started right at the corner of the village mosque, climbing up steadily on a gravel road. At the corner of the village we met a man, who had been collecting wood with his horse. Somehow out there it feels, like you are going back in time, back into the days of calm life of the countryside.

The trail crossed some woodlands and beautiful meadows full of flowers.So many butterflies, that we had to look where you laid our feet, not to kill them. We had hot sun shining down on us and some magnificent mountains in the background, one of the peaks we were planning on climbing. The trail took us to the border mark of Albania, at a col between two mountains. There you get a nice view over to the peaks on the Albanian side and the Valbona National Park is right at your feet, too. Those forests are said to be well populated with bears.

We were headed still a little higher. The temperature started to get a little milder as we approached the 2000 meter point in height. We crawled still over a few boulders, right under the face of Zla Kolata. There is a narrowish pass in between the Zla Kolata and Maja e Thatë, through which a very violent wind got to blow down. That kind of a howling is something you do not want to listen to, while you are looking for a place for your tent. We managed to find a depression, that prevented most of the hard gusts reaching us. Still it was not too easy to get the tent standing steady.

We hadn’t met a single stream or source after passing the altitude of 1 600 meters, and we were running low on water. That was not a nice feeling after a day of hiking in immense heat. We had to melt snow for drinking and cooking, good thing there still was batches of it left.

The night brought no peace. I could sleep maybe 3 – 4 hours in total, same goes for Waffle. We found out, that our Quechua Quick Hiker, although it is not a bad tent, can’t handle storm winds properly. It let wind to blow in, so that the whole thing was shaking and lifting off the ground. The worst thing was to hear each gust picking up speed, roaring and then hitting us. I was desperately trying to hold on to my dreams, but it was impossible.

In the morning there was no possibility to sleep long. The sun was happily shining on our tent, slowly rising the inside temperature. We crawled out, tired and grumpy and melted some more snow to get through the day.

Soon we were on our way, following a trail that had all of a sudden gotten more visible, not big or wide, but visible. It passed by an ice cave, that was blowing cold air into the heat of the day. Very nice pit stop! The trail took us calmly towards the rocky slopes of our destination. Until it didn’t. We encountered a large patch of snow, that covered the trail. There were two ways around it. Either we would have to cling on the rocky cliff above the snow, or walk underneath it and then climb a steep grassy slope up. We picked the way below it.

Getting up to the beginning of the ridge, took quite some scrambling. It was a steep trail, partially hard to follow and full of spots with loose gravel. On top of that the wild winds had returned. Strong gusts were trying to push us off of the trail, we had to grab a hold of vegetation, rocks or what ever was available. Quite some times we stopped and considered whether it was smart to keep going or should we turn back. But since the peak was so close, we continued on.

Our efforts payed off. The view at the col were phenomenal. You could see all mountains everywhere, snowy peak after the other. Our way up to the highest point of Zla Kolata, being Maja Kolata was cut though. There was a fat layer of snow in front of us. There was no crossing it without proper gear. The lower peak next to it was beaten by the wind, so hard that it sounded sometimes like a jet engine. So we decided to be happy with the view we had and retreat.

The return was via the same way we had crawled up. We were both feeling the short night in our muscles and it was hard to find a secure footing. Plus the heat brought its own challenge to the game, we had to spare drinking water. On the way down we stopped by the ice cave again, that cooling down felt so good you won’t believe it.

Getting off of the cliff did not bring the relieve we were hoping for. The trail was not easy, it was going through a very rocky terrain, tilting our feet into all different directions. and the lower we got, the warmer the air became. It was far in the afternoon when we finally found a spring. That felt like entering the Shangri La. Water as much as we could drink! After the refreshment we could finally appreciate the beauty of our surroundings again.

A short hike further we cooked and cleaned ourselves at a small stream. and fed some mosquitoes at the process. The tiredness was really taking its toll on us and the desperation was sneaking in, as we were struggling to find an even ground to pitch the tent onto. Finally the search payed out. We found a beautiful spot at a corner of a meadow, with woods and sunset and no wind! We finally slept good and peacefully.

Third morning brought us back to our car in Vusinje. The villagers were inspecting us passing by, everybody busy at work, but still greeting a stranger. I don’t know how the people do it, work in a weather like that! During the whole three day hike, we did not meet a soul!

Anyways. That was our first hike. We survived it with all limbs attached. Next night we would spend in a hotel, since we had been promised a thunder storm. But more about the following events you’ll get to read from my next post. It takes us to Durmitor and to a sheep farm in surreal sceneries. Until then!

But do go and have a sneak peak on the pics here! 

Finding your better half while hiking

I was just thinking, how common it is nowadays to find your boyfriends, girlfriends and everything related online. Tinder and such things can be found from the phones of just about every single person. Nothing wrong with that of course. It is easy, fast and convenient. Rather more so, than merging yourself into a forest for a week with uncertainty even to meet anyone.

I guess, the point is, in the bushes you are not looking for anyone. You are just there, doing the thing you love, relaxed and in solitude. If you happen to meet someone, that someone most likely is crazy in a similar fashion as you are. Loving nature, loving hiking and so forth. While hiking, you don’t need to decide whether you like the person’s face enough to wipe into any direction, you just see if you like their company enough to share a campfire. You don’t need to go through anybody’s CV or story they have typed up into their profile and guess how desperate they are to find someone to share a piece of life with them. There, on the trail, they probably are not looking anything like a relationship.

How the hell do you manage that then? Finding a soulmate from a hike? Well. Accidentally. That is pretty much the only way anything like that can happen, since nobody is really looking for you to start dating. Well, some of us might be, I guess,  and that is very fine too! On the trail you share your camp fire, your food and experiences with these perfect strangers, that often also smell heavily and are mucky from toes to noses. But that doesn’t matter, since so are you. All of you are probably also in pain, and tired as ever, so there is endless amounts of things to talk about. And mosquitoes. Also, if you happen to catch someone from the campfire, there will never ever be a moment of insecurity about your looks in front of that person. They have definitely seen the worst of you!

If you happen to find the hiker of your dreams, whose feet wont knock you out from the distance of 15 meters, you are very lucky, and should be absolutely happy about it. At least you will have rather a unique story to tell, a common hobby and loads more hiking gear once you combine your forces. Not something every Tinder love story has.

That is just about something that happened to me and Waffle there, in the Finnish forest. He running after me, to bring me back my mug I had forgotten, his inappropriate conversation starters and goofy mind. So far, I have been loving every step since with him.

All the photos from along the way are here.

Winter, Finland

Here I am almost killing the both of us with an unsteerable kicksled.