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HIKING THE MAGNIFICENT MUSALA PEAK IN AUTUMN

By Julia Van Peer
"As the Balkan Peninsula is gaining more and more attention every year, now is still a good time to take in the beauty of this remote area before it will get overrun by tourists."

Musala (also meaning “near God” or “place for prayer”) is worthy of its name, being the highest mountain in the Bulgarian Rila Mountains as well as in the whole Balkan region, at 2 925 metres.

 

When you decide to undertake this wonderful trek, be prepared as it is mainly recommended for the averaged to experienced hiker. If however you are not that skilled yet there is always the possibility to stay overnight in one of the three amazingly situated mountain lodges. Both the Musala hut, the Yastrebets hut, and the Icy Lake hut, respectively at an altitude of 2 389m, 2 369m and 2 709m offer amazing views on the surrounding mountains.

 

Another option is taking the gondola from Borovets up the mountain, from where it is only a 5 hour round trip to the top of this majestic peak.

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360 degrees view from the summit of Musala.

Being the end of October when I hiked this trail, autumn had already fallen, becoming apparent in the magnificent golden-red colours that dominate this time of the year. 

 

A parking area at the side of the road, a little outside the town of Borovets, marks the start of the hike. The beginning can be a little bit tricky because of the many narrow goat trails branching out in every direction, but not to worry as they all come together in one common dirt road after a few hundred metres. 

 

The first part consists of a constant gradual climb on a rocky jeep road, where you will be immersed in a forest that colours amber-red and yellow-gold in autumn. Once the veil of woodland opens up, pristine rivers emerge from the mountain slopes flowing down their sides, and turning into little puddles where isolated animals quench their thirst. 

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The road leading to the beginning of the hike.

When you reach the first of two ski lifts, indicating your feet already covered 6 kilometres, keep going straight. While traversing the meadows of golden-brown dried grass, you will get a first glimpse of the impressive Musala peak. After passing the second non-operating ski lift, it will take you approximately half an hour to reach the first mountain lodge, the Musala hut. 

 

Although the hut is closed during off-season, reservations in the weekend are possible if you call upfront to the owner. In any case it is a beautiful and peaceful place to take a break and enjoy the view on one of the four deep blue mountain lakes you will pass on your way to the top.

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Picturesque lake next to the Musala Hut. Imagine waking up with a view like this.

Henceforth the trail becomes rockier, and steep climbs are alternated with gradual inclines. As the snow slowly starts to appear, the trail shifts from a challenging rocky section into an even more demanding, slippery, segment. The Icy Lake hut pops up from behind the rocks after an hour and a half, and similar to the Musala hut is also located next to a picturesque mountain lake. The lake is covered with ice most of the year, hence the name. A perfect place to eat your lunch and gather some strength for the last, and probably the most exhausting part of the trail. 

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For most of the year, the Icy Lake is partly covered with ice.

There are two possible routes to choose from, the summer or winter trail, the latter being the most demanding and the summer path being much easier. Be that as it may, from the beginning of October the snow covers every inch of the slope, leaving you with no other choice than to take the winter track. Fortunately, you can secure yourself by holding on to a metal cable all the way to the summit.

Once you reach the end point of your all-conquering hike, you will be rewarded with views that go beyond your imagination. While towering high above the clouds, setting eyes on a panorama so breathtaking, you really do feel near something divine. It goes without saying that it is worth every step and every breath of exhaustion just to experience this feeling of greatness. 

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High above the clouds, this is one of the most impressive summits in the Balkan Peninsula.

After you have tried to take in every part of the 360° view there are two return options. Either you go down the same way you came up, or you can make a loop, straddling along the ridge of the Irechek Mountain.

 

Be aware that as well as in the summer months as in the off-season months there tends to hang a wind that can be very dangerous at times, forcing you to crouch down. Especially in autumn and winter it is highly recommended you take the same route back down, as the weather can change very quickly at this altitude.

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View on the other side of the ridge. Mountain slopes capped with snow speak to the imagination.

FACTS OF THE HIKE:

  • Length of the trail: 17,6 kilometres

  • Duration: 7h30 (experienced) – 11h (averaged)

  • Elevation gain: 1 500 metres

  • Highest point: 2 925 metres

  • Starting point: A little outside the town of Borovets

  • Optimal period: June – October

STAYING OVERNIGHT:

  • Musala hut: The second of three mountain lodges on the way, offering sweeping panoramic views. 

    Contact information: +359 896661454

  • Yastrebets hut: A mountain hut overlooking both the Musala hut and the Musala peak all in one. 

    Contact infromation: +359 897 07 07 13, +359 897 07 07 14, +359 888 35 57 96, e-mail: yastrebets@gmail.com

  • Icy Lake hut: Located next to ‘The Icy Lake’ at an elevation of 2 709 m, a magical place to spend the night. 

    Contact information: +359 888 590 342, +359 889 881 814

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On track off track.

Hi there!

I'm Julia, a Belgian native who loves to travel and explore off the beaten places all over the world. Discover more on how to fill your travels with adventure, warmth, and colour. Learn more about me here.

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