We awoke to blue skies over the mountains, but the valley was filled with clouds. The night before 9 of us had committed to the hike between Mont Fort hut and Prafleuri hut. The issue was the snow, and three passes to cross, all around 2900 m. It was a difficult day under great conditions, but we hiked with the understanding that if we were to encounter awful conditions we’d turn back.
Less than an hour into the hike we began to encounter snow. I’ll try to draw a picture of the trail. A 45 degree slope, with a small path notched in the side. Now picture the path filled with snow. Icy snow. The type of ice that I couldn’t ram my trekking poles into because it was so hard. I panicked and froze at one point, and if it hadn’t been for the helping hand of one of the German teachers, I’d probably still be there.
About 10 minutes later we hit another patch of icy snow. We were last in our group of nine. Two of the German teachers had gotten through. So did the Hungarian father. His daughter and their friend struggled, but managed to get through. Then another of the German teachers went, and she got stuck. She couldn’t move forward or backward and she was slipping, and she was too far away for any of us to help her.
It was pretty much over for the four of us (the woman and her husband, and Ken and I) at that point. It was just too steep and slippery, and to make things worse, rocks started to slide down the hill. As we sat there not knowing how to help her, and she was almost to the point of panic, a man with an ice-pick emerged out of nowhere. He cut steps into the ice, helped her across, and then tidied up the trail enough so that it was a breeze to get through. Then he assured us that the remainder of the trail was in great shape. And it was, to the first pass.
Between the first pass and the second pass things weren’t too bad. There were some slippery patches where the snow was melting (since we were now in the sun). The low clouds had disappeared and we had clear blue skies, with spectacular mountain ranges all around us, but it was hard to pay attention to them because the path required concentration. Between the dirt paths notched into the side of the hill were marked paths over rock falls. These required more of a scramble than a hike, since the rock blocks were all different shapes and sizes. Then we had a steep and exhausting climb to the second pass.
At the pass was a sign that said we had three more hours to go before reaching the hut – which is more like five hours. We had gone too far to turn back, but I knew I didn’t have another five hours in me. I wasn’t really sure what to do so we kept going and hoped for the best.
On the other side of the ridge was knee deep snow down a steep hill. In retrospect, it probably saved us a lot of time because you could slide / walk down, but it was cold and exhausting.
Then we crossed a glacial desert (where the glaciers retreated and left a bunch of moraines) and started up the next pass. As we reached what we thought was the top of the pass, the true pass came into view, high above us. The young Hungarian girl (15 and awesome) started yelling to her friend. My heart sank. Not only was the pass steep and high, but it was covered in snow.
We trudged up the slope, one painful step at a time. At the top we all collapsed to take a break. The German teacher later told me that she broke down and cried, and her husband carried her pack the rest of the way to the hut. Ken fed us all dark chocolate with raspberries.. It perked me right up, and from the ridge you could see the hut, so I finally began to think there might be and end to the exhausting day.
In the end I’m obviously happy that we all finished the hike, no one got hurt, and we had a fabulous day. Every single one of our group was great to spend the day with, and I couldn’t have scripted a better day. Of course, the aches and pains emerged on Day 9.