Alison, June 2017
We wake up at 6, and I hobble out of the top bunk, throw on some clothes and go check on the laundry that we left outside last night. My intent is to move it into the sun for an hour or two while we pack up and eat breakfast, but I see that the sun has not crested the mountains yet. Uh oh, I think, wet clothes again! But everything is already more or less dry, except for our socks, which we can attach to the outside of our packs while we are hiking. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make your day!
I drop everything off in the room and run to the bathroom, and it suddenly sounds like it is raining. How can that be? I was just outside a few minutes ago, and the sky didn’t even hint of rain. Sure enough, from our bedroom window, we can see the rain falling from the roof line, despite the blue skies moments ago. The rain stops as we are packing up, and then the sun is shining again. As we eat breakfast with the Germans, the unannounced rain showers happen twice more, and we all wondering what type of day we have in store for us.
When the sun comes out, we run outside to take a few photos of the guesthouse. This was definitely a pleasant place to call home for the evening.
As we are eating, a young man who we have not seen before sits down at an empty place setting and starts to eat without saying a word to us. We all wonder who this strange man is who has joined us, and it’s not until at least 5 or 10 minutes later until he casually mentions that he will be our guide. Well, okay, then!
Our new guide’s name is Adnan, and it seems that English is a bit of a struggle for him. Maybe he is still waking up? We finish our breakfast and packing up our things, say thank you to our wonderful host mother Fetije and head outside to find out that Mustafa will be coming with us today, apparently to show our guide the way!
We start making our way up a meadow beside the house and then continue through pastureland that Mustafa owns. From there, we enter the forest and head up a steep, narrow trail with walls of trees on both sides. The early morning rains have vanished as quickly as they arrived, and now we are grateful for the shade to help keep us cool while we work our way up, up, up as efficiently as possible. About an hour or so up the trail, the Germans pass us by, and we say our trail goodbyes wondering if we will cross paths again in the future.
We have been going pretty much straight up since leaving the guesthouse this morning and Matt notes how quickly we have gained 1000 feet in elevation. The grade finally eases a bit when we come to an enormous meadow that leads us to the base of Hjale, the mountain that we are going to climb today.
We stop for a snack at a picnic table and notice that the wind is really picking up. It feels quite refreshing, but it is strong enough to blow my hat off my head. From there, we hike along a pretty, forest trail at the base of this rock massif and emerge into a meadow where a small herd of cows is grazing.
There is a cabin that belongs to an American woman not too far away, and we head there to drop our bags and eat some lunch before climbing to the summit of Hjale.
We backtrack to the cows and follow a steep trail up to the peak, which looms high above us. The wind is getting stronger the higher we go, and eventually the trail runs out. We have to start bushwacking our way up to the top. By the time we get to the ridge, we have gained over 3500 feet in elevation since leaving Reka e Alleges.
We are dog-tired, but we can’t let our guard down now because if we do the wind may seriously blow us over the steep cliff and into Montenegro. We have to sit down to pull our windbreakers out. It is so strong that we make sure that we have one arm in a sleeve before taking it out of the bag for fear that it will go flying off. We take a couple of ridiculous wind shots and then make our way in earnest to the official peak where there is a trail sign and a trailbook to sign.
We are now at 2034 meters (6673 feet), and we have to make our way back down the mountainside the way we came. Mercifully, going down is a lot easier than going up. The wind is blowing so hard that every plant covering the mountainside is undulating in a weird, trippy pattern that could really mess with your head if you let it.
About halfway down, we pick up the rocky trail again and make our way back to the cabin where our bags are. We eat lunch and then retrace our steps until we pick up the road that will take us to Drelaj, our village for the night. The road is old and no longer in use, so it feels more like a wide trail. It’s nice to walk side-by-side for a bit.
We walk through some small villages and go past grazing horses and sheep and random vehicles in various states of disrepair before the trail dips into a really rocky ravine that is no fun to walk on at all.
We can finally see Drelaj from above when the rocky trail ends, and we head into the village, where it seems that everyone is willing to stop and say hello to us. If not, it is because they are busy working in the fields. Families are working together, gathering dried hay with large wooden pitchforks and throwing them into large, loose mounds that will eventually be transferred to even larger mounds. The largest mounds are built with a giant wooden pole staked vertically in the middle to give them their structure. It looks like a challenge straight out of The Amazing Race, and we want to give it a try!
We make our way to Shqiponja Guesthouse and relax over a cold lemon soda on the front porch before heading to the field out back to try our hand at the hay stacking. The mother and kids are kind enough to humor us, but we clearly aren’t as skilled as they are. I think they are relieved when we finally give them back their giant pitchfork so they can get their chores done.
A nice, hot shower and a delicious traditional dinner round out the evening, and we are ready to call it a night. See you in the morning!
Start: Reka e Allages, Kosovo
End: Drelaj, Kosovo
Distance: 16 kilometers
Date on Trail: 29 June 2017