Hiking Mt. Musala – Highest peak of the BalkansTravel
„Hiking is an activity of your legs – and a condition of the soul.“
I can’t remember when I first stumbled over the name Mt. Musala, but somehow this name tantalized me from the very first! I love hiking, but you cannot call me a big alpinist or peak-collector. It’s more about the experience, the incredible sensation of feeling tiny, vulnerable and insignificant in view of majestic summits and green valleys and simultaneously perceiving the elation of climbing just these same mountains by one’s own efforts! And in the evening being famished by loads of fresh air and physical exertion satiating one’s massive appetite with local food and afterwards sinking into bed full of joy….Magnificent! But admittedly the fact that with climbing the Musala (bulgarian Мусала) in Rila-Nationalpark the highest peak of the whole balkan peninsula was within reach, had seized me and I wanted to get on its top!
Originally it was named Tangra, after the bukgarian God of the skies.
The Ottomans re-named it Musala = „Mus Allah“, which means something like „the mountain of Allah“.
Either way a praised peak!
The first historically documented conquerer of the summit was the father of Alexander the Great, Philipp II. of Macedonia. Since then it has been climbed countless times, because there is no need for explicit alpine experience or special gear. But anyway it is striking how some lowland-tourists try to try to ascend the Musala even with children wearing shorts, summer-blouses and trendy sneakers, obviously not even having enough fitness for a Sunday walk. That’s preposterous, dangerous and irresponsible. And the fact that climbing the Musala is relatively easy should not obscure the fact that it’s gonna take you some time to get up, you’ll definitely need enough fitness and you’re gonna be in an alpine environment with all it’s hazards! Like that it is without question to advise you to wear hiking boots und dress in several layers, because even if you’ll have 25° on 1000m in Borovets in summer, the summit can be quite chilly with around 5°. The Musala is not just the highest but also the coldest spot on the Balkans! So dress properly!
I love my Fjäll Räven Keb trousers, made of ecologically sound material, durable, practical and comfortable. And meanwhile you can get them in quite pretty colour-combinations. For the upper part layered clothing, preferably with some Merino, snug and fashionable e.g. by Mons Royal. And just in case take a hard-shell or a rain-jacket, I highly esteem the stuff from Mammut!
And Davide just got a new pair of hiking-boots, I’m pretty envious of, sturdy but at the same time light-weight and comfortable, the Mountain Trainer by Salewa.
When I was trying to plan our tour I found it pretty difficult to find good information on the Web. Although you can puzzle together all kinds of different data, this doesn’t help when you’re up there at a junction and all signs and maps are only available in cyrillic! Now you’re gonna be happy about more advice. This is what my article wants to offer. And of course inspire you to someday climb up to Musala’s peak yourself….
Of course I cannot assume for the content, but all the information has been gathered and experienced by ourselves!
Best starting point for a (day-)tour to the Mt. Musala is the small ski-resort Borovets. Lively with over all Bulgarians and Brits in winter, calm and sleepy in summer. You can either reside in one of the posh Spa-Hotels or get some simple, low-priced rooms. Or as we did camp in the middle of the village.
There are 2 possibilities to get to the first point of the tour, the top of Yastrebets Gondola. Either you hike up from Borovets along the road/hiking-trails/ski-runs till Musala Hut, what’s gonna take around 3-4h and is the less attractive part of the trip, or you take the Yastrebets Gondola, which starts in the middle of Borovets. It’a 25min journey up to 2369m and after that walk to Musala Hut for another hour.
Opening times of Yastrebets Gondola in summer Mid-June till end of September:
8.30 – 18.30
last ascent: 17.30
last decent: 18.00 p.m.
closed: Monday & Tuesday
Price for the round-trip 07/2016: 12 BGN (around 6,50€)
From the gondola follow a well marked (white-red-white), easy trail to Musala Hut (Х. Мусала) at 2689m for around 45-60min. You can get food hier and the rent simple rooms.
And here we were confused for the first time due to the lack of mastering cyrillic. In our interpretation several signs all seamed to show the way up to the summit. And yes, there are two marked trails, that both lead up to it and additionally an unmarked one along the crests of the surrounding peaks.
But all of them lead you up to the Musala!
As you arrive at Musala Hut and stand facing the lake, hut in your back there are 2 paths. To the left older, less visible signs and arrows lead you across a little stream on the altogether steeper path with some scree slopes to be climbed. The second path runs along the right side of the lake , following freshly painted, obvious marks. It ascends more gently and seems to be the more looked-after one.
Both of them end after 1-1,5h at the Shelter and emerald green lake Ledeno Ezero. The shelter originally was built for a Bulgarian Himalaya-Expedition in the eighties. It’s possible to stay over-night, but you’d better make a prior appointment. From here you just follow the marked path, a quite steep ascend the locals call „Everest“. Maybe because of the former purpose of the shelter hut? Partly crossing scree and parts with security ropes but altogether quite feasible even without a lot of mountain-experience. You only need a certain fitness and stamina. The last part of the hike will require about 45-60min.
And than finally you are standing on the summit, looking around into the surrounding valleys where you’ll find several sparkling lakes and along the saw-tooth-like crests that connect the Musala to the lower summits of Deno // Дeнo (2790 m), Ireček // Иpeчек (2852 m) und Malka Musala // Maлкa Mусала (2902 m). In fine weather you can see all the peaks of the Rila and Pririn Mountains and it is claimed you should even be able to see the Aegean! And you’d really just like to trek on, further on into the heights of the Rila Mountains…And this definitely is a good option for tours that last several days. Unfortunately our planning wasn’t good enough because of lack of information…you now got them!
There are two buildings on the top, a meteorological station and a one for space research. Staying overnight is only possible in emergencies.
The way back first takes you to the Everest shelter once again and you take one of the two described tracks back to Musala hut. Like that you can do a nice circle.
A longer and more demanding but exciting and beautiful alternative is the way over the mountain crests between Deno (optional) Ireček, Malka Musala and Musala. You can take it either way. On the way up you take the track to the left from Musala hut, which you leave after a bit and find your way up to Deno (not too steep), or skip that one and climb up to the Ireček that’s closer to Musala. From Ireček you’ll find you’re way to Malka Musala (Small Musala) and Musala along the obvious crest between them. There are no marks but your goal is always at sight. You should be able to perform some climbing, in which you will find some old rusty steel ropes that are said to be of little help. For this route you should calculate 1-2h on top, depending on your experience.
No matter which way you choose to get onto the roof of Balkan Peninsula, hiking Mt. Musala is definitely worth the effort and you’ll have a marvelous view from the summit!
Borovets (1350m)- Yastrebets Gondola(2369m) – Musala Hut – (Ledenoto Ezero) – Ledenoto Ezero Hut (Everest Shelter) – Musala (2925 m) and back to Borovets via Gondola: 6-7h circular walk
Borovets – (1350m)- Yastrebets Gondola (2369m) – Musala Hut – Deno (2790 m) – Ireček (2852 m) – Malka Musala (2902 m) – Musala (2925 m): 7-8h circular walk
Staying over-night or starting early:
Borovets (1350m) – Bistrica – Velcevo Mostce – Musala Hut – Ledenoto Ezero – Ledenoto Ezero Hut (Everest Shelter) – Musala (2925 m): 6-7h one-way
Borovets – Bistrica – Velcevo Mostce – Musala Hut – (Deno (2790 m)) – Irecek (2852 m) – Malka Musala (2902 m) – Musala (2925 m): 7-8h one-way
What to take:
hiking boots, appropriate clothes for different weather, water and supplies