Discovering wild Balkans

Macedonia – land of the sun?

Macedonia (FYROM) is also known as the land of the sun, which has a central point on their flag. And it surely deserves it with it’s hot, dry summers. But this time we were in for a different macedonian experience, since we’ve enjoyed only one partly sunny day of the three we’ve spent there.

The Zaliv na koskite ethno-museum
The Zaliv na koskite ethno-museum
Zaliv na koskite - inside a house
Zaliv na koskite – inside a house

As we drove along the Ohrid lake toward Ohrid town (the second largest in Macedonia), we stopped by to see an interesting neolithic settlement on the lake, which has been turned into a museum – Zaliv na koskite. However, we didn’t have much time available to spend there, as we had quite an ambitious plan for that day to traverese two big mountains and reach the Pelister peak, with an altitude of 2600 m the highest point of the Balkans Wild Tracks tour. So we quickly continued towards Ohrid to refuel and resupply, and started our ascent towards the Galičica mountain, completely encased in clouds.

On the Galičica plateau
On the Galičica plateau

I assumed that those were only low clouds and once we’re above 1000 m we’ll get above them, and I was right. We soon reached the huge plateau of Galičica mountain, which is essentially a pasture laying at the average altitude of around 1400 m, surrounded by higher rocky peaks on both sides. I decided agains riding up the most famous scenic view on Galičica because we were short in time, and the cloud cover was such that we had almost no chance to see the two big lakes (Ohrid and Prespa) from above. So after the real pleasent fast ride along the 15 km of the “grassy carpet”, we’ve turned left towards the Baba mountain and it’s Pelister peak.

Reaching Pelister
Reaching Pelister

Although being 2600 m high, the ascent to Pelister in reality is not very exhausting, since it actually starts upon leaving the paved road at the altitude of about 1400 m, so it’s not nearly such a height difference as we had when ascending mount Tomorri in Albania. Nevertheless, it does have some extremely rocky and steep technical challenges in the final part, and the forest trail leading to it is really very beautiful (both Galičica and Pelister are national parks, but tourist convoys along the main road leading to the peak, and the big lake, are tolerated).

To make things more exciting, I took the group on a more demanding shortcut near the very peak of Pelister, and attemting such “gameplay” can always be risky. This time one of the vehicles that

The highest point of the tour!
The highest point of the tour!

had traction problems and had to use a the winch had the winch break down, and to make things worse, in the extreme axle articulation tore a braking hose open and lost break fluid. Thanks to good engine breaking in low gear and being secured from the back just in case, it reached our campsite deep down in the Pelister forest safely, but we did lose a lot of time at that point and reached the summit almost at sunset.

At the Pelister summit - 2600 m!
At the Pelister summit – 2600 m!

So the first day in Macedonia was generally ok – we’ve had clouds, but we’ve also had sun when it counted the most. So we’ve had some great views and a great ascent to Pelister, apart from the fact that the wind was blowing like hell up there. We’ve reached our campsite in pitch dark, but nevertheless managed to gather firewood and have a decent camp evening, making plans how to repair the torn hose the next day.

The rainy journey

We’ve quickly arranged to have the damage repaired in the town of Bitola, that was on our way toward Kajmakčalan, our next goal, and by the time we’ve finished everything Stefan, our last missing participant, arrived from Greece in his Landy. It was kind of late in the day when we finally took off towards Kajmakčalan, making a lunchbreak at the first suitable spot.

Contrary to Pelister, ascending Kajmakčalan looks much more like mount Tomorri, with an altitude difference of some 2000 m. In fact, it’s even much harder, since the condition of the road is very bad, constantly pushing the flex of your axles to the limit, and it’s about 50 km long both ways. So even in mid summer you should reserve an entire day for the 2521 m high Kajmakčalan peak. And when it’s foggy and rainy as it was on that October 27th, there’s really not much point in investing all the effort to reach this famous WWI landmark and the memorial chappel on top. We’ve reached a campsite in the dark again, only this time it was raining. Well, that’s also part of an overlanding adventure. And, beleive it or not, we still managed to gather firewood and start a nice campfire.

Next day was our final day in Macedonia. It started out foggy and rainy, so there wasn’t much to see in Mariovo, the most sparcely inhabited region of Macedonia, that we’ve traversed. As we passed through the town of Prilep we’ve addressed some participant’s technical issues again in a workshop and used the opportunity for a lunch in a restaurant – which is always the slower option. So, as we reached Jakupica mountain (another one of the Macedonian “above 2000” ranges), there was simply no more time left to play around the volcanic rocks where we often drive up when it’s not slippery. We’ve driven straight towards the Karadžica mountaineering hut instead, which gave us a chance to choose a slightly warmer accomodation than the rooftop tents and cars. As it turned out to be the first night with below zero temperatures in this tour, it was obviously – right on time  🙂 

Entering Serbia

It was a sunny, but freezing cold morning of October 28th, and we hoped that means that we’ve completed our share of the bad weather for this tour. This day was devoted to resupplying in Skopje, the capitol of Macedonia, meeting a friend who promissed to find an air filter for one of the cars from the convoy, and entering Serbia in the second part of the day.

Everything turned out to go about as planned, with the inevitable small delays that every visit to the “civilization” brings to an overlanding convoy like this one. Eventually, we entered Serbia, and made a slightly late lunchbreak by the Prohor Pčinjski monastery. We ended the day in a nice campspot on the Pčinja river right under a creepy rock formation called the Devid’s rock – but first climbed the rock to enjoy the view and take some photos. That night was quite much warmer than the previous one (well, we were also some 1000 m lower), and what was very interesting – there was absolutely no condensation on the tents in the morning, they were absolutely dry (which is a rare event when camping in the mountains).

continue to NEXT page

Leave a Reply