Thursday, February 23, 2006

Rilas, Schizophrenic Weather and Clothes

The weather here in central Bulgaria has been erratic. After a cold snap in early February when it didn't snow, it warmed for a few days and felt like spring was here. Snow fell again a few days later in large flakes and stuck for a while, turning into the slush that gets everywhere. Last weekend, it warmed up considerably and has stayed that way through this morning. This is the first day in a while that I've left my scarves at home. I tried to do laundry during the cold snap in a desperate moment, but the clothes froze on my clothesline and in my kitchen. I used the heater daily to thaw and dry the chosen outfit for the following day.

Speaking of clothing and weather, I bought snowclothes last week for my then-imminent trip to the Rila mountains, knowing that jeans and sweaters just wouldn't cut it. The items I bought would have been 3 to 4 times as expensive in the United States. At first I thought they were counterfeit. I registered my North Face jacket with its proper serial number, though. They worked perfectly in the snow, too. I would guess that since they have small defects (the stitching in the pocket was incomplete - but it's fixed now! Thanks for teaching me, mom!), this may be where minorly defective products are sent to be sold.

Which brings me to the trek up to Seven Lakes in the Rila Mountains. I went with three friends, two of whom have snowshoed before and are quite good. One is an instructor for Outward Bound. We left from Sofia and traveled by bus through Dubnitsa and Spalna Bania before taking a Taxi up the mountain to the staging area. The Taxi was cheap - approximately $9 total, with tip, for 4 people, a 13-mile drive with an elevation gain of maybe 2,000 feet. We geared up and hiked to the Hija over the course of about 2 hours. The climb was at least a couple of thousand feet, some of the hiking through loose snow and powder. Our trail was mostly groomed, though. While at the Hija, we shared food, beer, stories and had a generally great time together. On our second day there, we hiked up to the lakes on the ridge and enjoyed the crisp, amazingly white and beautiful scenery. I have never been snowshoeing before except in Yosemite, when and where I didn't really need the snowshoes. This trip would have been impossible without them.

We used plastic tarps for sledding. On my last run, I was determined to break my speed record from earlier in the day. I was going so fast, I could feel my back getting warm from the friction. At the bottom of the slope, I hit a small indentation in the snow fairly hard. It hurt, a lot. I bit my tongue, chipped the crest of my lower left canine and bruised my butt pretty badly. Serves me right, I suppose: pride cometh before the fall (or the indentation of packed snow in this case). The entire trip was profound. The exercise, beauty, friendship and education I experienced in these few days I shall not forget.