The American Guide to Vitosha (Витоша)

Cherni Vrah (2290m/7513ft)

Cherni Vrah (2290m/7513ft)

Although I am an American my intent behind this post isn't necessarily to provide my perspective (I have the whole rest of the site for this) but to provide my eccentric compatriots a guide that suits them. What do I mean by that...well here comes the stereotyping...Americans visiting in Europe are usually passing through and are most interested in checking tings off the list. In this case answering the question, "So, how do I get to the top?" For those of you who don't know the top is Black Peak or in Bulgarian Черни Врах or in latin Cherni Vrah (one of 10 peaks over 2000m on Vitosha). For those intrepid travellers I have put together the bare bones options (I will work to expand on these on the site soon).

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Trail up slopes above Hizha Aleko

Trail up slopes above Hizha Aleko

Option 1: Hard As Nails - In the case you want the most traditional route, start from NDK (НДК), yes thats right NDK and head due south over the pedestrian bridge, across to the main part of South Park where you will head to the south end and take the ul. Nikola Krush towards Dragalevtsi (Драгалевци). This route mirrors that of Vitosha Run and the track and map are available at Marathon.bg (BG). This route is 18.5 km (11.5 miles) long with 1800m (5900ft) of climbing, and thats just to the top.

Option 2: E-4 - Get yourself to the main square of Dragalevtsi, either by taxi, car or public transport .  Follow the red blazed trail up the steep street at the southwest corner of the square and continue all the way to Cherni Vrah. This trail goes via Hizha Aleko. This trail is just under 10km (6 miles) long and requires around 1500m (4900 ft) of climbing. Variant - From Goli Vrah lift station you can continue of the main gravel road to Cherni Vrah, this will by pass the steep section by Hizha Aleko but the distance and climb are the same.

Option 3: Easiest way - So maybe you're not a sadist like other trail runners, if thats the case this if for you. Part 1: choose your method: 

Aforemention gravel road from Goli Vrah to Cherni Vrah

Aforemention gravel road from Goli Vrah to Cherni Vrah

  • Simeonovo Lift (weekends),Taxi, or car to to Hizha Aleko
  • Dragalevtsi Lift to Goli Vrah (Bus 93 from the Zoo or Vitosha Metro stop)
  • Bus 66 (weekends) to Hotel Moreni

Part 2: Choose your way, but I recommended ascending via Goli Vrah to Cherni Vrah then if you like descending to Hizha Alkeo

So there ya go, for my traveling peak bagging friends there is your quick overview. Below is an overview of the trails on on Vitosha so you can navigate a bit better. As you may or may not know I am a fan of REI's Trail Run project  you can access all the data there or you can download their app. If you have any other questions feel free to leave a comment below or to reach out to me on social media at the links below.

Pirin Skyrun Vertical (almost) Kilometer Race Report

Its been too long since I wrote one of these. Ive been meaning too but life has gotten in the way. A quick update, I've been running a medium amount, focusing more on getting in more vert, June worked out to be 158km (98.2) with 4996m (16391 ft) of climbing. In July my plan is to push both those numbers a bit further with the only for sure race on the horizon being Rila Run (21km 2000m D+).

On to more important things....

Pirin Skyrun Vertical Kilometer is part of a weekend of activities including a 10 & 34km skyvruns. The location as the name implies is in Pirin National Park which is located near Bansko, Bulgaria. The races are organized by the same team that puts on Trail Series events. 

The start line at Banderitsa Chalet

The start line at Banderitsa Chalet

 

This was my first Vertical Kilometer, the race was set to start at 9:00am so that required a very early 5:30 departure from Sofia to make sure I was on time. The weather in the proceeding days has hardly been encouraging with a solid week of seasonably cold temperatures and rain in the lead up. On the drive down I also encountered a fair amount of rain as well. The check in process was quick as some people stayed in the area before had and there were only about 20 of us participating. During the race briefing there was a quick shower and we were informed that we would need to bring jackets as it was 5℃ at the top and windy.  

Vihren in the clouds

Vihren in the clouds

The start line was located at Banderitsa Chalet (Хижа Бъндерица). The trail lead quickly into the forest and after the first 200m the relatively flat running was over.  The first kilometer was the easiest of them all with only 182m of climb through the towering pine trees. As you pass the one kilometer mark you climb steeply above the tree line. The trail goes straight up a steep, washed out trail with lost of tennis ball sized rocks. As you top out this section you're 1.8 km from the start with total of 382 m and the next challenges appear across the meadow. At this point for me a quick rain shower passed, as you start the next climb you've just passed the 2km point aka the halfway point. The trail climbs steeply to the left over a series of long switch backs which brought us to a quick snow crossing then back to the climbing.  After negotiating a few tricky rock jumps and at 2.7km you've arrived at Biouvac shelter Kasana (заслон Казана) at 2445m altitude . To your left Vihren's marble peak towers above you (in our case it was partially in the clouds.

The Finish line

You now deviate from the principle trail and climb steeply to your right up the flanks of Kuleto. Quickly the trail steepens, yes thats possible now averaging 45%+ over tufted grass and rocks. Just below the end of the this steep portion we were inundated in clouds somewhere around 2600m (8530ft). As you return to normal 20% grades the grass begins to disppear. It was here at 3.6km where the race ended this year. We were just 400m and 140 vertical meters short of the Peak Kutelo, but the weather condition made continuing too dangerous. 

While this was my first vertical kilometer it was not my first race at these altitudes. However I have to say this was the first time I really noticed the altitude. The combination of the altitude and the steep grades really made the difference in my case. I entered the race only with the intention of enjoying myself and as another excuse to go to the mountains. From that point of view it was a total success!

I hope to update this blog more often so if you've made it this far, keep on my case to write more. Plus I also hope to make a short video (perhaps in Vlog format) showing you my vertical kilometer experience. 

Pancharevo Lessons/Race Report

This past Sunday was the annual Pancharevo Trail Marathon that is organized by Begach. I signed up before I knew that the preceding night I would be attending a bachelor party. However I decided why not force myself to run the race anyway. I will say this was not the best idea that I've ever had, but I was able to take a few positive things away from the experience.

First a bit about the course and the race. There are 3 distances on offer a 10k (road), 21k 700m D+(trail) and 42k 1580m D+ (trail). All three races start at Pancharevo Lake with the 10k  starting 15 minutes after the trail races. The first twelve kilometers of both trail are over the same track. The first 3.5 kilometers follows the relatively flat paved road on the western edge of the lake. From 3.5 to 10 km the course climbs 450m via a network of dirt roads. Many of the sections are heavily rutted so often its similar to running single track. The trail undulates throughout this climbing offering brief respites. At the 10k point you reach the first aid station and short section of paved road.

Downhill following Bachun Peak Photo Credit: Krisok Photography

As you then exit the tree cover and continue climbing Sofia become visible to your left, with Vitosha to behind you. After a short steep climb you reach Bachun Peak where you meet a steep 30m D- (100ft) downhill. You continue you a short way on the road but turn sharp right before the road goes down hill staying on the south face of the ridge.  The trail continues down, steeply at points, with some loose sections. When you reach a gully there is a steep pitch up as the trail narrows before intersecting with the road again. The road descends down to the saddle which leads to Lozen where the next aid station is located at 12.4km. The marathon then continues East up the steep climb to Mala Lalina Moglia but that is a story for another time. 

Trying not to fall Photo Credit:  Krisok Photography

Trying not to fall Photo Credit: Krisok Photography

After the aid station the half marathon turns back up the road you just descended, you shortly pass the single track from which you arrived but you continue straight keeping to the north of the ridge. The road is heavily rutted and returns to the main trail just in time to allow you to climb the the steep slope back to Bachun Peak. From there it is literally all down hill as you continue back to the first aid station. Here you continue straight passing the trail you arrived on your left. The dirt road is wide and slightly downhill but at 16.5 km you turn to your left and the real descent begins. The trail is sometimes single track sometimes a bit wider and you can pick up speed as you descend. It takes you right to within 10 meters of the starting line.

Of course the most obvious lesson is not to party the night before a race, but sometimes that cannot be avoided. My approach to this race can be summed up in one word: SURVIVAL. I was very careful throughout the race to pay attention to what my body was saying and not to push more than I felt I could handle. I am happy to say that I preformed much better than I anticipated but I did suffer especially on the steep sections uphill. On the downhill my main problem was being tired and because of this I was afraid I would fall (which I did once). My other questionable choice of the day was to wear my road shoes (Saucony Kinvara) instead of trail shoes. I opted for this choice because my the dry conditions and that my trail shoes are new and unbroken in. There were definitely a few sections (see above) that would have benefited from trail shoes but overall I think that choice worked out pretty well.

All in all it was a great race, good organisation, great (sometimes over zealous) marking and absolutely perfect weather. In the end I was glad I made the choice to go its just helps to reinforce what I am capable of and reminds me not to underestimate myself.

Returning to Trail Racing

The first major climb of Trail Series' 7 Hills Run photo credit: Kriosk Photography

The first major climb of Trail Series' 7 Hills Run
photo credit: Kriosk Photography

After nine month absence from participating in trail racing due to injury, I recently made my return during Trail Series: 7 Hills Run. This was my third time running this race and my second time running the middle distance race which this year turned out being 13.3 km with 705m D+ (see the Strava activity I've embedded below). This race proved to be brutal as i expected, as the the climbs can touch 40%+ grades. So perhaps this was not the best of choices for easing back into things but overall I was very happy my result (1:31.49) as I felt in control through out the race. Also this difficulty of race helped me to underline to issues that I need to address.

The easier of these two issues to address is to purchase some new trail running shoes.  I ran this race in my Salomon Speedcross 3's and found that especially on the down hills I suffered a lot. Part of the problem is that when I bought these shoes over two years ago I didn't realize that my feet would swell as much as they do when I run and this combined with the inflexibility of their form makes for a painful combination. Unfortunately, I had just retired my Inov 8 Ultra 290s after nearly 1000km of abuse and have had some durability issues as well with my Hoka Challenger 3 ATRs so  I opted for the Salomons.  This is a problem I can easily address in the coming days before my next race at the Pancharevo Half Marathon ( 21.4 km 700 m D+).

The more difficult issue I have to work towards solving is my poor performance on downhill sections in general. This of course is an issue I know that I have struggled with through out my time trail racing. It was very apparent too me as my quads were tight for the days after this past race. Over the coming months I plan on working towards addressing this issue while I continue to build my base after returning from my injury. It is also a process that I will try to follow relatively closely on this blog. If any one has any tips or experience in becoming a stronger downhill runner I would appreciate any help I can get.  

Me on the final major climb of the 7 Hill's Run which goes up 100 vertical meters in half a kilometer Photo Credit:  Krisok Photography .

Me on the final major climb of the 7 Hill's Run which goes up 100 vertical meters in half a kilometer
Photo Credit: Krisok Photography.