Shar mountain (Shara, Šar, Sharr, Sharri) has been on my list for years. Ever since I first read about the First Macedonian Transversal (Transferzala), a hiking trail that crosses the entire Shar mountain range, I had the wish to explore Shar mountain. I could try to describe what it looks like, but I suck at that. I don’t have the vocabulary and the words I make up probably won’t be much of a help. I’ll stick to sharing my personal experience and add a whole lot of photos to give you an impression. So here we go, here’s my “Exploring Shar Mountain Photo Story”.
I’m excited, happy, proud and slightly worried. No, not worried, but this feeling you feel when you want things to be fun, safe and adventurous at the same time (because someone else is there). Responsibility?
Rosa travelled from Amsterdam to Belgrade to Skopje to Tetovo where I picked her up. It was so weird to see a familiar face. To meet Rosa in Macedonia with a backpack and a super cool hikers outfit. I’m so happy that she came all the way here and so proud that she’s up for this hiking adventure while it’s a lot of new stuff for her. I’m excited because it feels so super special to be together and share this part of my journey with Rosa. And yeah, I feel responsible to get us both in one piece to Mavrovo. In one piece WITH a big smile.
Popova Shapka – Titov vrh (Zimska staza – winter path)
Because I want it to be fun, we take our time. The first day was tough though, the climb to Titov Vrv isn’t particularly peanuts. After two hours we still saw Popova Shapka, the ski-piste-town on Shar mountain. It looked like a 5 minute run down, so frustrating. Luckily the route became more rewarding once we left the ugly skilifts behind. Very rewarding.
On Titov vrh we called it a day. After 13 kilometers, 6 peaks and more than 1500 hight meters we reached the 2747 meters, also my highest point this year. There’s a tower on the top of Titov Vrv with water and a place to sleep (if you ignore the flies and somewhat smelly, dirty old tower smell), but we put up our tents.
Titov Vrv – Springs of Pena
After a windy, cloudy night we got a clear blue sky for breakfast. Slowly we got up, made breakfast, coffee, tea, filtered water and packed our bags. I knew there was a steep descend ahead of us, but the weather seemed fine, so no need to hurry. Enjoy every bit of sun, every bit of good weather, you’ll never know what the day (or week) will bring. We surely had a great morning.
I kind of forgot what it’s like when you meet your first screeslope. Rosa reminded me: it’s a horror. Sliding stones, wobbly feet and a backpack that wants to pull you down. And where to put your hiking poles? It takes time to get used to it. We took our time, but it was a little adventure, for both of us.
“Let’s take a break when we’re on the saddle.” “YES!” Before we even reached the saddle the clouds decided to be thunderstorm clouds. NO! There were no storms predicted for today, internet said so. Internet lied.
I also forgot what’s it’s like to meet your first thunderstorm in the mountains. You have to settle for the least dangerous option. But you never never know for sure if you’re 100% safe. Instead of taking a break, we went down a little more. Clouds sounded like big hungry bellies, but weren’t too threathening. I put up one tent so we could hide for the rain. The rain came, we hided and fell asleep with eachothers feet next to eachothers head. Safety first 😉
An hour later we were back on track, on the Transferzala. A gentle hiking trail along little streams would soon take us back to the ridge if only those clouds could stop being so grumpy. Too bad. No ridge for us, we got rain and thunder. Quickly I put up one tent. There we were again, squeezed into a 1-person tent, waiting for the rain to stop. Counting seconds between the lighting and thunder. Yep, this is also part of the deal.
Springs of Pena – Brod – Prizren
Our third hiking day started sunny, but when the clouds came in faster than usual we decided to change our plan. No exposed ridgehike with unstable weather. Our escape route took us to Brod, a little village in Kosovo from where hitchhiked to Dragash where we took the bus to Prizren. Oh hello Prizren, good to back!
Just in time. A big big thunderstorm with a lot a lot of rain hit the town the minute after we checked in. No idea what it would be like in the mountains, but we happpily concluded that we made the right decision.
Prizren – Zitadelle
Leaving the trail, the Transferzala isn’t too difficult. There are plenty of villages on the Kosovo side of Shar mountain that are connected via shepherd/hiking trails. The challenge is to find transport from those villages down to town. We were incredibly lucky. On our way down and a two days later on our way up we found a ride within a few minutes. From Prizren we hopped on a shuttle bus with workers, who dropped us in Recane. In Recane three guys took us further up to Ljubinje where we picked up a well marked hiking trail to Zitadelle mountain hut.
I always underestimate the climb back up. I forget how I dislike the never-ending partly overgrown trails through the forest, because once you get to see the view it’s easy to except that forests are part of the deal too.
Zitadelle isn’t exactly a hikers hut, but the location is phenomenal. The terrace is faced towards Kobilica, Ljubinjski Uši and Vrtop, three peaks along the Transferzala. We could exactly see where we had to go, the saddle in between. We looked at it all afternoon. Watched the clouds coming in and disappear. We watched the sky turn grey, we heard some thunders, got some rain and saw a rainbow. Meanwhile berrie-pickers, horses, cows and sheep made their way down to a village. Oh and we had a donkey keeping us company. Mountain TV, sometimes even better than hiking.
Zitadelle – Vesala
The next two days we did hike. First up to the saddle, than on the scarcely marked Transferzala towards Karanikolicko Ezero. We didn’t get all the way to the lakes, because we descended to Vesala. I wasn’t sure the night would be thunderstorm free and Rosa was 100% sure she didn’t want to experience another stormy night on the mountain. Understandable!
In Vesala we got permission to put up our tents in front a an ownerless building and became the attraction of the village. In a good way, people were so sweet! We both preferred camping, but it would have really easy to get a room.
Vesala – Leshnica – Popova Shapka
Our last hiking day started with forest. A pretty rough jeep track lead us to upper Leshnica, a lovely valley amidst rocky peaks. There’s a great camping spot next to the water, but we continued on the scenic route to the sheepfold at lower Leshnica, Plat peak, Ceripashinsko Bachilo sheepfold and pushed all the way through to Popova Shapka. A long, but satisfying day.
Exploring Shar Mountain
Instead of hiking the Macedonian Transversal to Mavrovo, we walked a big loop on Shar mountain. Although it feels slightly unsatisfying to get back at the exact same place where we started, I think we hiked a pretty cool route. We’ve been on Titov Vrv, we hiked Sharrs typical round ridges, crossed screeslopes, meadows and little streams, faught our way through forests, saw sheepfolds and visited villages. All in all we’ve been exploring Shar mountain like I wished to do for years.
Shar Mountain Apps & Maps
Whenever I get my hands on a computer I will upload this tour on Outdooractive and embed the map below this post. The Exploring Shar Mountain application helped us finding alternative routes, it has maps, description of hiking trails and shows several points of interest. Unfortunately the Balkan Hiking Adventure application isn’t compatible with my phone (why not?), but you can find a good dose of information on the website.
I used the “Exploring Shar Mountain” app in combination with my GPS – which showed me the Transferzala – and MAPS.ME, an application with offline maps that shows many hiking trails. I downloaded additional GPX tracks from Wikiloc and Staze i Bogaze and uploaded them on MAPS.ME to get an idea about other possible hiking trails on Shar mountain.
For those of you who would like to visit Shar mountain, but prefers to go with a guide, there are plenty of tour operators in the region. I got in touch with Metodi from Shar Outdoors who helped me a lot giving me advice, tips and ideas. On their website you find mostly winter tours, but there are possibilities to arrange something for the summer season too. I’m happy to link you through, because despite the growing effort to promote outdoor tourism on Shar mountain, it still is relatively unknown and unexplored. A little help might be needed.
Time to say goodbye
Rosa and I have been spending 8 days together. Non-stop. I can only speak for myself, but there hasn’t been a moment I wished I was alone. Perhaps I gave Rosa a hard time being an early bird, but I believe we know each other well enough to tell the other to shut up for a minute. Or two.
Despite the fact that we are living a totally different life, I think we have many things in common. We like to sleep for example. And read. And to take our time. We both have our fears. Some are similar, some not. Rosa for example has no issues with spiders. I do. It’s hilarious, I know, but somehow spiders still give me the creeps.
It felt so good to be out in the mountains with someone who’s close to me. To share this part of my hiking adventure, to be with someone I know and who really knows me. Damn, I hate good-byes.
Special thanks to De Trek Barefoot
This year I’m sponsored by De Trek Barefoot, an barefoot minded outdoor store in Amsterdam and Hoorn, The Netherlands. Since I’m hiking on Vibram FiveFingers for years now, De Trek Barefoot is a perfect match. This winter (probably February) I’ll give one or two presentations about long distance hiking on Vibram FiveFingers. It will be about the how’s and why’s of barefootstyle hiking just as much as it will be about my trekking through the Balkans itself. Keep you posted!
Besides barefootstyle shoes De Trek Barefoot provided me with clothes and gear. Because it was kind of a last minute undertaking, not everything was on stock. Luckily there was a solution: Rosa could take the delivery with her. I’m working on a blogpost, but for now I’d like to say thanks for supporting me and my journey.
New home: the Nigor PioPio Solo
Last but not least, I got a new home! As you might have noticed Rosa and I were sleeping in seperate tents. It could be that Rosa had her own trekking tent, but no, that’s not the case. Nigor send me a new home, the super lightweight PioPio Solo tent. THANKS! A proper review will follow soon.