Heaps of sheep, dangerous dogs & one brown bear

Categories Balkan Thru Hike 2018, North Macedonia, Stories
Heaps of sheep on the Macedonian Traverse

After a fairly late start I left Popova Shapka, crossed the ski piste and walked the makadamroad to Bogovinjsko Ezero. This route goes more or less parallel of the hiking trail to Titov vrv. It’s way less demanding and much more “in the fields”. And thus there are sheep. Heaps of sheep.

I’m totally in love with Sharr mountain, but the dogs that guard the sheep really give the hiking experience a bit of a bitter taste. Guess it’s the constant fear that’s taking away the capability to fully enjoy. And don’t tell me it’s because they can smell I’m afraid or that I should bring a knife or pepper spray, or even just worse – a gun! – because that really makes no sense.

There’s often 8 of them and there’s wind. Most of the time they see me first and start barking while approaching me. Sometimes it takes minutes before the shepherd shows up, very scary minutes. If there’s no shepherd nearby, I make a detour, try to stay out of sight and make as less noise as possible. I now smell the sheep before I see them. I can tell from the poep how close they are. I’m constantly alert. But it is what it is and Sharr is incredibly beautiful nevertheless.

At Bogovinjsko Ezero was another sheepfold. It could have been a great place to camp, but I wasn’t in for sleepless night and also it was only 2 in the afternoon, so I continued. A little hour later I got back on the Transferzala. Still too early to make camp. I went on and on, crossed the border to Kosovo and went on. The scenery changed, sort of a plateau with lakes and round hilly mountains covered with grass like a tapestry.

Before Mramor peak I had a real scary dog-encounter. The shepherds were somewhere inside milking the sheep, it took ages for them to come out. Although the dogs didn’t bite, they made these attack moves, circled around me, came closer and closer, growling, barking, showing their teeth. I hit two of them with my hiking poles, but it only made them angry. I almost started to cry when finally one of the shepherds came to safe me.

Shaking from head till toe I thanked the shepherd and hurried away. From the hill top I could see another sheepfold, but decided to leave that one for the next day. Pitched my tent and fell asleep almost instantly.

It was such a quiet night. One of the best sleeps I had so far. I’m a light sleeper, I wake up all the time, but this night I didn’t. Probably because it was quiet. Very quiet.

First thing I had to tackle was the sheepfold. I hoped the trail would curve around it, crossed my fingers and started to walk. Bad news, I was going straight towards the sheepfold. Unfortunately I didn’t see people around. It was too early I guess. The “road” went to the other side, not my direction, but I followed it anyways. Made a big loop around the sheepfold, climb a hill and another one, went down to the river and climbed up again. It took me two hours to get back on the Transferzala, but I didn’t see a sheep or dog.

The trail went back into Macedonia, a nice and easy walk without gaining or losing too much hight. On the right I could see Korab mountain, an impressive massive. Korab is the highest mountain of both Albania and Macedonia. It’s not on the Transferzala, but I figured out a way to go there after Ohrid. I know it’s weird to go back, but I believe it will be worth a detour. More about that later.

All day I’ve been loosing the trail due to poor marks, but mostly because of my dog-avoiding-hiding-behind-hills tactic. At one point I climbed straight up a steep, grass slope back to the route when I saw something bigger than a dog. I stopped. It was a bear. The bear looked up, saw me and turned around. Believe me, I rather have bears than dogs.

On Lera peak I finally took a good break. From there on the descend to Mavrovo would start and would I leave Sharr mountain behind. It almost felt like a goodbye, finished another chapter. But not before another dog-encounter. I heard them barking, but so far away I hardly payed attention to it. When I realized the barking was coming closer, coming in my direction I looked up.

A group of dogs came running towards me. Why? The sheep were at least 1500 meters away and I wasn’t even going in their direction. Were they going after something else? Nope, within 10 seconds they crossed a distance that would have take me 10 minutes. Again I changed direction and disappeared on the other side of a hill. Immediately dogs on that side started to bark. I gave up. I sat down and closed my eyes. I heard a shepherd shouting. The dogs kept quiet. Fioeww, these were well trained dogs. There really is a difference. Some recognise me a human being (I think) and although they do bark, they don’t attack. They bark to warn, but don’t seem to see me as a threat.

I stayed on the wrong side of the mountain, made another detour before I hit the unpaved track down.

The track went into a forest, took me up to an power station where I saw the lake. Mavrovo. Although it was getting dark, I decided to go for the last bit of the descend. Probably not my smartest move, the track was steep, partly overgrown or blocked with fallen trees. It was marked, but hard to spot when there’s almost no daylight. 200 meters from the road I slipped and fell on my butt. In the mudd. After more than 35 kilometers I think I was too tired to care. Go go go.

At the end of the forest track I had someone waiting for me. He barked. And wagged his tail. Then he turned around and showed me the way, carefully checking if I was following him. I did. Halfway two of his buddies joined, together they walked me to my destination for the night, Skihut Gorica. Little heaven between mountain and lake.

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