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Acele Morarului. An iconic mountaineering route in Bucegi range of Romanian Carpathians.

Acele Morarului

Acele Morarului, view from Morarului Valley

Acele Morarului (The Miller’s Spurs) in summer is an iconic alpine route in the Southern part of Romanian Carpathians. Although it is graded 2A and only has 6 pitches, it has always been considered a rite of maturity for anyone who wants to call him/her-self a mountaineer in this land.

The alpine part of the adventure is traversing 4 large very exposed spurs: Acul Mare (The Big Spur), Degetul Rosu (The Red Finger), Acul Crucii (The Spur with a Cross) and Acul de Sus (The Top Spur).

Acele Morarului

Acele Morarului seen on descent via Cerbului Valley. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

Route summary

Starting and ending point: town of Busteni in Prahova valley, trail that starts from asphalt road leading to Gura Diham hotel. Street view. It’s a bit dated, now the road has asphalt, but you can see the ground trail to the left leading into the forest – that’s the start of your approach route.

Time to complete: 1 day, best spend one night in Busteni to start fresh or avoid driving tired.

Difficulty: alpine (mountaineering) route, grade PD (international), or 2A (local). Please read about alpine routes difficulty grades used on this blog! Actual portion of the route the grade applies to is the spurs traverse.

Total altitude gain: cc. 1,600 m.

Length: varies depending on the descent route you choose. Somewhere between 12 and 19 km.

Best conditions: dry, clear day. Can be also done in cloudy conditions, but orientation will become very hard.

Finding your way. Only parts of the route are marked trails, orientation can be difficult. GPS tracks are a must have. For marked trail use paper maps or download Muntii Nostri app. GooglePlay. iTunes. Access/descent route via Valea Cerbului is route #10 on Bucegi map.

For unmarked parts of the trail, download OsmAnd Maps app. You will have rotes for Brana Mare a Morarului, Acele Morarului (partial), Creasta Morarului (partial).

Equipment.
Minimal obligatory: helmet, harness, 10 quick draws, 10-12 slings, of which at least 4 should be 120-140 cm (or 6 m thick cordelette), 3 carabiners per person, 1 belaying device per person, 3-4 1 meter cordelette cuts, knife, 2-3 small-to-medium size cams (different sizes). Single rope of minimum 60 m for a team of 2 or 3. Two ropes for 4 and more people (in which case there should be 2 leaders). If you are experienced, you can also do a team of 4 on one 60-70 m rope, but I won’t recommend it.
Use hiking boots with good Vibram sole or approach shoes.

Sources of water: no permanent sources, bring at least 2 liters with you!

Getting there

From Bucharest: drive on A3 highway and then DN1 road till Busteni. Map.

From Brasov: drive on E60 road passing towns of Timisu de Jos, Timisu de Sus, Predeal. Then you’ll be on DN1 road that will take you to Busteni (after Azuga). Map.

Accommodation, food

Accommodation: pretty much any villa/pension or hotel you find on Booking.com in Busteni will do. You can find a decent place to stay for as low as 70 – 110 RON per night (one room, 1-2 people). If you are looking for something a bit more high end, look for prices from 250-300 RON. If you are looking for free accommodation, you can stay for free in Costila refuge. Camping is NOT advisable because of bears.

Where to eat: again, any restaurant or pizzeria in Busteni will do. You can try “La Turcu” in Busteni for very cool Turkish Braga drink. Food is cheap and plenty. A couple more unpretentious places we usually stop at are: Ancuta’s house (Casa Ancutei) and  Casa Magica.

Generalities

Acele Morarului route is immensely beautiful. The views, the exposure, the shape of the spurs – will take your breath away. Up close the spurs look not like the spurs, but rather like rock lace.

Acul Mare ridge and Degetul Rosu seen from Acul Mare. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

Technically the route is very interesting too. While the climbing is not difficult, there are puzzles to solve and variation every step of the way. You’ll have narrow ridges to traverse, faces to climb, meandering rope length where you may not hear or see your partners, successive abseils, abseil that will take you to a very wrong place, if you don’t pay attention, loose ground and holds breaking off. All the things that make mountaineering an adventure. Even finding the start of the route is not an easy task.

Ideally, you would hire a local guide to do it. But doing it yourself and solving all the puzzles is so rewarding! Hopefully this blog will be of some help.

The route has a 4-4.5 hours approach and cc. 3-3.5 hours descent. The alpine part of the route – spurs’ traverse – will take a team anywhere from 4 to 8 hours. Time spent on the spurs depends very much on the number of participants, team’s fitness and mountaineering skills, orientation skills and – of course – the weather.

Last time we did it as a rope of 3 in foggy/cloudy conditions and the total time was 14.5 hours.

Approach

The approach to Acele Morarului is long in comparison to approaches to other mountaineering routes in Romanian Carpathians. You will start hiking on the trail marked with a vertical yellow stripe between two white stripes. Hike starts from a spot known as Plaiul Fanului. It deviates to the left from an asphalt road leading towards Gura Diham Cabin hotel. The trail will immediately enter the forest.

In 45-50 minutes of sustained uphill walking you will arrive at Poiana Costilei (Costila Meadow). From here the trail will turn right and lead you through the woods, rocky “steps” and growths of wild raspberry to a place where the valley opens up and you start seeing it’s glacial cirque. Trail follows the river bed, which may or may not contain water.

Valea Cerbului cirque. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

After another hour – hour and a half of walking from Poiana Costilei (that is 2 – 2,5 hours from the start of your approach hike) you will reach a place where marked trail crosses the river bed (usually dried up at this altitude). You will cross the river bed, taking right. Here you must be really attentive – you now need to find the trail going up Brana Mare a Morarului (The Big Morarului Ledge).

Start up Brana Mare a Morarului. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

Take a look around, you will see a boulder with trail mark on it a bit ahead. Start walking towards it, while deviating right and up from the marked trail. You should see another, thinner, trail leading up. In some 100 meters this trail will take a U-turn to the right. So you will be actually walking back, in direction of Busteni town you came from. The trail goes up-n-up following a grassy slope. In some 25-30 minutes the trail starts to slowly turn left. Then it takes rightwards again and goes around a large cliff. Then it winds on a bit, crossing some shallow gullies, till you reach a metal cross (not visible from below).

The metal cross. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

At the cross you should make a small rest break, fuel up, and put on your helmets and harnesses. From here on loose rock will be present.

The orientation is difficult between the moment you leave the marked trail and reach the cross. DO download OsmAnd Maps app – it has this portion of the trail marked. Look at you GPS/Phone often, so you don’t deviate!

OsmAnd Maps map with: Valea Cerbului trail (named Traseu turistic poiana Costilei – vf Omu), Brana Mare a Morarului, Acele Morarului, Creasta Morarului. Click to enlarge.

From the cross on, the orientation doesn’t get any easier either, and there will be no GPS tracks to help you out. After the cross, start walking leftwards on a trail that descends slightly, then turn right and pass through a shrubbery of dwarf pines. Follow the trail till you go around a large boulder (turning left). Then walk straight and slightly to the left till you see a shallow gully with white gravel.

Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

Walk up the gully (left and up) till you reach the ridge.  Then walk on the ridge till you reach a tiresome, steep grassy slope. Climb up the slope till you reach a narrow portion of the ridge. This place is called Creasta Ascutita (The Sharpened Ridge). Now your approach is over and you are starting the mountaineering route of Acele Morarului.

It is worth mentioning that while almost no one ropes up on Creasta Ascutita, it is still counted as the first pitch of the route.

Acele Morarului traverse

Topo by W Kargel

Acul Mare (The Big Spur)

When you are on Creasta Ascutita, you will be seeing an imposing grass covered spur in front of you. This is the first spur – Acul Mare.  Creasta Ascutita is quite short, and you will soon get off it and onto a wider grassy area. Walk towards Acul Mare – you will start seeing a trail that goes towards right and then up the spur. This portion is just an easy scrambling up the grassy and rocky steps. Once you reach the flatter and more rocky ground you should rope up and arrange your gear.

Getting from Creasta Ascutita to Acul Mare. The sketch is an approximation! Don’t take it too literally. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

The gear the lead should have for Acul Mare: 8-9 quick draws (you will use less, if you don’t clip into shaky pro), 2-3 long slings, belaying device, 3 carabiners. In general, this route will throw the unexpected at you. So the lead should ALWAYS have more gear that seems necessary.

Seconds. Each second should have his/her own belaying device, 3 carabiners, a sling (better 2, just in case)  for clipping into protection at the end of the spur.

Style. Acul Mare is best done in simul climbing fashion. Take care to always have at least 1 point of protection between each member of the group (doh!). The lead can also belay his/her second(s) from one of the more solid pitons. But this will slow the group down considerably.

Length: 2 pitches

From here on the route goes upwards again, following several rock steps till it reaches a flatter ridge portion,  that is just 40-50 cm wide. You will find plenty of old and newer pitons. Some of them are really shaky, other are OK. When I say plenty, I mean 5-7. Which is a lot for such a short climb.

Acul Mare seen from the top of Degetul Rosu. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

The ridge of Acul Mare is very aerial, you will have a long drop left and right. If you are OK with exposure, stop (let your seconds stop) here for a couple of minutes and take in the view and the depth on both sides of you. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the route.

Click images to enlarge

You will also start seeing the second and third spurs: Degetul Rosu (The Red Finger) and Acul Crucii (The Spur with a Cross).

When you’ll get off the narrow ridge portion, walk on wide grassy platform towards several large boulders. You will find a belay station one of the boulders (boulders’ right face, your left hand). Belay station has 2 fixed points joined by a whole bouquet of cordelettes with a D-shaped screw gate carabiner to pass your rope through. You will abseil from here.

Belay station on Acul Mare. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

Bring your seconds along and arrange the abseil. If you have one 60m rope, you will rappel in 2 more or less equal  segments (about 20-25 m each). You will not see the second belay station from where you stand. You WILL however see another belay station on a rocky “beak”. Ignore it.

Start abseiling watching out for the second station. It is hard to miss – you will reach a grassy ledge, wide enough to comfortably stand on. The station will be in front of you on a low vertical stone wall. This station is arranged in the similar fashion as the one above. From this one you belay all the way down to the grassy saddle between Acul Mare and Degetul Rosu.

Abseiling from Acul Mare into the saddle between it and Degetul Rosu. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

If you have 2 ropes (at least 60 m long), you can tie them together and abseil in one take.

Degetul Rosu (The Red Finger Spur)

Degetul Rosu (behind Alex) seen from Acul Mare. Photo (c) Mihai Ion

Start by walking around this spur following a narrow exposed grassy ridge on it’s left side – you will be going around the spur’s south / south east face. No need to rope up yet.

When you’ll start seeing the wider grassy saddle ahead, start looking up as well. You have to spot the first piton on an inclined slabby face. Once you spoted it – you’ll know where you’ll start your ascent of this spurt from.

Continue to the saddle and leave your rucksacks there. No use to bring them along, because you will abseil back to exactly this saddle. Take just the necessary gear.

The gear the lead should have for Degetul Rosu: 7-8 quick draws, sling for clipping into protection at the top, belaying device, 3 carabiners. Seconds gear is the same as for Acul Mare.

Style: climbing up, then bringing seconds up by belaying from top station in auto-blocking mode.

Length: 1 pitch.

The lead will climb to the first piton and clip into it. From here you can go a bit to the left – a comfy ledge there. Here you’ll see a belay station on the wall. Go further  till you reach a low portion of the wall with a crack. Above this crack you will see some boulders with another crack between them – full of pitons. That’s what you should reach. Once you emerge from the first crack, go to the right – round a boulder and then up-n-left to the second crack and pitons you’ve seen. After you reached that crack, you will have the last short portion of the climb with 3-4 pitons (or bolts) to clip into, finally arriving at another solid belay station. The climbing is easy.

On top of Degetul Rosu – searching for the plastic jar. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

Bring your seconds up and then hop up the last stone step (to the very top) to search for a plastic jar under the rocks. Inside the jar there’s a notebook in which climbers note their ascent. Write down your trip date and your names. You can also leave something in a jar – a clip-on sign of your club, a pen. Some people, the legend goes, leave condoms. But we didn’t find any. May be a previous mixed-gender group celebrated, who knows :).

With one 60m rope you will do a short abseil down to the belay station on the wall (before the first crack). And then abseil again from it all the way down to the saddle and your rucksacks. With 2 ropes you will go all the way down in one take.

Abseil from Degetul Rosu. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

Acul Crucii (The Spur with a Cross)

Acul Crucii.

Acul Crucii – middle,  Degetul Rosu – right, Acul de Sus – behind Acul Crucii. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

The saddle you have just abseiled into separates Degetul Rosu from Acul Crucii. The latter is in front of you, if you stand with your back to the abseil.

N.B.: there’s also a small  spur a bit to the right from the saddle. This is Degetul Prelungit – no one climbs it. Well, if you really want to – you can of course:).

Just like with Degetul Rosu, you will start approaching Acul Crucii from the south – south-east (left flank). Again, start walking up the grassy ledge and then onto a very short rocky ledge  – exposed, but with plenty of good hand holds.

Ledge leading to Acul Crucii. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

There will be 2 successive wide cracks. Both have pitons. Choose one with a good solid piton right at the beginning. I think it is the second crack (not sure). Hint – you won’t see the solid piton until you walk into the crack – it is on its right wall.

Climbing up the crack on Acul Crucii. Photo (c) Alex Balmus.

After you emerge from the crack, turn left – there’s a 1-2 m long very narrow rock saddle, and then a narrow almost vertical face of the spur. It is rocky with grass patches – climb up. Don’t go over the very top of the spur – you will block your rope. Instead, go around the top boulder following a ledge-path on the left. Pass through a wide crack, and you will be near some boulders with a cross on top or between them (depends if it has recently fallen again).

Acul Crucii is the most difficult of the spurs, because it is very loose and unpredictable. It is also meandering, so you won’t hear each other’s words too well. Especially in a cloud/fog situation. So you should devise some wordless communication strategy between the leader and seconds before you climb this spur.

Length: 1 pitch.

The gear the lead should have for Acul Crucii: 9-10 quick draws, sling for clipping into protection at the top, belaying device, 3 carabiners, at least 4 long and solid nylon slings (140cm + long) or 6 m of thick cordelette, a medium size camming device or two. Seconds gear is the same as until now. The long slings (or cordelette) and cams are for setting up the belay station on top of the spur. We have set off, knowing there’s a nice crack to insert a cam into in one of the boulders on top. But on top out, found no such crack. It is still there, we just didn’t  find it. If you won’t find the cam crack either, the only viable solution would be to tie the longs lings together (tie ends of long cordelette together) and put this contraption around a large rock, the one with the cross  stuck into a crack.  Then set up and auto-blocking belay.

Click images to enlarge

After all members of the team top out, walk straight and down on a visible path and look for belay station. It will be “around the corner” on your right. Abseil from Acul Crucii can be done in one take. But take care to push yourself to the right with your feet. If you descend straight down, where the wall and gravity take you, you’ll enter a steep dark gully that goes down into the valleys. Aim for a grassy saddle with a visible path. From there you will start your ascent of the last spur – Acul de Sus.

Acul de sus (The Top Spur)

Way up Acul de Sus seen from Acul Crucii. Photo (c) Alex Balmus

The gear the lead should have for Acul Mare: 5-6 quick draws, 2-3 long slings, belaying device, 3 carabiners.

Seconds. No need for any gear this time.

Style. Scrambling up a dirt-grass-n-rock path.

Length: 1 pitch

Like the two previous spurs, Acul de Sus should be climbed from the south side. Before you start, look up and study the spur for a bit. You may be tempted to start climbing a grassy slope farther away from the wall. Which will be wrong – it’s very slippery. You should be climbing up a grassy “path” that will bring you right next to the stone wall on your right – the pro is there.

You will also discern some steps made in grass, rock and dirt by all the previous groups. Your path should look “walked on”. Start 3-4 m up towards a rocky step, top out, turn left and start looking for the first piton. Clip in and continue walking up. You will find 3-4 more pitons on the stone wall on your right. When you top out at a flat grassy spot, there will be a piton to belay your team from on the right. From here many teams continue straight ahead on a narrow ridge and then descend. If you want, you can walk “backwards” a little on the ridge of the Acul de Sus.

After Acul de Sus (on the grassy patch you topped out at after scrambling up the “path”) you can unrope and put your gear away. Keeping helmets on is not a bad idea, though.

Descent

The descent can be done in many ways. The shortest one is to walk 10-15 m on the aforementioned ridge (going ahead), reach a saddle, then start walking down a grass covered gully till you intersect Brana Mare a Morarului. We’ve never done that one, so we will describe a longer variant, that is also much safer in case of bad visibility (fog/cloud/snow).

Narrow ridge that starts from Acul de Sus. Photo (c) Alex Balmus

So, start walking 10-15 on a narrow ridge straight ahead. Reach a grassy saddle. Continue walking straight towards the stony ridge that is perpendicular with your direction. Go around the ridge by descending a little and surrounding it on the right. Then walk left and up to top out on the ridge. Do not go down. In general, first portion of your descent will be actually going up.

Up-n-around the perpendicular ridge. I am pretty sure you can go around lower as well. Photo (c) Alex Balmus

Now, take out your GPS/Phone with OsmAnd Maps and find Creasta Morarului (Morarului Ridge). You should get on it. At this point, even if visibility is bad, just aim straight ahead and slightly to the right, searching for the highest ground, that slopes left and right. Creasta Morarului is very wide and covered with grass.

Creasta Morarului Photo (c) Alex Balmus

Once you are on Creasta Morarului you have two options. 1. If you have good visibility, walk and watch out for the poles that mark a winding trail of touristic path Valea Cerbului (down and left). When you spot the poles, choose a convenient descent rout towards the left to intersect the marked trail (yellow band between two white bands – the one you took for approach, its top part). 2. If visibility is poor, walk the ridge all the way to the Omu cabin atop of highest peak in Bucegi range – Omu. From there, start descent on  the same Valea Cerbului touristic trail (you will have indicator poles there).

On the marked Valea Cerbului trail Photo (c) Alex Balmus

Looking back at the Spurs. Photo (c) Radu Hera

The descent via Valea Cerbului is LONG. It’ll take you 3-3.5 hours to reach a place your left your car at.

Wildlife

It is almost sure you will see a lot of mountain goats during your trip. But it is also likely enough that you will see bears. Especially if you parked near a trash bin at the start of the route. Be prepared: have whistles on you, make noise along the trail, especially if descending in the dark. And, of course, do not try to feed, touch or make selfies with the bears!

You are being watched! Photo (c) Alex Balmus

4 Comments

  1. mad

    One can also choose Valea Bujorilor (can’t recall id 1A or 1B – Peony Valley) or Valea Aadanca (1B – Deep Valley) as North approach routes, starting directly from Gura Diham hotel and finding the unmarked trail that goes by Acele Morarul Hut (hunting hut, as far as I know). And another way of descending is, again, towards North, into Valea Morarului (Miller’s Valley).

    • hcro_admin

      Thanx for the comment! Did you ever try Valea Bujorilor in summer? If yes, what time did you spend going up this valley? I only tried it as a winter access route, in good conditions should be really fast. I know in summer people avoid it, because it has a lot of vegetation. But a first hand account would be nice 🙂

      • mad

        No, I haven’t, but I do know the same about vegetation – especially trees. I’d rather pick Adanca for a complete thrill, but one might want to spend the night at Omu Hut after such a trip. 🙂
        Another thing that I haven’t tried is the emergency withdraw in case of bad weather, but I did see a group right in front doing that. I’m talking about the tunnel right bellow The Top Spur, and then down into Valea Cerbului. It’s interesting that you can see the tunnel clearly when you’re near The Red Finger, but you don’t see it anymore once you’ve descended the Spur with a Cross.

        • hcro_admin

          No one want to spend the night at Omu:)))
          As for the cave, I have seen it, but also never tried – looks dreary! Another descent route we never tried is the usual grassy gully that goes down from a saddle right after the Acul de Sus. This one supposed to be the easiest south retreat route – intersects Brana Mare a Morarului.

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