A scenic and exposed route that has it all: hiking, scrambling, via ferrata and easy climbing in the South of Romanian Carpathians. Brâna Aeriană means “Exposed Ledge”.  Exposed Ledge actually is just a tiny stretch of the route, only 50-70 meters long. But it is so spectacular that the entire route bears its name.

Avoid this route if: you are afraid of exposure or suffer from vertigo. There will be portions, where you will have a long vertical drop right next to you.

This is Brâna Aeriană (arrows point right) and Valea Alba ridge above (arrows point left). Photo by Alex Blamus (c)

Route summary

Starting and ending point: town of Busteni in Prahova valley, headquarters of Romanian Alpine Club building. Address: Strada Morarului 21, Bușteni 105500. Map.

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

Difficulty: alpine (mountaineering) route, grade F (international), or 1A (local) – the easiest alpine route. Please read about alpine routes difficulty grades used on this blog! Actual portion of the route the grade applies to includes Brâna Aeriană and Valea Alba ridge. Rest is trekking and scrambling.

Total altitude gain: cc. 1,565 m.

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

Best conditions: best wait for 2-3 consecutive dry sunny days and then go. Many portions of the route can become very tricky if wet, have ice or snow on them. Route described here was done in dry, sunny summer conditions, so June – October is your best bet (after all snow has melted and before first autumn snows). Also wait for clear weather. The views are breathtaking, you don’t want a cloud to rob you of them.

Finding your way. Only parts of the route are marked trails, so orientation can be difficult for first-timers, especially after Costila Refuge. GPS tracks are highly recommended. Good option is a standard Romania map that comes with OSMAnd Maps app. This app is free and is available for both iPhone and Android. The Romanian map comes with Brâna Aeriană route marked quite well from Costila Refuge and all the way up to the Bucegi plateau.

Minimal obligatory: helmet, harness, 2 slings, 2 carabiners per person.
For members of the party who are less experienced or feel better when roped up you can bring a rope. Rope is also a must in wet conditions. If bringing rope, bring 5-6 quick draws, some more slings and carabiners for clipping into protection points.
Use hiking boots with good Vibram sole or approach shoes.

Sources of water.
1. Spring on the way up to Costila refuge. 2. You can buy bottled water from 2 mountain huts on the plateau: Babele hut and Piatra Arsa hut (a little deviation).
It is better to bring along water for entire route, though.

Getting there

From Bucharest: drive on DN1 road till Busteni. Map. Alternatively, take A3 road till Ploiesti, then drive on 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.

The route, detailed

Best of all, spend the night in town of Busteni and then start off rested, around 6 am – to beat other hikers’ “traffic”.

The route starts from Caminul Alpin (headquarters of Romanian Alpine Club) in Busteni. You can park your car on small adjacent streets or on grassy space behind the Club building.

Access route

Go to the forest margin by Morarului street (street view) and then follow the trail marked with red triangle with white outline. You will pass a wooden crucifix and then walk some more till the marked trail will make an almost 90Deg turn to the right. Here you should leave the marked trail and continue on an unmarked path straight ahead. Normally, the path is quite obvious, since it is quite circulated. Although officially unmarked, you will occasionally see small ticks of yellow paint on the trees along the way. Take care – there are 2 ramifications of the path. Both ramifications are pathways to Valea Alba (White Couloir) and go straight-ahead-ish or to the left. You must keep right in both cases. One of these ramifications is marked with old pyramid-shaped road stone and a green triangle. So, if you wind up seeing green triangles on trees – you are off route.

For a while the trail is an easy slope. You will pass a small meadow with some thick pines and boulders, after that the trail turns to the right and if you are attentive, you can spot a rock full of memorial plates left above the trail. This is a memorial for mountaineers who died climbing in Bucegi massif. The trail will immediately take you to a bench made of skies with a spring near by. The water is rarely clean (leaves), but if you are in need of a fill up, use the pipe that comes out of the cement basin. No one reported stomach problems after drinking from this spring so far.

Your trail now becomes steeper and winding, taking you through a succession of curves. In about 20-25 minutes you will reach the first small couloir full of rock. From now on you should be on the look out for the start of the actual Brâna Aeriană route. Traverse the first couloir and soon after there will be another one – traverse that one too. Then go ahead till you reach a large couloir – this is Costila Valley. On the other side of it you’ll see metallic structure – the Costila refuge. Do not cross Costila Valley. Your access route is now over, and you should see a small path between the trees and bushes on your left, right before the slope going down into Costila Valley.  Start up that small path. It’s a good idea to put your climbing helmets on at that point, because from here on a loose rock can fly by – or into – you anytime.

Alipine route (the good stuff :))

Now the things will become a bit steeper. But the main problem is the orientation. Normally, by June the trail would have been hiked a bunch of times and you should be fine if you stick to the visible path. But there will be some rocky areas, where the trail is less obvious. E.g. at some point you will reach a rocky rounded ridge, wide and cozy – continue on it. But the best thing to do is to get a GPS track on your phone for help. We used OSMAnd Maps app, available on both iPhone and Android. It is free, and with a standard map of Romania comes a bunch of very useful unmarked mountain trails in all of Romanian Carpathians! The Brâna Aeriană trail is quite good on it. To find the route on the OSM map:

  • Find Busteni
  • Look for Refugiu Costila on the left on green color
  • Look between blue valleys: Alba, Costila, Galbinele. You’ll see a very winding path. You can also find access path from marked trail to Costila refuge.

Still, do not be discouraged if you loose your path a couple of times. Retrace your steps and, in general, follow a path that is logical and more accessible than other variants.

In about 45 mins – 1 hour you will reach couloir-looking areas with some loose rock. Soon you should be seeing first dihedral equipped with chains for easier access. Climb up and follow the path till the next chain-equipped area.

Chain-equipped dihedral

You soon will reach a bellevue spot – a rocky “beak” that overlooks Prahova valley, several smaller mountain massifs across it and towns in the valley. On clear days the view is awesome – so stop there, snap some photos, eat your sweets and gear up for the ledge: put on your harnesses and organize 2 slings in such a way that they emulate via ferrata equipment. Tie them to your harness with a carabiner on each free end.

From here you will climb through a shrubbery of dwarf mountain pine and then make your way through a succession of cliffs, land slides, rock debris and more pine. Orientation here is difficult. There should be an imposing vertical rock wall in front of you (and at times on your right). The ledge is there, but looking up trying to see it won’t help much, it is almost impossible to make out from below. What you should look for is sort of a short narrow-ish ridge that will appear towards your left with a clear path on it that leads into some trees after which the first thin steel cable doubled by thin chain are visible. The cables and the chains mark the actual Brâna Aeriană portion. The Exposed Ledge.

Some pics to illustrate the indications above. Click to enlarge.

Walking and scrambling on Brâna Aeriană without clipping into or holding onto the cables requires some cochones. It’s not technically difficult, but the vertical drop on your right is impressive. And again – the views are just so fine!

Use slings and carabiners to successively clip/unclip portions of the cable, keeping yourself secured at all times. Additionally you can tie in a rope, if you have a leader that knows what he/she is doing to make members of the group to feel more at ease.

On Brâna Aeriană. Click to enlarge.

In just 50-70 meters you will reach a small grassy flat spot, which is the beginning of Valea Alba ridge (Creasta Vaii Albe). From here you’ll continue left-n-up. The ridge is not your usual knife-sharp alpine ridge, it is wide and sloped, looking like a succession of comfy ledges one can easily walk up. Note: this can be very deceptive in wet/icy conditions, the slope becomes very treacherous. If you ARE in wet/icy conditions up there for some reason – rope up and have your leader clip in solid metal pitons you’ll find along the way! Pitons are not many, and usually mark ends of climbing routes of Valea Alba wall.

In dry conditions Valea Alba ridge is a pleasure to be on. It’s just walking, easy scrambling and just a tiny bit of easy climbing up a small dihedral or two. Try to walk as close to the steep wall drop on your left. The views are better, and the treacherous ledgy slopes on your right are farther away.

Valea Alba ridge, Hornul lui Gelepeanu. Click to enlarge.

The ridge gradually widens up and becomes easier and easier to walk on. Walk straight without turning anywhere and soon you’ll see Hornul lui Gelepeanu. Translated word by word it’s “Gelepeanu’s chimney”. Doesn’t look like a chimney at all though. It’s just two large rocky bumps – walk up between them and you’ll be past the alpine part of the route and on the Bucegi plateau, on Costila mountain, topped with an old TV tower.

Hornul lui Gelepeanu.

Descent route

From here walk towards the TV tower till you see a ground road and poles with trail mark signs. The TV tower is guarded and can’t be visited. Beware of watch dogs. They’ll bark at you, but will leave you alone, if you don’t try to storm the TV tower walls.

Continue on trail marked with vertical yellow band between two white bands (NOT the red cross trail that goes to Caraiman peak).  You will pass Babele cabin with cable car. If tired, you can descend by cable car, if you managed to get to it by 4:15 pm. Or continue ahead till you reach the margin of dwarf mountain pine forest. Without entering the pines, walk towards left in direction of shepherd’s sheds (beware of sheepdogs). After you’ll pass he shed (leave it on your right) you should soon see the trail marked with blue triangle – follow it. After walking between dwarf pines for a bit, you will reach an abandoned building – Canton Piatra Arsa. If you are facing it, the continuation of descent route will be on it’s right side. The descent route is a marked trail (the same blue triangle) called Schiel trail (or Jepii Mari trail). It starts off by passing through some dwarf pines, then you’ll have some rocky steps portions equipped with chains (but easy enough). At some point you will pass by the old station of cable car that used to transport logs down to the town for brothers’ Schiel paper factory in Busteni – more than a 100 years ago. In about 45 minutes the descent will get easier,  the trail becomes a succession of wide curves that continue all the way down to the Busteni cable car station. From the station you should go down to Busteni’s main street (DN1 road), and walk back and up to the Camin Alpin to recover your car, if you left it there.

Blooming rhododendron on Schiel trail

Old cable car pole on Schiel trail.