Piatra Craiului (Prince’s Rock) is a very special massif in Romanian Carpathians. Entirely limestone, it is: white (or pink in sunset), rocky, full of caves and funky rock formations with holes in them. It also has a long beautiful narrow ridge – a must-have for any hiker.
Hiking route described here is not awfully long (just 16-17km), but it is technical, involves some scrambling and requires a good level of both fitness and surefootedness.
Time to finish the rote depends very much on one’s level of fitness and scrambling abilities. But I would say that a 3-4 member group of fit hikers (not trail runners or fast trekkers) will do it in 11.5 – 12 hours of sustained hiking with minimal amount of short food/pee/pics breaks.
This hike is not suitable for children under 14.
Starting and ending point: Plaiul Foii mountain cabin/hotel. Map.
Time to complete: 1 long day of decent speed hiking. Best to stay 1 or 2 nights in nearby town of Zarnesti to avoid driving/hiking tired.
Difficulty: difficult hiking route (Black). Please read about hiking routes difficulty grades used on this blog!
Total altitude gain: cc. 1600-1800 m (there will be a lot of going up and down).
Length: Circa 16 km.
Best conditions: best when dry. Limestone is quite slippery when wet, so the La Lanturi and Ridge portions will be tricky if it rained/rains. Also it is best to avoid really hot summer days. There are no sources of water on this route above 1400 m, and the ridge is completely exposed to sun. So dehydration can be a serious problem when it’s hot. Take at least 2L of water with you on cloudy or chilly day, and at least 3.5L on sunny/hot day. Believe me – you will need them! Best season for this hike is actually autumn: end of September – mid November (before first snows).
Finding your way. Will be easy enough. The route is a marked touristic trail. Still, downloading Muntii Nostri app and having a map with you is a good idea.
Equipment: hiking boots with good Vibram sole or approach shoes, trekking poles, head torch.
Wearing helmet is a very good idea on La Lanturi and descent portions of this hike. Piatra Craiului has a lot of limestone screes, so the rockfalls are very frequent.
Sources of water.
No permanent sources of water above 1400m. You will start your hike following the river bed, then here will be a small spring some 10-15 minutes before Spirlea refuge. But both of them can be dried up, so it’s best to bring all the liquids you’ll need with you.
From Bucharest: Map.
From Brasov: Map.
You can leave your car in a small parking on the hill in front of the Plaiul Foii cabin.
Accommodation: 1 or 2 nights stay is best.
Where to eat: You can try Mosorel bed & breakfast. Lady who owns it cooks great traditional food, you can even discuss the menu for the evening with her.
Start walking from Plaiul Foii cabin following marked touristic trail. The mark is a vertical red stripe between 2 white stripes. You will see it on touristic signs, trees and rocks.
First you will be walking on a gravel paved road by Bârsa Tămașului River (which you will cross several times).
Soon you will enter the forest and start on a steeper and steeper path that will lead you to the Spirlea refuge. On this steep uphill, some 10-15 minutes before the refuge, there will be the last potential source of water – a small spring in a gully on your right. There’s also a small arrow sign pointing to it – on a tree, easy to miss. NB: the spring may very well be dried up in summer, don’t put your faith in it.
You will reach Spirlea refuge in under or about 1.5 hours.
From there you will walk through the forest for a bit longer, gradually approaching the spectacular white walls of Piatra Craiului. The views will be getting better and better.
After climbing a moderately nasty slope with some scree, you will reach a place called La Zaplaz. A natural limestone sculpture with multiple holes. Very soon after La Zaplaz you will reach the first steel cable. This is the beginning of a more difficult and the most fun part of the route – La Lanturi (which in translation means “At The Chains”). This part of the route also is often referred to as Deubel’s path, after the man who first established it as a hiking/scrambling route.
La Lanturi is also marked with the vertical red stripe. This trail mark will lead you all the way up to Grind saddle on Piatra Craiului ridge.
La Lanturi is a mountain couloir that was transformed into a touristic trail when the network of chains was bolted to its walls in the most tricky spots. Now even people with no climbing expertise can do this trail. Still, minimal climbing experience and a good scrambling abilities will come very handy on La Lanturi. People who don’t have any idea about how to position themselves on the rock risk to quickly exhaust their arm strength pulling on cables.
As any couloir, La Lanturi is like a scrambling puzzle. So many steps, traverses, chimneys – all different, total fun. You will gain cc. 700 vertical meters in a very short distance, but it will be so much fun that the steep climb really won’t tire you out. You’ll only regret that it’ll be over soon enough.
Click images to enlarge. Photos (c) Lili Bara & Ana-Maria Vasiliu.
ATTENTION: put your helmets on before the first cable of La Lanturi and keep it on til you finish that part of the trail at the Grind saddle and refuge. First of all, you will be climbing one under the other and inevitably dislodge some gravel that’ll rain on the next-in-line head. Secondly, Piatra Craiului has a huge population of mountain goats, and they provoke rockfalls very often.
All in all, the way from Plaiul Foii to Grind saddle should take you 4 – 4.5 hours.
You will top out at the Grind saddle, right next to the highest point of Piatra Craiului – La Om peak. From here on you will follow a different mark – red circle in white outline.
Grind saddle separates North ridge from the South ridge. To continue on the South ridge, go to your right (when you stand with your back to the La Lanturi you just came from). There’s also a trail sign – go in direction of Saua Funduri (Funduri saddle) indicated by one of the arrows.
The ridge part is the most scenic – it gives you a panoramic view of several mountain massifs: Bucegi, Leaota, Iezer and even Fagaras on clear days. You will also see all the near by towns and villages in the valleys between the mountains.
The ridge itself is very beautiful too – a succession of white limestone cliffs. But take care to watch your step, not just the surroundings. The ridge has many narrow portions with almost vertical drops on left and right. There also also several places when you need to downclimb with care, especially if you are short and don’t reach good footholds right away.
Click images to enlarge. Photos (c) Lili Bara & Ana-Maria Vasiliu.
The ridge can be psychically tiring because of the constant up-n-down, attention required and also dense growth of dwarf alpine pines towards its end. So several short pauses would be a good idea.
On average, hiking the South ridge – from Grind saddle to Funduri saddle – should take around 3 hours.
You will start to descend from Funduri saddle following the blue triangle in white outline trail mark. Take care to go to the right (when standing with your back to the South ridge you came from). Descent to the left will take you to Funduri refuge and then to the opposite side of the mountain. So keep to the right.
NB: put your helmet on again.
Beginning of the descent is very steep and rather nasty – mix of black slimy dirt, gravel and tree roots. Trekking poles are pretty much a necessity here. If you don’t have them, hold on to the dwarf pines that grow by the trail.
After the steep descent you will start the final part of your hike under the magnificent white walls of this mountain. This part will be a succession of up-n-downs too, but less tiring than the ridge, because the terrain is technically easier.
The main attraction here is a number of large screes to cross. The largest one is called exactly that – Marele Grohotis, i.e. The Large Scree. There we got into a rockfall provoked by a mountain goat above us. So, helmets came in handy.
Right before Marele Grohotis there’s a place called Cerdacul lui Stanciu – a great limestone arcade with a huge boulder blocked right in the middle of it. There’s also a gated cave – home to a gang of long-eared bats.
Continuing your hike, you will cross several couloirs before reaching a scree at the point known as Umerii Pietrei Craiului. On this scree you will see a trail deviating to the left-n-down with an indicator arrow on a pole a bit lower that your trail. You should keep to your trail that continues forward, right under the walls. You will notice that the trail mark will change back into the vertical red stripe.
Follow the vertical red stripe trail. Soon you will enter the forest and have a pole with arrows that will show you the way back to Spirlea refuge. The rest of the descent will follow the route you hiked up at the beginning of the day: Spirlea refuge, down the hill to Bârsa Tămașului valley and back to your car parked by the Plaiul Foii cabin. There’s a restaurant in the cabin (not a very good one, though) – in case you are starving. But it’s best to drive back and explore places to eat in Zarnesti.