Couloir scrambling is a special type of alpine route that is practiced a lot in Carpathians. Couloirs are normally considered access routes to something more interesting, and are usually practiced in winter conditions. But they are fun in summer (autumn) conditions too.  A couloir in autumn is like a scrambling / easy climbing puzzle in a splendid setting of golden autumn woods.

Romanian mountaineers even have a name for a period between mid-August to late October: couloir season (sezonul de vai).

Like any alpine route, couloirs have alpine grades. Valea Seaca dintre Clai is graded F+ (1B). But among 1B-s it is one of the easiest. It can be done in free climbing fashion, but a group MUST have climbing equipment with them for unforeseen situations or for roping up members who do not feel comfortable to free climb the chutes.

Valea Seaca dintre Clai. Photo (c) Alex Balmus

The second part of the route is an unmarked trailed called Brâul lui Răducu. It’s a very wide ledge that goes between marked trails of Valea Jepilor and Schiel. The ledge is so large, that it actually more of a wide path on a grassy slope. Extremely beautiful & scenic. Especially in autumn when the larch trees turn golden.

Views from Braul lui Raducu. Photo (c) Ana-Maria Vasiliu

The descent is via a marked Schiel trail.

Route summary

Starting and ending point: town of Busteni in Prahova valley, cable car station. Map.

Time to complete: 1 day. No overnight stay required – the route will take you 8 – max. 10 hours if the weather is good.

Difficulty: alpine (mountaineering) route, grade F+ (international), or 1B (local). We would add that it is on the easy side of F+. Please read about alpine routes difficulty grades used on this blog! Actual portion of the route the grade applies to is the couloir – Valeas Seaca dintre Clai. Rest is trekking .

Total altitude gain: cc. 880 m.

Length: Circa 8 km.

Best conditions: best wait for at leats 7-10 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 mid August – October is your best bet (after all snow has melted and before first autumn snows).

Finding your way. Only parts of the route are marked trails. 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 Valea Seaca dintre Clai & Braul lui Raducu marked. The Schiel touristic trail is also marked with blue triangle with white outline (you may need to meddle with settings a little to show touristic paths).

Equipment.
Minimal obligatory: helmet, harness, a slings, 2 carabiners, rappelling device of choice 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. A half-rope of 30 m will do. 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.
No permanent sources of water.

Getting there

From Bucharest: drive on DN1 road till Busteni cable car station. 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: no overnight stay required.

Where to eat: 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

Couloirs are best when dry. When wet, they are both more difficult to climb and really dirty / slimy. It’s really no point to do a couloir if you find running water in it. Although after 7-10 consecutive dry, sunny and warm days it is almost sure the couloir will be dry, you may never know for sure till you reached the place and evaluated the conditions first hand. In case you find Valea Seaca dintre Clai wet, you can return to the place where Schiel trail meets Valea Jepilor touristic trail and go up Valea Jepilor, then go down the Schiel. It will be a fine day of trekking.

The main attraction of a couloir in summer/autumn (no snow conditions) is its chutes. Chute is a rocky step that must be climbed. Chutes come in all shapes and sizes. Some are really huge and hold-free and require serious climmbing skills, other are as small as 1 meter. Climbing chutes is like solving a fun set of problems or a puzzle. So, one can say that doing couloirs is a form of really easy boldering session with several consecutive problems of varying difficulty. Valea Seaca dintre Clai has one tall chute – the first one. The rest are considerably smaller.

Approach

From Busteni cable car (you can park there) start walking up the asphalt road that soon becomes an unpaved dusty place. You will have a river on your right. You will also be seeing the trail marks you should be following: blue triangle with white outline (the Schiel touristic trail).

In cc. 10 minutes you will be at the edge of the forest. You will see a touristic sign with trails and directions. Another trail marked with blue cross in white outline also starts here. It is Valea Jepilor trail – a good alternative in case you find Valea Seaca dintre Clai  wet.

Enter the forest and walk up to the wooden cabin. Pass by and continue on  the blue triangle trail for another 20-30 minutes. Check your GPS! You will get to a place where the touristic trail takes a wide 90 deg turn to the left. You will spot a small path deviating from it and going straight ahead, disappearing into the vegetation. This is the beginning of Valea Seaca dintre Clai .

Route description

Start walking up the narrow path. You will fight with bushes, clingy horny undergrowth and nettle for a while. Just suffer through it. Tip: always wear long pants if not trekking on marked touristic trials. Soon the path will go down to the very bed of the couloir and vegetation will gradually give way to the rock and fallen tree trunks.

In about 15-20 minutes you should reach the first chute. It is around 15-20 m high. You should really consider roping up for this one, if group members don’t have the same level of experience and confidence free climbing 20 m of rock.

At the base of the tall chute. Photo (c) Alex Balmus

Technically, the chute is not that hard. It has 3 large “steps”, one can rest comfortably at the top of each step. There’s also a piton between the first and the second step and another one on the right side of the chute on top out. Leader can belay seconds from the top one.

The tall chute – from top to bottom. Photo (c) Ana-Maria Vasiliu

In general, Valea Seaca dintre Clai is full of pitons. Most of them are marked with red paint. They are mostly used when using the couloir as a descent route – for consecutive abseils. But they can also be used for climbing up roped up and belaying group members.

Save for the first chute, this couloir doesn’t have any more tall ones. The rest is between 1-2 m and may be 8-10 m. And these will not be vertical 10 meters, but rather a succession of rocky steps. In some descriptions we’ve seen that all in all there are 11 chutes. But there’s really no point counting them, since you can not evaluate the length of the route or your position based on a chute number.

It’s just worth to mention that Valea Seaca dintre Clai chutes come in 3 varieties:

  1. simple face-with-ledges climbing,
  2. angles with little holds on one of the faces that require ramonaj (a technique used to climb chimneys and angles when climber uses slides his/her back up the wall while pushing with both feet into the opposing wall)
  3. window-chutes.

Window-chutes are really fun. They are basically rock arcades/micro-caves with a big hole in the middle to climb through. Many chutes have tree trunks left in/on them by other kind-hearted mountaineers to ease your way.

Climbing Valea Seaca dintre Clai with plenty of breakes for pictures and snacking  should take a group of 3-4 people 3-3.5 hours if done without using the rope.

You will know that you are beyond mid-way point when you will see  lonely tree right in the middle of couloir bed. And you will know you are close to the end when rock gives way to gravel and grassy steps.

Views of valley bed and collection of chutes. Click to enlarge.

Valea Seaca dintre Clai ends in a saddle covered with grass and larch trees – with splendid views. You will see an obvious trail crossing the saddle (perpendicular to the couloir line) and going left and right. You will be going right to get to Braul lui Raducu. But first go left on the trail for 5 minutes or less till you reach a small grass covered clearing surrounded by pines and larch trees. It is a truly special and peaceful spot. You can rest up and snack there admiring the views of Caraiman mountain with its cross and walls above Braul lui Raducu.

View from the saddle. Photo (c) Alex Balmus

After your rest walk back to the saddle and start walking further on the path (it will be right from the line of Valea Seaca. You will be walking towards a large rock where the path will split in 2. You should take leftmost branch that goes down and starts turning left. You are now on  Braul lui Raducu.

Views from the saddle and from Braul lui Raducu. Click to enlarge.

The path is very clear most of the way. Since 2018 it also has paint blob markings similar to ones used for trail running comps. You’ll surely will be taking a lot of pictures, because on a clear sunny day  Braul lui Raducu is just wonderful.

The path will cross several more couloirs. they are the 3 branches of Treasure Valley (Valea Comorilor) and Urlatoarea Mica Valley. Crossing the latter is the only place on  Braul lui Raducu where you may have some orientation difficulties. You should crosss the couloir, reach some rocks with tiny pines on them and then go down a rocky gully till you see a ground trail entering the woods on your right. You will see some paint blobs there again.

Continue on that path. Soon enough you will reach a wide path  of the Schiel touristic trail and see the signs with blue triangle. From here it will take you 1-1.5 hours to get back to the cable car station on an easy trail.