If you didn’t catch Part 1 of this story, click here!
After a night of partying with the locals and other Albanian families, i managed to crawl out of bed around 8am. Today i’ll be trekking to Valbona, which according to other hikers, it will take approximately 7 hours. I was determined to make it under that time, so i started the morning with few cups of Turkish coffee. As i was sipping on the very grainy coffee, i became mesmerized by the mountains around me. I LITERALLY CAN STARE AT THIS BEAUTY ALL DAY! The words and photos ill use will never do justice….but i’ll try my best to take you with me on this journey!
Prior to my departure, I made sure i had the maps downloaded on “Maps.me” just in case i missed a trail. I filled up my re-usable bottle and platypus pouch with about 2.5 liters of water. The platypus water pouch would serve as my handheld water source throughout this hike. To be honest…i probably should’ve brought a “camelbak” or a water reservoir in my bag. That day i wore minimal trail shoes, Merrell Bare Access, Nike running shorts, and a tank top. I carried a 28 liter North Face bag which held every thing i needed for about 3-4 days. All together with everything i had on, weighed about 8-9 kilograms (18-20 pounds ish). My goal was to hike/jog and make it in by mid-afternoon. I wasn’t trying to rush anything, but since all i’ve done was eat and drink like shit, i wanted to get a good sweat going =P.
When i started the slow jog, i was still slightly hungover from all the Albanian Rakija i had the night before…I could smell it from my pores as i began to sweat under the morning sun. Not to get too graphic, but within the first 30 minutes, my trek for the next couple hours was “fasted”. The first couple kilometers from Theth was a steady and comfortable incline. I eventually passed through the small town and river that laid between the mountains. After 30-40 minutes in, the inclines became steeper and then you begin to notice the change of scenery on the trails. The whole national park was a mixture of Fauna and Flora. The trails were well marked and had a mixture of packed dirt and loose gravel, it was fairly easy to run up some of the packed dirt in the beginning.
A little bit after the first hour and couple hundred meters in elevation later, there was a bar/cafe overlooking Theth. There would be 3 other bar/cafe just like this throughout the trails. These are like rest stops where travelers can fill up their bottles with water and purchase snacks/drinks. I met few hikers at this bar and shared a quick conversation before we head back out on the trails again.
For the next couple hours, there were good inclines in which i found slightly challenging at some parts. My favorite parts were on the packed dirt under the trees. It was around 1100, and i was jogging through a path where there were luscious greenery all around me as the sunlight seeped through the leafy ceiling! At this point, i can feel the temperature getting cooler due to the drastic gain in elevation. I reached a clearing, and it was probable one of the most undisturbed moment in this trek. I felt and heard my own heart beat as i was trying to catch my breath from the steep climb.
At this point, i was making pretty good time and i knew the Valbone Pass was not too far. The Valbone pass is the halfway point and sits on a ridge with a amazing view. It has an overlook that separates the path between Theth and Valbone. When i finally got to the top, i noticed that it was pretty crowded with hikers that did the reverse route and the ones from Theth. I spent a good 30 minutes sitting on the ridge and just looking off into the distance at the other peaks. I never knew that Albania was this beautiful!
The last few kilometers of the trip was all downhill on loose gravel and through dried riverbeds! I met two ladies from states (Oregon and California) who met each-other on the Pacific Crest Trail a year prior! Megan and Brittanie were on the tail end of the “Via Dinarica”, a thru-hike starting in Slovenia that ends in Albania (Follow their story here! BRITTANIE’S BLOG , MEGAN’S BLOG). We chatted and cruised the whole way down. Megan and Brittanie actually inspired me to start looking into a different type of “backpacking”, more so in seeking thru-hiking in different places. We shared stories about traveling, blogging, and the beauty of northern Albania. They had an awesome vibe and was grateful i get to share the trails with these two!
We finally made it into Valbona and parted ways. One of the greatest things about traveling is meeting total strangers in which you can developed a bond or common interest with!
I checked into a guest house that afternoon and met few more people who also did the trails. Other guests were checking in and and will the reverse route in the morning. It actually got pretty chilly that evening as we all spent time talking about our travels and drinking beers. No matter where i go, or what i do, the mountains will always be my place of solitude.