Skakavitza Waterfall Hike

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With visiting the relatives complete, Stoytcho and I took  a couple of days’ retreat in the Rila Mountain Range for some outdoorsing. It has been a singular sorrow to be cooped up in the car, passing so many beautiful slopes and potential trails to the unknown here in Bulgaria. As a remedy, we booked a lovely room at the Hotel Borovets for the off-season nightly price of 58 lev (~$35 USD, including breakfast!), and for a stunning 10 lev (~$6 USD) they packed us daily lunch as well. Their lutenitsa was delicious.

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Totally NOT Skakavitsa Falls, but another waterfall along the trail.

Our first hike was at Skakavitsa Falls. Despite gorgeous weather the last two weeks, summer decided to flee on the days of our hike! We hiked in light mist and clouds, but the trails were still beautiful. Photos and map below of the rainy wonderland.

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A wild rose along the trail.

If you’re looking to hike Skakavitsa, be warned that in 2018 the signs were still all in Cyrillic. From the trailhead follow the red trail up to the hut/inn, then continue in the same direction. Do not go left, despite the open fields and better-marked trail — this goes to Rila Lakes and is a day-long affair. Stoytcho and I started on this trail before realizing we had passed the falls and had to double-back.

Map:

A photographic taste of the trail:

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Trail information at the trailhead.

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Follow the red trail markers.

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Other hikers along the trail.

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A wild allium flower.

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A waterfall along the trail.

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Dewspun spider web along the trail.

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The forest along the trail.

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An abandoned electrical building along the trail.

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The hut/house at the trail fork. When you get to the picnic trail after this, keep going in the same direction; don’t go left.

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Don’t take this trail; it doesn’t go to Skakavitsa Falls.

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An odd flower or bud.

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If you get here, you’re definitely on the wrong track. This trail leads to the Rila Lakes and it’s pretty far.

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The cost of taking a wrong turn. Everything is so wet!

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Special effects without editing: fog inside your camera lens.

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Back on the right trail, heading toward Skakavitsa.

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Skakavitsa Falls! Currently hardly a trickle and obscured by mist.

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Wild violet.

 

The Trails of Stolby

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The camp inside the park is super close to the central stairs – great for us! On the days it wasn’t pouring, we made our way up and out into the main bouldering/hiking section. Many day visitors don’t go too far along this route, being content with reaching the picnic/play area at the top.

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Past the stairs, almost immediately after, is First Pillar. It’s nice, not particularly climbable in the upward direction but fun to scramble around on. There are little training boulders scattered around, including some for kids.
The path from there splits. On the first day we visited the yellow/blue trail. The markers are a vivid stripe of blue and another of yellow on trees and rocks around the park. It’s a pretty short hike and really focuses on climbable boulders and pillars.

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Some of the rocks have names, some of them don’t. We found a fun one to climb on the way to Ded (grandpa) pillar. Here we got to scramble through a little stone chimney and wander around somewhat above the treeline.

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There was a nice little ascension point at the base which was a good warmup for the slightly harder second half of the climb, just out of sight of the picture.

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Ded pillar is a pretty popular one. We met a few families climbing around on it. There’s a low easy section that’s a lot of fun to run around on and has some hollow sections that fill up with rain to make ponds. From here you can see over the park and into the city. There was a whole family leaning over to take a selfie with Krasnoyarsk. Ded rock also has a much, much harder second portion.

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You can climb on the taller segments but the path is hard and not straightforward. We only know this because we saw an old man gripping his way around the rock. He was leathery and cut, probably climbing these rocks most days.

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Around the loop we hiked, skipping Perya Rock, instead reaching in about half an hour Third Pillar (3rd rock!). Lots of good climbing on this one! The paths in this part of the forest intersect rather freely, so we had to make sure we were on our trail several times. There’s at least one path that goes from this area all the way back to town.

Right nearby is Fourth Pillar, and then the trail loops back around towards first and second pillars.

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Back to camp we went, let the rains pass for a day, and headed out again. This time we went on the purple trail. This trail goes way south into the explorable region of the park, does a tight loop, and returns. It’s a lot more hike-y and way less climb-y than the other trails, though there are still some good rocks to be found. It has a lot more bog and mosquitoes, so that’s not as nice. But the wildlife is wilder – we saw a pack of wolves (wolf and german shepherd mixes mostly) running not 40 feet from us. We did not get a picture, but we also didn’t get eaten, so yay!

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Along that route we saw a lot of weathered rocks – large pockmarks and crevices.

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And plenty of good rocks for climbing.

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Some more difficult than others.

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We actually got to the end of the purple trail, dire warning sign and all! It makes sense in this park – the land here is supposed to remain free of human interaction, and the only way to guarantee that is to ban most humans from entering the true nature reserve. The chipmunks living past this line in the forest do not get fed nuts and berries from tourists.

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Out near the final rock someone had set up a little picnic area, a little disused. We saw some traces of previous visitors but really, if you want to be alone in nature, this is the spot.

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On our way back we had the pleasure of searching for the Cain and Abel rocks. This was a fun diversion for a while and really got the sweat flowing. The trail we came in by is at ground level, while the ‘loop’ portion of it is ten or more meters above that, so we spent a lot of time climbing straight up a very steep slope looking for the loop portion of the trail. We got lost for a while, going much further east than we intended, and had to backtrack.

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Finally our legwork paid off – we found the trail and the rocks we were looking for.

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The view from the top was grand. The day was clear and we could see the park stretching on and on.

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There were other large rocks within out sight and we could see where parts of the forest had been burned or hit by disease. A real bird’s eye view!

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The rock we were on had some climbable rocks jutting out pretty far over the cliff proper. Here Natalie climbs those rocks while I sit grumpily afraid of heights for her in the background.

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The nature in the park is remarkable. Trees here grow huge from the tiniest cracks in the pillars. One day they’ll help force apart the rock and cause their eventual collapse.

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Here is one such fantastic tree, its roots crawling all over the rock searching for any purchase. We were not the first people to sit in it for a picture, we definitely won’t be the last. That tree is rooted in tight.

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Done with Cain and Abel, we headed home. On the last stretch back we encountered Farm Rock (ferma). We’d been seeing signs for this rock the whole time we were here, and we finally found it! It’s a good short-hop bouldering site with lots of interesting low-height routes. Why it’s called a farm, I have no idea.

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We had a great time hiking and climbing in Stolby. Since we were there taking pictures, we also made this map of the paths we explored!

The Salkantay Trek in 20 Photos

Here is our 4-day, 56 km trek along the Salkantay, for those who would rather have it in pictures than in words:

Day 1

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A fork near the start of the trail. The first day’s trail has several such junctions.

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Reaching Parador Horanda Pata, the first vista along the trail

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Hiking deeper and higher into the Andes

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A view of Salkantay Mountain overshadowing Sorayapampa, the first night’s campsite

Day 2

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A cow rests in the valley below the Salkantay Pass

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Campsite at Salkantaypampa on the way to the Salkantay Pass

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Switchbacks rising from the valley floor up to the Salkantay Pass

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The top of the Salkantay Pass on a rainy day

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The mists of the rainy season hang over the Andes on the other side of the Salkantay Pass

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The rainy season temporarily converts the trail down into a slippery stream. This is how I slipped and fell and hit my neck (but not where it happened, thank goodness, or I’d be much worse off).

Day 3

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A view of Salkantay Mountain over our campsite last night (Wayramachay)

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A turquoise river flows through the dense jungle next to the trail.

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Hiking mostly downhill today, a welcome change. I’m wearing a makeshift neck brace after yesterday’s fall.

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The Santa Teresa/Salkantay River at high levels from the rainy season

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A washout on the steep valley trail beside the river. This one was thankfully passable.

 

Day 4

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Operating the gondola to cross the river at our campsite (Winaypocco). We tried to venture further on this side of the river but encountered an impassable washout.

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Locals wait as a CAT digger clears a washout on the vehicle road. Rainy season brings washouts throughout the valley. Some (like the one above), cut people off from the outside world for several days.

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Hiking the hot, shadeless vehicle road just outside of Playa. From here, we took a car to Santa Teresa to find a doctor and make sure I hadn’t been injured from Day 2’s fall.

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The first hot meal after four days of trail food, after arriving by car in Santa Teresa.

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Reference stacks at the Santa Teresa medical clinic. We visited to make sure I haven’t seriously injured my neck. It all turned out fine.

The Trail to Las Grietas

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The view in the direction of Las Grietas

Las Grietas is one of the few hikes you can do directly from Puerto Ayora, taking you from the town to a narrow canyon where you can snorkel. On our second day in town, we took a ferry across the bay to the start of the trail. It’s a five-minute ride that takes you less than half a mile, but the atmosphere is a world away. Once you get away from the ferry dropoff point, the noise of boat motors dies away and it’s quiet. There’s no sound of vehicles, or bustling crowds. Just the occasional chirp of birds.

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The population on this side of the bay is sparse, isolated, and fairly wealthy

The path from the ferry to Las Grietas started as asphalt but then gave way to sand. We passed private houses and hotels, with high walls and locked gates. The wealthiest people live and stay on this side of the bay, where there are no roads and no stores. After the the homes came a boardwalk and Finch Bay, a beach of white sand and clear aquamarine water flanked on either side by mangroves. Snorkelers dotted the water here, while others sunbathed on the sand.

Past Finch Bay was the official start of the Las Grietas trail, marked with a wooden sign. We left the shade of trees to and emerged next to a salt flat, evidence that work still does exist outside of tourism here, however rare it may be. Rectangular pools of water lay drying in the sun, ringed by crystals of pinkish white salt. Though no one seemed to be tending the flat, a man at a kiosk nearby waved us over and placed a pinch of salt crystals in our hands. I sampled one of the crystals and found it salty, slightly metallic and tangy. It tasted like the sea.

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The salt flats on the trail to Las Grietas

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The salmon-colored water of the salt flats is likely caused by halophilic bacteria, similar to those found in the Rainbow Hot Springs in Yellowstone

The landscape was more arid from here, dotted with leafless shrubs and towerting Opuntia cactuses. We walked along packed red earth and over wooden bridges past marshes and rocky volcanic terrain under. The midday sun bore down intensely. The landscape was flat, then became slightly hill, and finally climbed gently to the top of a cliff. This was the edge of Las Grietas.

After registering with the rangers on duty (rangers are an omnipresence here in the Galapagos), we climbed down the wooden stairs into the canyon. It was blissfully shaded, and we wasted no time stashing our packs and clothes among the rocks and jumping in the water. The water itself was cool and refreshing, a mix of fresh and seawater so clear that I could see the bottom of the canyon, thirty feet down. The occasional parrot fish and mullet swam by, eager to put distance between themselves and us.

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Swimmers at Las Grietas, a narrow volcanic canyon that serves as a great snorkeling and swimming site

We swam to the end of the canyon, then scrambled across slippery rocks into a shallow pool. Though we could have waded in the knee-deep water here, the algae made the rocks dangerously slick, and I found it easier to lay in the shallow water and pull myself along. Sculpins clung to the algae dressed-rocks, scattering was we slid across.Across this pool and another rocky barrier was second deep pool in the canyon, this one teeming with whole schools of mullet and parrot fish.

Stoytcho’s biggest frustration was that he couldn’t see anything. We shared a snorkel and mask between us, a 5$ toy we bought in Mexico. But without glasses, the fish appeared as formless blobs.This didn’t bode well for our snorkeling on the cruise. Luckily, a man with a prescription mask was snorkeling nearby, and offered to let Stoytcho borrow it for a bit. Though the custom mask likely cost more than $100, he let use it without hesitation. It made a world of difference to Stoytcho. We could see all of the fish together, now.