The Ceahlau Massif features a ruinform relief, often being called The Moldavian Olympus, a fact that could be at the root of some of the myths that you might encounter on your hiking route. If the locals try to explain the strange and curious rock formations by associating them with certain heroes’ physiognomy, the geologists point out that these rock towers were shaped by time and the elements, a task facilitated by the softness of the carbonate cements that make up these conglomerates.
Its name is derived from the Hungarian word for bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), that used to live here. Located in the Neamt County, the Ceahlau Massif belongs to the Eastern Carpathians, formed in the orogenesis that started in the Mesozoic period (the so called “age of reptiles”) and ended in the Quaternary period. Ninety percent of its surface is made up by a flysch belt (sandstones and claystone, formed in the late Cretaceous and throughout the Paleogene) on a crystalline base (formed in the Mesozoic), while the other ten percent is made up by conglomerates (formed in the early Cretaceous).
After a long period at work, I decided to take a break. Its picturesque landscapes immediately convinced me of my destination. Also, Iași city is relatively near Ceahlau and there are direct transport lines. I woke up very enthusiastically at 5 o’clock in the morning, boarded the 6 o’clock bus and at 9:30 I arrived at the Durau resort. There was plenty of time, sunset was about 10 hours away, so I didn’t need lodging for the day. I paid for my admission ticket for the natural reservation and impatiently took the first step to get far away from the mad crowd. My plan for the day was to follow the trail Durau Hotel – Fantanele Hut – Dorobant Cap – Panaghia Tower Rock – Toaca Peak – Dochia Hut.
I followed the red line trail marker, through a spruce and beech forest, always trying to breathe steadily. The climb was a little difficult for me, more so the section before Fantanele Hut, so I took a few breaks to have snacks, to take photos, and even to lay on my back on a log while I admired the sunrays through the trees. The forest felt quite welcoming, offering a well defined path, trees that shadowed me from the harsh sunlight, with large surface roots that helped me climb when the butte became steeper halfway to Fantanele Hut.
Fantanele is at 1220 meters altitude and offers a beautiful panorama over the Bistrita Mountains, the Durau resort and a clearer vision over Panaghia. At the hut you can have lunch and refill your water bottles. There is also a spring near the hut, on the left, but the harsh summer caused it to dry up.
Leaving from Fantanele Hut, Panaghia Tower calls on you from far away, so it’s impossible to give up climbing and to lose your enthusiasm. Up to “The Graves” area, the road is forgiving, passing through a fir-tree forest and, for a good portion, raspberry scrubs on its right side. From here, the road gets more difficult, on the left side I can see a rock resembling an armed soldier with a cap, called “The Infantryman’s Hat” (“Caciula Dorobantului”) and just about 15 meters ahead, on the right side there is a great panorama with three columns, called “Baciu’s Columns” (“Pietrele lui Baciu”), with other columns that can be made out in the distance.
I went on through juniper trees until, at 1776 meters, Panaghia faced me in all its splendor and greatness. The legend says Panaghia was a very beautiful girl that was brought on Ceahlau by The Fates, at hermit Ghedeon’s cave so that she could escape the envy of the people.
For the entire article, please see Black Gryphon Magazine, freely available for download.