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1.6 Transalpina – The mountain is calling!

Updated: May 9, 2023

5-star was yesterday, 1000-star is today!

We are slowly recovering from our sucked-out state after the visit to Count Dracula. Also the rising temperatures let us remember that we actually have another, "higher" goal. We want to get to 2'000 m.a.s.l. in the Southern Carpathians on a designated off-road route and there enjoy phenomenal views in cooler surroundings. On to the probably most imposing mountain road of Romania, on to the Transalpina. When the mountains are calling us, we Swiss will come!

Our way leads us once again over very good roads from Hatag to Petrosani, where we stock up our supplies. You never know when off-roading in the mountains, what can happen. In particular we could find a place up there again, which does not let us move so fast again, because it is so beautiful. Already the first attempt was successful to bunker fresh water at a gas station. Water 100% full. Food and drink storage full. Meanwhile, batteries 100% full again, thanks to the more than 100 kilometers of driving. We are ready for the next adventure.

After Petrosani the adventure immediately begins. Borderline for vehicles of our size, we wind our way up to the Groapa Seaca pass. The drivers on this stretch are surprisingly understanding and courteous when passing. Maybe we just enjoy their respect, because behind the next rocky outcrop our FRAME with 3.45 meters height and broad shoulders suddenly shows up. Besides the sharp curves and narrow roads, it is mainly the rocky outcrops that we have to watch out for here. The Unimog's large axle articulation means that the living quarters also swing along powerfully. So we can easily suddenly become half a meter "wider" than we already are. When we regularly drive to the side to let faster road users pass, we are always thanked with the blinking of their warning lights.

Transalpina: The last hairpin bends before the pass

The Unimog is puffing up the mountain, but actually it does it with amazing ease. Soon we turn onto the Transalpina route, which feels like a highway by comparison. We are now heading uphill in a southerly direction. Hairpin bend after hairpin bend. A passenger car shifts down to at least second gear here. Our FRAME does it in fifth in the split gear. This is the lowest gear of the higher group (gear 5-8). An unbelievable performance that comes out of our turbo engine. Not fast, but powerfull.

Shortly before the pass, we turn left onto a natural path. This is where the off-road section begins. Already now the panorama is stunning and we could camp on every hilltop. But we want to gain some distance to the "highway" and be able to stand completely undiscovered. We chug along the mountain top on very stony but firm ground. Again and again Brigitte moves a little closer to me, because on her side it is steeply sloping. After all, she no longer gets out, she too is slowly becoming a skilled off-roader ;-)

After about ten kilometers of bumpy road and in the second attempt, we believe to have found our place for the night. We position ourselves a little below the path on a small platform in the grass and first enjoy the incredible view of the valley ahead and the mountains behind (picture above left). Only when looking at the video footage of our every evening drone flight do I discover that we are standing a bit close above a rocky ledge. (Image above right)

If it rains and for some reason I start to slide on the wet meadow when driving up to the road, then this could become a problem in the worst case. It robs me of sleep. To my sweetheart next to me, I rather say nothing yet. The next morning I am then quickly in a mood for departure. Of course, I explain Brigitte my concerns and, surprise, she wants to leave there too as soon as possible. Some rain is announced only for the later course of the day, but in the mountains you never know. As long as I do not know how our FRAME behaves in the wet sloping grass, we prefer to look for places that also leave an escape down open. No sooner said than done.

Barely a few kilometers further, a possibility opens up to us with panoramic all-round view and overlooking Lake Vidra . Once again a dream of a spot and really only to be enjoyed with an expedition vehicle. We are standing in the saddle between Mount Puru in the northeast, which towers over us by another 150 meters, and a smaller hill in the west. Mount Puru is on the weather side and protects us well from strong winds. To the north we have a clear view of Lake Vidra, and behind it the northern part of the Southern Carpathians. The northwest offers a wonderful natural spectacle every evening as the sun sets. Towards the south, at a distance of about seven kilometers, we can see Galbenul, Musetoaia and Micaia. All of them are two-thousand-meter peaks, making them among the highest peaks here in the central Southern Carpathians.

The Unimog makes it possible, without limits!

Rain, fog and sunshine...

Where we have really landed here, we realize only in the coming days. Because, yes, we haven't come all this way just for one night. It' s not inferior to our "Shangri-La" in the Apuseni. We are just above the tree line and therefore our surroundings seem a little less romantic, but the view in all directions is unique. I have to mention that in the planning phase we always dreamed of such places with great distant views. It seems so inspiring and means absolute freedom for us. To be able to stay overnight in such a place is pure luxury. We can't really be wowed with nice hotel rooms anymore. We are occupationally impaired and have already seen so many great equipped and also luxurious hotel rooms. But what we have here today is simply priceless.

Our terrace overlooking Lake Vidra, some six hundred meters in elevation below us, is a short-cropped grove of blueberries. We are surrounded by blueberry bushes in all directions. Of course there are fresh blueberries on our menu twice a day from today on. For breakfast in the muesli and otherwise preferably with Greek yogurt. The blueberry hunters and the shepherds are about the only people you can meet up here. Oh no, there are of course also the off-roaders. Partly with motorcycle or then in jeeps. But actually these are to be met almost only on weekends. During the week it is then really very very quiet. All the more we were almost a little startled when a small Unimog U1200 comes thundering up to a meter to our cart. It's Andreas and Ewald, two Germans who have taken a break from the hamster wheel for a few weeks in order to drive the tracks of this world with their little beast of a machine. The two outdoorsmen are so modest and do without a lot of the comforts of home during their travels. Quite in contrast to us. We have all the comforts we had at home. Only here we have the nature, idyll and distant view in addition. Andreas is a Unimog connoisseur of the special class. He has scanned our FRAME once and knows all about it. Besides many useful tips, he also leaves us a copy of valuable details about the vehicle. I can't say more, but a big thank you to Andreas and his travel buddy.

When we said goodbye to the lowlands near Hunedoara, the thermometer was already close to 40°C again. Now, at 1'900 m.a.s.l. and after the first rain, it is barely 7°C in the early morning. But that doesn't detract from the beauty up here. Even the rain is a natural spectacle in itself. And the good thing is that it disappears here in the mountains as quickly as it came. In the coming days we have rain, fog and sunshine. A colorful mix according to Petrus' mood. We often turn on our Webasto underfloor heating to get comfortable warmth. But for a campfire in the evening it is now too wet and too cold for my sweetheart. Nevertheless, I descend a few times into the forest lying about fifty meters in altitude below us to bring up a few dead trees.

Great is my anticipation of a real Bonfire and maybe even a steak from the wood grill instead of gas. Finally, I bequeath my wood mise-en-place to a lucky fellow who will discover my prepared fireplace someday. We left the place after a few extraordinary days. Next destination is Sibiu, to finally do laundry again. But before that we want to spend one more night at this lake Vidra, surrounded by dense forests, which we have been looking down on for days now.

At the end of the offroad track we first have to lower the underride protection bar and then we continue. Before we drive downhill, my co-pilot persuades me to climb up to the Transalpina Pass. Not without ulterior motives she navigates me first up, instead of down and already we are up in a large open air shopping area for tourists. Warm sheepskin slippers are the object of desire. Brigitte has bought such before here, but unfortunately left them at home. Then a Transylvanian wooden board and a blueberry liquor are added. For the palate there is finally the long-awaited Baumkuchen, here called Cozonac. A sugar explosive of the special class, but it tastes heavenly.

The Transalpina has not only one pass, but two, because it consists of two ridges with a slight valley in between. Some forces also drive us to the next one and then it happens again. We see a spot that is so fantastically beautiful that we want to stay for the night. It's barely 3pm, but what the heck. Tomorrow is another day for the lake and the laundry can wait anyway. So we move into night camp early with a tremendous panoramic view. We send the drone up to the second pass, because we want to go there tomorrow. We stand amidst rooted bushes and it is surprisingly clean here, even if we are not far from the main traffic axis over the Transalpina. We enjoy once again the evening atmosphere and the onset of rain ruins my campfire again, but not our happiness to be over 2,000 m.a.s.l. and very close to the clouds.

The next day we make the last hairpin bends to the second southern and higher crossing of the Transalpina. There are countless tourists with cars and motorcycles chasing each other up and down the pass roads. Only very rarely we see a camper van and so far not a single overlander. Of course we stop again at the outddor shopping and buy again two of the cuddly sheepskin slippers. Three pairs are better than one. Who does not understand this is either male or has no idea about bargains ;-).

So with some delay to the original travel schedule we start our descent. Again heading north and hoping to find a new interesting photo subject at Lake Vidra. The engine brake is used a lot to save the brakes. Often we are greeted nicely by tourists resting at the roadside. Brigitte wonders if we might be making a special sound, as many heads turn in our direction when we "whiz by". But it could also be our snail's pace, because our heavyweight creeps only slowly down the mountain.

The tree line is soon reached and the Transylvanian forest becomes denser and denser. A wonderful, deep green fir forest with, what seems to us, healthy trees. It is all the more shocking to know that this forest is being cleared like no other in Europe. We like to look to the Amazone to bemoan the environmental disaster of deforestation, while we have the same catastrophe almost on our doorstep. The Romanians let themselves be helped by the Austrians. Who really cashes in is actually a minor matter. These forests are simply unique and worth protecting, like so much else in this fairy-tale country.

The access to Lake Vidra turns out to be a bit difficult at the end. A steep ramp is followed by about a hundred and fifty meters of dense forest, which once again likes to perpetuate itself in our paintwork. However, a short walk along the road brings me to the conclusion that we will make it, because there are already dozens of other campers with relatively large cars at the lake. As always, we look for a place with some privacy, so not right in the middle of the noise and smoke of the party people. On foot I cross a small inlet to the lake to find the desired spot on the other side. My co-pilot waves me off. To drive through here is not possible, the creek is too steep and too sandy. So we just stand down to the lake. I'm wondering why nobody is standing down there, but everybody is sticking to the edge of the forest. Probably they are looking for shade, but we want sun, because at the moment it is still pretty chilly.

Lacul Vidra - Vidra-Lake

A spot for the night right at the shore

low water levels, but high phtogenic appeal

We settle in for a quiet, cozy evening with a view of the lake. But it comes differently. During our evening walk we see a van stuck exactly in the creek we avoided with the Unimog. Two vehicles have even made it to the other side. So it seems to be possible, but for the van it was still too much. We offer our help, but quickly see that the van cannot be pulled backwards out of the mud without seriously damaging it. The solution is to pull it over the steerable front axle with the vehicles already on the other side. But this will hardly work with a two meter wire rope, much too short to get to the van. I'll bring my twelve meter truck recovery strap into play. The breaking load of 35 tons may be a bit oversized for the situation and thus the rope seems gigantic for all involved. But the length of the rope is the crucial point and will allow the towing vehicle to pull up on top of hard ground.

It is slowly getting dark and the situation is becoming more and more unmanageable. There are large containers of beer and soft drinks lying around everywhere, which had been unloaded from the wrecked vehicle. Nearly two dozen people are scurrying around. Helpers, gaffers, car owners, drivers and their cousins and acquaintances. Finally, the car owners have found a suitable anchorage point for the recovery belt on both vehicles. From now on, it's better to look the other way. Pretty much all rules of safety are violated. Well-intentioned tips are simply ignored in the euphoria of imminent success. That can be discussed later over another beer.

Brought to safety with the giant Unimog recovery belt

It is already pitch dark when the rescue maneuver is finally completed. All three vehicles are immediately brought back to the "safe" side. Thanks to the recovery belt! Due to the advanced hour, we skip the invitation to a homemade wine. We get the rope together with a big thank you and a hearty hug neatly rolled up again and almost ceremoniously handed back to us.

For us this operation was an instructive experience. Even if we haven't done the rescue ourselves yet, at least our rescue harnesses were already in use.

Next Blog: FRAME CHARITY: Visit to the orphanage

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