Balconies (~100m drop, maybe more :) )
We started on the second day, after an uneventful night, towards Cetatile Ponorului. The track was very easy to follow with plenty of markings. The day was warm and beautiful like most days of August, in Romania (August is probably the best time to hike in Romanian mountains as the weather is stable as opposed to other times of the year.). There are many ways to visit Cetaile Ponorului as the trail forms a circuit. We were visiting the balconies first and the cave in the later stage. What are the balconies, one might ask. Well they are exactly as the word is suggesting: some wooden balconies, made out some massive logs, over the huge drops around Cetatile Ponorului (doline in Romanian). In the first two photos you can see the sheer drop.
If you look down you can see people hiking and they look like little ants. Also in some areas the path is rather narrow with big drops on both sides so be careful where you're stepping, and don't go searching for berries :) as it might be the last thing you'll do. So once you have a high altitude view of Cetaile Ponorului the path guides you into the cave.
The cave has one of the highest ceilings I've ever seen, and probably one of the highest in Romania. There's not necessarily the need for a torch or headlight as there's plenty of sun light coming on from the two main entries and also there's plenty of cracks and holes in the ceiling. Through the middle of the cave there's a stream, which depending on the amount of rain can be tiny or can get really fat and become a river, so take the necessary precautions before getting in.
Me (left - back than I was wearing the goatee), Razvan (right)
What I like most above this cave is that you can see the river passing in front of you and vanishing 100m further away in a loud waterfall. In our case, as it rained two days before, this stream was more of a river so we had to take the plunge and go for it. The water was just great! After the long hike along the balconies, we welcomed the refreshing chilling water which soothed our feet. The depth was only about half a meter, but otherwise it was quite shallow. Basically we had our boots, wrapped in plastic bags and then placed in our backpacks just to protect them from getting wet. The vastness of this place made me feel tiny almost like in one of those huge cathedrals. I was just like an ephemerid when thinking that it took thousands, maybe millions of years carving this landscape in limestone and I crossed the cave in an hour.
Me (left), Ionut (right)
At the exit from the cave (or entrance if you take the direct route to the cave) the hot summer air was pounding us, We stopped on the way up for a bite to eat and for a refreshing bath in one of the multitude of streams that converge in Cetatile Ponorului. By the way at the exit there was some chain climbing, followed by a steep climbing but it wasn't difficult.
After this amazing adventure we roamed around the place exploring everything we could. We went into this cave (which I don't remember the name) and we left our gear at the entrance as there was no room for us and the backpacks through the tiny entrance. We explored the cave right to the very end. It was so cool as there was still ice to be found (in the middle of August) so we had a snow fight and built a snowman.
Ionut - Entry to Cetatile Ponorului
Unfortunately he remained trpped inside :). On the exit we made the photo with the three of us looking like some true explorers. We were muddy, wet and fierce looking. I tought that having my face painted with some mud would help increase the magnitude of our adventure. Actually I guess if there is such thing as "the explorer of the year" award, we should have definitely been amongst the nominees. What we really found surprising as we were in the cave is the fact that the sense of time fades away. It's like time becomes inexistent for our senses. We tough that we spent about 30-45 minutes (the cave was not that big, maybe 800-1km in length) but in fact we spent somewhere in the 2 hour region. The only thing that provides a sort of a time reference are the constants drops of water into the pools below.
Exit - Cetatile Ponorului
It's like a symphony and provides you with a feeling that the time is slowing down, calming you down at the same time. It would be interesting, as an adventure, to spend a night in the cave.
Once we were out of the cave we continued the trail of discoveries by stumbling upon "Taul Negru" (Black Pool). We were walking through the forest and out of a sudden in front of us, among the tall tree and undergrowth there was a small lake. We looked on the map and realized that the lake was about 30m deep. We couldn't believe it. When you we looking at it you could see that maybe it was 15-20m in diameter but you couldn't anticipate the depth of the lake. Also it was extremely calm and dark. I was looking at the surface of the lake and it gave an eerie sense.
Usually I do not get frightened easily but while I was staring at the black lake I was feeling that there's something unholy about the place, something dark slumbering within. My friends had the same impression about the place, that there's something we shouldn't disturb in there. We made haste to leave the place and we stopped a bit further for a sip of water. I'm telling you, I was relieved to be out of there.
That was the end of our hike for the day. We made our way towards the camp and prepared a nice evening dinner, and spent more time around the fire drinking tea with rum and sharing stories. I guess this is the best part about going with the friends into the mountains, you have time to talk and there's no one to bother you.