At the time of writing -December 1st- we were in the Mavrovo National Park, in North Macedonia. we tried to get close to the mount Korab, with 2764 masl the highest peak in this area. In this area there can be serious winter conditions. While camping close to Nichpur, we had a small taste of it with freezing temperatures at night, and even during daytime where the sun can’t reach. During the night the water system of the van partially froze – a premiere for us- so we had to solve this one to get water from the tap to make a hot steaming coffee and tea in the morning. Removing the coarse water filter quickly made clear that there was ice in the water. It looked like slush puppy. Additional heating and some help from the sun (luckily for us it was a bright day) helped to thaw things and get the water flowing again. A reminder for us to use the heater once or twice during the night to keep things above 0°C inside the van.
Actually I had planned a trip on the bike for this day, but having water has priority, so that had to be solved first. Anyway, at 13:00 I left for the trip. I planned a track to the Korab, just to see how far I could get, and had an alternative route back to the van. At “base camp” things looked pretty straight forward: cold, but sunny skies and a dry or at most a moist surface. perfect! So I peddled away, soon to discover that the track winding trough the narrow valley, carved by the Radika river, was deprived of the sun, making it a bit colder than expected.
Nevertheless I moved on, and climbing steadily out of the river valley I had to cross ever longer and deeper patches of snow. Finally I reached a big building that had been used as border control*… That surprised me a little bit, since I was still about 2.5 km from the border. Anyway, the snow was to deep and the track too steep to continue, so I turned around to ride along the alternative back to camp.
The sun was sinking rapidly (sun down at 16:08, but because of mountains even earlier) and the alternative first had a climb in it, that always takes some extra time. The positive thing about it was that it allowed me to ride in the sun, since it was the south-west side of the slope. Still, some time later I found myself riding in the shade again, with a fresh layer of snow on the surface. Damn. I could see a large portion of the track that I still had to do on the other side of a gorge, and there it was also seriously covered in snow, and I knew part of it would be a walking track, making the track less pronounced and smaller, until I would reach a monastir. From that point on the worst would be over. I decided to go forward and reached a small settlement, three houses or so, abandoned, but possibly a resting area with catering in the summertime.
I started to fear that I made the wrong decision, but then a Lada Niva came down from the track I would be going, and the driver assured me that the track would be OK. Once more I pushed on, and after 3 kms or so, veering to the left off the 4×4 track, the path became increasingly more narrow, until it seemed to disappear. Strangely enough there were pieces of clothes tied on some branches, and sure enough around the corner the Monastir appeared. The “Manastir Sv. Petka S. Brodec” had a surprisingly bright painted interior.
A nice contrast with all the white, browns and greys that currently dominate nature. From here it was only downhill, but seriously cold because the sun was gone for this day.
* some more reading about this topic and hiking to Korab revealed that it might be possible that the station is manned, or that it used to be, because people used to have to get permission from the border police to do this hike because it borders with Albania.