THE WILD MOUNTAINS. Enter them from the east if you can, you will better relish their majesty. We staggered in from the Căpăţîniis exhausted and half-starved, surviving on the barely edible leftovers from the bottom of our packs. Phantoms of feasts hovered over each step and evening fire, yet we were stunned by the breadth and beauty of the mighty mountains, a convergence of five Carpathian ranges. With its boulders and great retaining wall, the Wallachia – Transylvania trail resembled medieval military roads of interior upper Asia. It wound over passes and ridges for kilometer after kilometer without crossing paths with a single creature. Mountains on all sides. Time dissipated above endless plains, above the Lotru River, and above the green ridges and white cliffs of the Latorița Mountains which join the Parîngs. From here westward, there are more and more cliffs and craggy ridges and fewer grassy summits. Passing over gray glacial valleys and dark lakes, you may glimpse pilgrims in solitary tents, the first you’ve met in days.
I encountered the most beautiful sight on a side ridge. Hidden among dwarf pines and grass lies Shepherd Lake, also called Stoney Lake. Round, mild in daylight, icy at night. The most magnificent campsite in the Southern Carpathians. To get there, you must pass white limestone formations, red grass and sparkling green cliffs which are mined for the most opulent necklaces.
One rainy night beneath Parîng peak at the lower end of the Jieţ River gorge, I arrived at a lonely little elven cottage. I wanted to ask to stay the night, but I found the door open and the cottage empty and deserted. Inside there was a bed, and a chain hung from a pitchfork in the corner. Raindrops rustled on cornhusks upon the doorstep, a battered window creaked on its hinges. I had no blessed chalk with me, but there was nothing else to do – I lay down like a fairytale hero, all but sure I’d have a dark visitor in the night. But only the mice could be heard singing beneath the floorboards all night long.