THE ROSEBAY MOUNTAINS. Standing beneath them at the edge of the Maramureş Mountains, you might think yourself in Carpathian Ruthenia: streets strewn with river rocks, wood-gabled villages kilometers long, homes without chimneys, centuries-old wooden churches – onion-shaped – and paschal candles half a millennium old. Dusty hearths and shaggy-coated herds of goats. Shepherds in bast sandals, handmade leather shoes, and incredible hats, smelling biblically of sheep.
Far up the two thousand three hundred meters high ridges of the Rodna Alps, beauty awaits – realms of grass, verdant mountain crests and millions of gentle-red rhododendrons. Here, the weather shifts from storms to mist to sunshine, sometimes twice a day. I liked the Rodna Mountains. Walking southeast along the ridge, you encounter nothing but grass for days; the tree line is far beneath your feet. Occasionally, you may spot a small lake or herd of animals. Alpine accentors, their flight wild and whirring, alight on crags. Deserted mountain ridges. The only lodge far and wide is in Puzdrele, concealed among the sorrel of age-old sheep farms. In front of it, hogs with wires in their snouts root in the earth – without them they would surely root even more.
There are very few hikers on Rodna mountain ridges, though you may occasionally pass a band of shaved-headed Romanian pilgrims with loaves of bread tied to their backs. They carry satchels, and blankets hang around their necks. The person at the rear of the procession bears a kerosene lamp that swings from his rucksack. Sincere and modest people, they eat mostly tomatoes, bacon, and yellow kashkaval cheese.
Beneath towering Ineu Mountain lies icy Lala Lake. On our final night in Rodna, we took refuge from a storm in a deserted hunting cabin just below the lake’s frigid waters. We thought of last year’s rutting season as we ate our fill of rotten potatoes around a fire of Witch’s Broom, the only wood that burns so wet, and the flooded Lala River roared below the cabin.