(This is Part II of our Accursed Mountain Summit Trek - check out Part I here.)
Look at these sunshine-y faces we woke up to! Good thing these cuties were there, because they were the only sunshine we saw for the next twelve hours.
They were completely smitten by Erin. (And if it weren't for the whole climbing-a-mountain thing, Erin would have totally stashed one in her backpack.)
Instead of miraculous views of majestic mountains (there's that word again...I literally can't stop using it. Not figuratively. LIT-rally.), we had fifty-foot visibility. Which in itself led to a mystical, Middle Earth feel with every turn a complete surprise, rising out of the mist.
But as Jill so beautifully demonstrates, we were all pretty excited as we climbed higher and higher. (That is, between bouts of grouching about muddy paths and mossy rocks to conquer and packs that weighed about one million pounds.)
About two hours up the trail, we came across this makeshift lokali staffed by two shepherding brothers. They spend the entire summer up there, tending to the sheep, setting off fireworks periodically to scare away wolves from their flock, and making caj mali (mountain tea) for all the hikers who pass through (and charging them handsomely for it). One of the brothers actually spoke wonderful English - oh Albania, do wonders never cease?
We of course purchased some delicious (and expensive) caj mali, fresh from the trail. We sat and visited with the two brothers, both of whom found it quite amusing that these foreign hikers spoke Albanian - one of whom actually spoke the unique northern dialect (that would be our northerner, Erin)! Tack on the one random Albanian friend in our group (he joining us as our friend, and for fun, instead of as a hired guide), and we were probably one of the more bizarre groups they met over the season.
When we packed our gear back up and left the two brothers, the terrain changed almost immediately to grassy, craggy plains with rolling fog, the latter which was constantly swirling and rising and falling, giving us periodic glimpses into the valley below us from whence we came.
We hit the summit after about four hours of hiking total, peaking in totally abysmal weather with visibility of fifteen feet. I'm not even kidding. We took some quick pictures and then started down the other side, where even ten feet down the path it was a good ten degrees warmer.
Heading down, we could see bits of sunlight beginning to peak into the valley - a good sign for the rest of our trip. As much as I love crappy weather, even I was beginning to flag a bit and the promise of sun (plus the downward slope) definitely added a skip to our steps.
The terrain began to shift in reverse, from mountain top to open plains to misty forests, and I couldn't get this song out of my head.
There's that view we were anticipating.
Ahoy, there, Thethi! We could see the charming farms and guest houses across the valley for a good two hours before we approached the village.
Outside of the village, the first historical building that greeted us was the gorgeously renovated Catholic church that features on so many Albanian postcards - and for good reason, because the setting was truly moving.
We stopped for the night at a small family home/restaurant, where we camped for free on their lawn (but bought a delicious traditional dinner).
We settled in for the night and passed out before our heads hit our pillows. Our hike was about ten hours in total - but we took a lot of stops, wandered in bushes for blackberries, chatted with shepherds, drank tea, took too many photos, jumped around a riverbed for a bit, and generally dilly-dallied the whole way down, so my guess is that we could have done it in seven hours (especially if the entire group wasn't ill with something). Definitely one of my favorite days in Albania - and a trip I highly recommend for anyone who finds themselves in our neck of the woods!