After crossing the border from Albania the sun was beginning to set, it seemed wise to look for a campsite. Thankfully we were already on the shores of lake Ohrid. We managed to find a nice private spot amongst the trees right on the shore of the lake. The sun went down over the lake which was very still and calm.
It was a different story in the morning when we woke, the wind had picked up and it was as if we were now camped on the shores of an ocean rather than a lake. It’s a nice sound to wake up to though, waves crashing right outside your window.
We continued along the lakes shore to Ohrid which is a UNESCO heritage listed town. After navigating the narrow streets of the old town we arrived at a headland overlooking the lake where a number of old churches were being restored. We got out to have a look and enjoy the view. A Macedonian bloke came over and explained he was a philosopher and wanted to tell us all about the region.
Apparently there were once 23 churches here of which only one remained. Restorations were being carried out throughout the area. The strange thing about this place was that there was no room for houses only churches. The reasons of which were unknown but investigations by archeologists to find answers were currently underway.
From Ohrid we sussed out a route up over the mountains that surround the lake and back to the main road that was to take us on to our next destination Mt Pelister.
The mountain track started at the base of the mountain that overlooks Ohrid and the lakes. It was an interesting, steep and windy track which offered panoramic views of Ohrid and the lakes below. After crossing the ridge of the mountain we ended up in a valley with a lush grassy plain.
It must have been raining a lot recently as the track was thick with mud which was so much fun to drive through. Feeling the car slip and slide as it snakes it’s way along the track is one if my favourite feelings. It must have been quite cold up there during the night as the puddles were all covered by a sheet of ice making smashing through them all the more satisfying. We stopped a bunch of times to get some shots and also fool around with the gopro which we placed between two deep ruts of mud before charging through.
When we came to the end of the track we descended the mountain which overlooked lake Prespa which is divided between Albania, Greece and Macedonia. From here we continued skirting around the picturesque lake to the base of Mt Pelister which rises some 2600m. We were pretty excited about this climb as we could see many snow capped mountains in the region and this was one of the higher ones.
We started the climb with a series of confusing tracks that were overgrown and very rutted which left us doubting that we would make it very far. Turned out these were a shortcut to the main track which started right near where the road to the chairlifts ended. Mt Pelister is a skiing destination in the winter months. As we pressed on the track seemed well worn but also looked as if no one had been on it in some time. As we started to climb it became colder and more and more snow started to line the track. On top of that there was a fair bit of ice where water that was flowing down the track had frozen. Also the puddles had several inches of ice on top some so thick the troopy didn’t even break through.
We got excited as the peak came into view and we could see snow covering pretty much everything. The track was not too steep and the snow not so thick so we pressed on. We came to a section that had thick ice covering the trail. It looked a bit sketchy but after assessing it the risks seemed minimal as there wasn’t much of a slope, no camber and there were banks on either side. Jess was driving, she continued on slowly taking caution. The ice was so thick the troopy didn’t really break through any of it. None the less the troopy forged a path through it with ease.
There was a grassy plateau amongst the snow just before the final push to the peak, but because it was dusk we decided to set up camp for the night and attempt the final climb in the morning.
We set up camp as the sunset over the mountains making for a spectacular view.
After the sun went down the cold set in and a slight breeze picked up. By the time we had finished dinner it was getting really cold doing the dishes became almost impossible, most of our water had frozen then what we had managed to heat froze to the dishes before we were able to dry it. We packed away most of our gear not leaving anything out that would be affected by bad weather.
There was nothing left but to craw into the troopy and hide from the cold under our sleeping bags. During the night it became seriously cold. Our coldest night by far. We both woke several times in the night due to the howling wind and the sound of snow and freezing rain on the roof. We started to become worried about the conditions of the road and were hoping that we wouldn’t get snowed in. Looking back, it wasn’t the smartest decision to camp on top of the mountain over night even though the sky was clear through out the day and the stars were shining bright when we went to bed. When we woke in the morning despite the freezing conditions out side we were still both warm under our sleeping bags, with the aid of a hot water bottle to help the circulation in my feet.
We woke to a very frozen world, including the troopy which was covered in thick ice.
We had a quick breakfast of cereal that morning so we could get on the road and assess the route back down. It was very cold out side the car, easily -10 degrees, even the antenna was coated in a thick layer of ice. We had the same trouble cleaning up as we had the night before but even our detergent was frozen this time.
Playing it safe we ruled out carrying on any further to the peak which was only a short drive from where we camped, it was very misty anyway so there wouldn’t have been much of a view. The track definitely had much more snow covering it, the rain had also kind of solidified much of it turning it into ice. Thankfully there weren’t that many sections on the track that were very steep. We started off very slowly and did a few brake tests to determine how much grip we had. Even at slow speed the car slid for a while before stopping which put us on edge. We weren’t really breaking through the ice because it was so thick which worried us. After talking through the worst case scenarios we determined that we would press on slowly as there were banks on either side of the track, the camber was neutral and it wasn’t that steep. We engaged low range so that we could use engine braking which worked particularly well in 1st gear. Descending the mountain at walking pace was fine with both of us. After crawling down the first leg and around our first switch back we were pretty confident we weren’t going to have any issues except for the section that was completely iced over on the way up. Turned out it was much the same as before except the ice was a lot thicker. We proceed slowly and with only a little slipping and sliding we were through the worst of it. We both agreed that we were lucky and that in the next few weeks with winter in Europe we would be a lot more cautious.
The rest of the drive down was enjoyable, crossing through almost frozen creeks, through frozen puddles and checking out cool icicles hanging from the rocks. From here we decided to make tracks for Skopje, the capital of Macedonia.
Skopje took us by surprise, it didn’t look like anything special from the outskirts, rundown if anything. After checking into a hotel we took a stroll to search for some traditional Macedonian food. As we came into the city center we were very impressed by the many new grand buildings not to mention the statues. The statues were every where and huge. If anything we found that there were so many that they kind of over did it. They weren’t particularly detailed either, we likened them to a Chinese knock off of something you’d see in Vienna or Budapest.
We found a restaurant that served Tavce gravce, a dish a staff member at the hotel recommended. It is a rich meaty stew, Jess ordered it and found it to be delicious. Unfortunately I had lost my appetite because I was just starting to feel ill again.
All the changes in temperature from going indoors and outdoors and in and out the car played havoc on my system. Most likely with last night and the mornings sub zero temperatures contributing. I could feel the early symptoms of a fever coming on. We ended up spending 3 nights in that same hotel as I slowly recovered from the fevers. With the weather transforming into winter so quickly, we realised it was a whole different ball game. All we knew was that we couldn’t carry on camping the way we had been any longer. After I was well enough we ditched the hotel and made tracks for Bulgaria with the future plans of camping during this trip very much uncertain.