How I Tested my Solo Hiking Capabilities on the Peaks of the Balkans Trail

The idea

My journey into solo hiking began unexpectedly in Corsica, as detailed in my previous post, but this was driven by circumstances rather than a deliberate plan. There, I found myself feeling incredibly free on the trail, navigating through risky weather conditions, and forming connections with fellow hikers along the way. However, before committing to the Pacific Crest Trail, I felt the need to ensure I was fully prepared for the challenges of starting such a big adventure alone. Coincidentally, I had the opportunity to do my internship in Serbia, which presented the perfect chance to explore the nature and mountainous areas of the Balkans. Or perhaps it was the other way around, and I sought an internship in Serbia for that very reason? Regardless, I saw the Peaks of the Balkans Trail as an ideal testing ground for my solo hiking capabilities before embarking on the PCT.

Expected challenges

I foresaw problems with decision-making—a task that often proves intimidating in my daily life, where I tend to overanalyze situations. Thus, I anticipated encountering similar uncertainties on the Peaks of the Balkans Trail. When faced with stormy weather, would it be wiser to seek shelter or press on, hoping for improved conditions? If I chanced upon a picturesque camping spot early in the day, would I continue hiking or settle in for the night? And what if I got lost?? These were the dilemmas I expected to confront, alongside the vulnerability of nighttime all alone in my tent, where unfamiliar noises could heighten my senses.

The trail

Equipped with a Cicerone guidebook, I prepared for the trail, trying to carry my own provisions for most days while sometimes having dinners at guesthouses to immerse myself in local culture and cuisine. Spanning the Prokletije mountains across Montenegro, Kosovo, and Albania, the trail offered a 182 km journey that I completed in 10 days, with an additional day devoted to conquering the highest peak of Kosovo, the Gjeravica summit. Each day revealed stunning views of rugged peaks and gave me a connection to the raw wilderness that surpassed anything I had encountered in the Alps or Pyrenees before.

Views along the way

Gjeravica summit

Memorable encounters

While recounting my journey, it’s impossible to capture every day’s essence, but certain moments linger vividly in my memory. One such instance was stumbling upon a couple from Romania during the first evening. At this time, I struggled with post-graduation uncertainty, fearing the loss of freedom and opportunities for adventure. Yet, our conversations and their ideas and current life were inspiring, giving me hope that adulthood didn’t necessarily mean being confined to one place and to one job. This encounter also marked my first experience of “cowboy camping,” filling me with new excitement. 

Another memorable encounter came halfway through the trail, in the middle of increasingly fierce winds. I sought advice from a hiking guide for a sheltered spot to pitch my tent. Generously, he offered me lodging at his guest house alongside the group he was guiding. This decision proved wise, as we encountered a bear on the way and I slept soundly in a cozy cabin.

Adorable cabins where I could sleep inside

Lastly, my stay at the guesthouse Shquiponja left an incredible impression. I could pitch my tent for free in the garden and the host’s warmth and kindness were exceptional—he entertained and educated us with tales from his book about war, filled the evenings with music, and even tucked extra cheese into my backpack for the following day’s journey.

Music at the guesthouse

Final thoughts

As I concluded my journey, passing by serene lakes on my way back to Plav, I couldn’t help but reflect on my experience of the trail and the process of preparing for and hiking it solo. Surprisingly, the anticipated challenges with decision-making didn’t manifest; instead, my thoughts were consumed by philosophical thoughts and engaging conversations with fellow hikers and guesthouse owners along the way.  Another intriguing aspect that caught my attention was the different perceptions of solo backpacking between Eastern and Western European cultures I experienced. While encounters with Western European individuals often led to positive reactions to seeing a girl hiking and camping alone, those from Eastern Europe expressed heightened concerns about dangers, frequently advising me to hike with a guide. From my perspective, I felt safe in the mountains, contrasting with the occasional unease I feel in city settings. With confidence in my navigation skills and gear proficiency, the assistance of a guide seemed unnecessary. Finally, addressing the final question: Do I feel capable of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and starting it alone? Absolutely! Essentially, I just need to replicate the Peaks of the Balkans trail around fourteen times.

Lake Hridsko jezero (a swim in this lake is supposed to guarantee you a happy marriage)

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Comments 1

  • Nature Boy : Apr 11th

    An excellent story, Sifre – thank you for taking the time to craft this! Very wise to do a warm-up through-hike on your own, excellent that you seized the chance to do so. And had a great time!
    I look forward to your posts while on the PCT, best of luck! Start off easy, and also practice with your crampons/microspikes & ice-axe first chance you get on the trail..



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