Hiking to the Maja e Mbrezhanit

On a beautiful spring weekend, I took a trip up into the mountains in Kelcyre! We passed through picturesque farms and hiked to the summit overlooking the Vjosa river valley, and once again the view was absolutely breathtaking!

Saturday, April 21, 2018, 9:45pm

This morning, I woke up bright and early with the sun. I was surprisingly well rested after a good night’s sleep, despite my 6:00am wake up call, and I had plenty of time to eat my regular breakfast before hitting the road with my friend Koli for our hike to the Maja e Mbrezhanit (the Mbrezhanit summit), which is located just outside of Kelcyre opposite the hike we took to the top of Trebeshina.

I was relieved knowing that however difficult the hike may be, it wouldn’t be more than a 6th-grader could handle.

When Koli drove up to my house, I was surprised to find not only his father but his niece in the car as well! I was a bit relieved knowing that however difficult the hike may be, it wouldn’t be more than a 6th-grader could handle. We drove into Kelcyre around 6:45am, picked up the various volunteers from their houses, and then were officially on our way!

Our first obstacle of the day was crossing an ominous hanging bridge (or as my site mate Barb would call it, an “Indiana Jones” bridge) that was swinging precariously over the rushing Vjosa River. It was worn down and there were literal sandbags piled up on one side to help balance out the uneven wooden slats, but I wasn’t afraid as I walked gently across from one side to the other.

The Indiana Jones bridge

After we’d conquered the bridge, all that was left was the entire rest of the hike. Koli’s father had grown up in the mountains near Kelcyre, so he was familiar with the terrain. The route he led us on was a beautiful trail that wound through the mountain side. We climbed up large rocks, strolled along shady dirt roads, and made our way through mountain pastures where goats and sheep were grazing. It was absolutely gorgeous. Every so often, I’d remember to stop, take a breath, and enjoy the view of the city surrounded by mountains, lush fields nestled in the valleys, and the bright blue lake.

It felt like we’d entered into a secret garden or magical storybook land.

One of my favorite sections of the road was a tree-lined path with a heavy canopy. Vines hung down from the trees overhead forming natural archways along the trail. It felt like we’d entered into a secret garden or magical storybook land. I also loved coming across humongous stones that looked as if they’d been part of an ancient temple or roadway system; they appeared far too organized and purposeful to be natural.

But truly the best part of the ascent into the mountains was the winding trail that took us deep into a emerald green valley. The path itself was level rather than a steep incline, so we were able to relax as we walked along enjoying the scenery and the quiet sounds of nature. The wind was refreshing and cool, and I took a moment to enjoy the sun on my face, the crisp air, and the simple joy of being alive.

Grassy fields in the hidden valley

The trail led us to the ruins of a small church, and we were surprised to find a man who looked like a shepherd relaxing in the shade of what remained of the church walls. We stopped and had a bite to eat while Koli’s father chatted with the man (who someone remarked must have been lonely). As we sat with our backs against the wall guarding against the wind, we had the perfect view of the imposing mountains on the other side of the river, which rose from the Earth like an impenetrable wall of ancient stone.

We had the perfect view of the imposing mountains, which rose from the Earth like an impenetrable wall of ancient stone.

In the valley, we were about three-quarters of the way to the top of the mountain. All that was left was one final incline, then a walk along the mountain ridge. I caught my second wind since I knew the end was in sight, and while some of the volunteers ran ahead, I took my time. As my friend Nao reminded me, it’s not about the end destination, it’s about “the climb.”

Throughout the hike, Koli and the other volunteers were excellent company. At various points throughout the morning and afternoon, I found myself chatting with everyone – sometimes one-on-one and other times in a large group. While there were some times when I walked by myself and enjoyed the silence of solitary hiking, chatting with the other volunteers was a wonderful way to catch up with old friends and pass the time more quickly.

Perched on a ledge at the summit (it wasn’t as dangerous as it looks)

When we finally reached the top, it truly did feel like we’d accomplished something very special. The end point was marked with makeshift flags, which made it feel like an end destination rather than a random stop in the road. And the view was spectacular. From every angle, the surrounding mountain ranges looked magnificent. The field was also sprinkled with wildflowers, and as we ate small, yellow butterflies fluttered around our feet. It was truly the perfect place to relax and enjoy the rewards of our long journey.

But what goes up must come down. We began our descent back into the city around 11:30am. For the most part, we stuck to familiar ground, which in places was rocky and steep and in others grassy and flat. So there were times when the route was more difficult, which honestly to me was more fun. I liked the challenge of hopping from rock to rock or sliding down steep slopes.

When we finally reached the top, it truly did feel like we’d accomplished something very special.

Again, we passed through all of the same beautiful scenery, but this time we were all a bit more tired and ready to get home and drink plenty of fluids and take long, well-deserved showers. For me, the journey back felt much shorter than the trip up the mountain, and before long, we were back in Koli’s car heading to Permet.

Overall, as far as hikes go, this one is easily up in my top three. The route was challenging, but it wasn’t too difficult or too easy. The scenery was beautiful and varied the entire way, and the grade of the trail was very mild. I enjoyed every twist and turn in the road, and I loved that I wasn’t so out of breath that I couldn’t hold a conversation. Five out of five stars!

BONUS: Check out the many extra pictures that I took on the mountain! It was truly a gorgeous day for a hike!

The mountains at the beginning of the hike (we climbed to the top of the one on the left)
A picturesque wooden fence
Gorgeous trail through farmland on the side of the mountain
Spring blossoms in the mountains
Two Kelcyre volunteers looking out over their adopted home
Stone formations so orderly that they looked man-made
The gorgeous and imposing mountains
The hiking crew
Kelcyra Gorge in all its beauty
One determined volunteer on his way to make friends with the cows on the mountainside

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