The Rhodopes in southern Bulgaria are the country’s most extensive mountain range – an unfathomable expanse of coniferous forests, sunny meadows and countless summits around the 2000-metre mark. More often than not, the weather in the Rhodope Mountains is kind and welcoming in winter too. And on such a brilliant and calm sunny day, I set out above the snowline on my second snowshoeing experience with Top Guides Bulgaria. The target was Batashski Snezhnik, a somewhat remote and incredibly panoramic 2082-metre-high peak in the Batak Mountain part of the Western Rhodopes.
Compared to my first ever snowshoeing tour in Rila, the day hike to Batashki Snezhnik was certainly a step up – both in physical demand and in satisfaction at the end of the day. We covered a distance of 15 km and we tackled almost 800 metres of elevation gain, which took us 8.5 hours, including the generous breaks. As expected for Top Guides outings, our group was small, so each of the six members was able to receive individual attention and personal tips on proper snowshoeing technique and winter hiking best practices, whether they were a complete beginner or an experienced snow adventurer.
Thanks to the expert guidance of our group leader, we were able to explore wild trails that get barely any foot traffic even in summer. In that regard, snowshoeing offers a huge advantage – you can choose your route more freely and venture on unmarked terrain that might be impassable in snowless conditions. Our guide Dimiter did an excellent job at designing a circular route that allowed us to see as much of the area as possible. And he made an effort to challenge us and make sure we improved our snowshoeing skills that day, especially with those tricky descents and treacherous stream fordings.
Our tour began with a gradual and rewarding ascent through majestic spruce forests. In the beginning, we followed a river valley as well as the barely remaining painted markers leading to the long-abandoned but curiously named Teheran Hut. We took a break on a gorgeous mountain meadow, basking in the unusually warm winter sun. And though it was barely noon by then, we had already made the discovery of the day: you can produce a delicious alcoholic slushie by mixing homemade sour cherry liqueur with a bit of local snow!
As we continued our steady uphill hike towards the summit of Batashki Snezhnik, we shed most of our winter layers. The sun was so strong that I ended up walking in just my T-shirt above the waist and I was thanking myself for deciding against putting on thermal base layers in the morning. Don’t underestimate the winter in the Bulgarian mountains, though, and always come prepared for sudden changes in the weather conditions!
Snowshoeing trips with Top Guides aren’t just fun, they’re educational too. During the hike, our guide quizzed us on the animal footprints that we saw (plenty of hare paws around!). Dimiter taught us to recognize the coniferous tree species of the Rhodope Mountains too – in the Batak Mountain, Norway spruces and Scots pines reign supreme.
And although the trek through these old-growth forests was super enjoyable, nothing could prepare us for the awe-inspiring vistas from the top of Batashki Snezhnik. Because of the route we followed, most of the views remained a secret until the very last stretch or even until the summit itself.
On a clear day, this part of the Rhodopes offers panoramas in all directions. To the north, you can marvel at the main ridge of the Balkan Mountains and identify its highest point, Botev Peak. To the west stand two of the Balkan Peninsula’s highest mountains, Rila and Pirin – with the breathtaking Batak Reservoir and its little island in the foreground. To the south, you can peek beyond the border into Greece, with the shining marble walls of the Falakro or Bozdag Mountain clearly visible. And to the east, there’s the Snezhanka TV Tower and the top of Golyam Perelik, the Rhodope Mountains’ highest summit.
By then, the sun was quickly setting, but needless to say, we didn’t want to hurry back to the trailhead. As we reached our cars under the lights of our headlamps, we were already talking about the next possible snowshoeing destination with Top Guides.