Ascent of Burcşa on 2015-05-16

Climber: Marcus Lostracco

Others in Party:Sean "Run Bum" Blanton
Adam Clarke
Till Schneeman
Date:Saturday, May 16, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Elevation:6398 ft / 1950 m

Ascent Trip Report

Transylvania 50k

Friday May 14th 2015: Arrive in Romania @ Bucharest Airport at noon local time.

Met up with my race partner for the weekend: Sean “Run Bum” Blanton – hell of a guy. We arranged this meet up not even a week earlier and we were set for an epic weekend with the Transylvania 50k happening the next day. We immediately got our rental car and hopped in and drove up to Bran, stopping in Bustemi on the way up for food and groceries for the weekend. We arrived in Bran at around 3:00PM and showed up at our guest house: Casa Medievala Bran, to open arms from the owner lady – her English was not very good, but she was extremely friendly, giving us both big hugs, and offering us alcohol (!). We politely declined the offer, as we were both wiped out and ready for a nap. After our necessary nap, we drove over to the race check-in and took some time to visit Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle). It was impressive, but to be honest, it’s just another castle. The layout was a bit strange, some parts reminded me of MC Escher stairwell sketches… The most impressive part about it was how intact and maintained it was. We got some obligatory tourist photos and headed over for the race check-in with the rest of the runners. There were about 100 athletes hanging out in the gymnasium awaiting the pre-race briefing and kit-check, which took place at 6:30PM. The briefing was brief (too brief, it would turn out), and our kit check went relatively smoothly.
Kit contained the following:
- Headlamp
- First aid kit
- Emergency blanket
- Sandwich + snacks
- 1.5 litres of water
- Waterproofs (jacket + pants)
- Warm hat + gloves
- Extra longsleeve layer
- Phone
- Cash
- Course map & compass

Picking up our race numbers and shirts, we then headed over to the pre-race dinner, provided by the nearby traditional Romanian restaurant, Parc Bran. The food was amazing – first course was the traditional vegetable soup, Ciorba, and was absolutely delicious. Then, it was followed by a beef and carrot stew with twice cooked potatoes – awesome, strong and succulent pre-race meal. They even provided desert – some Romanian-style pastries, kind of like little filo dough rolls with gelatin inside… different but really nice. After eating like kings, we walked over to a local shop to buy some breakfast items for the morning. We entered the shop and noticed a tray of pastries. We asked the woman at the cash to bag them all up. She was a bit angry with us for buying all of her pastries, but grudgingly let us pay her. The total cost of a dozen or so pastries, juice, some yogurts and fruit was about 30 lei, equal to maybe $7.50 USD… I have not mentioned that Romania is very cheap. We drove back to our guest house, and upon pulling into the awkward entrance, I managed to scrape my car on this concrete flower box that was outside of my line of sight… we got out and immediately it was a scene. A little girl on her bike had stopped and was yelling at someone to come over, our hotel lady came out to see what was going on, as well as her family… a bit embarrassing… I’m 2 for 2 with ultramarathons and having car trouble the day before… how does that happen. Anyway, the hotel lady shoved us aside and managed to move the concrete flower box – Sean and I had tried but it was too heavy for us. We both stared at eachother in disbelief. We were just shown up by some old Romanian villager lady… it was time for bed. We were in bed by 10PM, with our kits packed and clothes ready for the morning.

Saturday May 15th 2015: RACEDAY

Alarm went off at 4:45am – I was up and ready to go. I downed some of the pastries we bought to get the metabolism started for the day while taking a peek outside – it looked like a clear day. I hopped in the shower to wake up a bit, shaved, and got dressed, all while continuing to eat and pack in some calories. Sean and I were pumped for the clear weather – the mountains were calling our names in the distance. We were ready to head out for an epic day on the trails of Transylvania. We arrived at the starting line early enough for me to catch a photo with a guy dressed as Vlad the Impaler – pretty tacky but kind of funny. Vlad would then strike the gong to start the race and next thing you know, we were off. A stream of colors bobbing up and down the streets of the village of Bran at 6:00am was a rare sight for this place – a few of the locals were out to take in the scene. Not making any noise, just looking. As we passed through the village we were soon on dirt roads and into more rural houses where horses were staring at us in the same inquisitive manner. I was taking it pretty easy from the start – Sean had taken off with the leaders – he was going for it. Soon enough, about 2km into the race, the incline was too steep to run already, and we were walking. As we walked up the dirt road we gained elevation quickly with Bran fading away in the distance with every step. I felt great and was hiking at a strong pace. We climbed for about the first 5k when we had our first descent – finally an opportunity to open up the stride. I descended really well passing a number of people – Europeans seem to take the downhills very carefully… I just bomb. Pretty soon, about a quarter of the way up the next climb, about 8km into the race, I caught back up with Sean, who was now struggling after going out too hard. I kind of expected it but we were both happy to see eachother. We would then stick together for the rest of the race on what would be a crazy day.

We worked well together keeping conversation and watching eachothers’ calorie intake (well more like Sean was bothering me to eat). We finished the second big climb which popped out at the first checkpoint, Checkpoint Gaura, an aid station where we refilled our water and had a few snacks. We set off from here feeling pretty good, up to the next climb which came to a pass where we had our first directional mishap of the day… I went along and started going down the wrong way – Sean noticed quickly and called at me so it wasn’t a huge mistake (worse mistakes would happen later). At the bottom of this next descent it popped out into a big open green meadow, finally outside of the woods and out in the open, but the start of another climb. During this section a German fellow by the name of Till caught up to us. He was a really cool guy and we all joked around a bit. Sean and I stopped for a drink at a stream at one point and Till kept going – he was a strong runner, would go on to finish 3rd on the day. The streams at this altitude were totally clean and the water tasted fresh and clean – no filter required. This part of the course was awesome – rocky and technical, and high in altitudeawesome views and great trail. You really get the sensation that not many people get up here too often. The mountains here are rugged and jagged, huge rocky monoliths that look pretty intense to climb (getting to about 7,500 ft). We would not be summiting any of these larger mountains in the 50km course.

We arrived at the 50k/100k split where 2 guys were hanging out with no shelter or anything… they must have been cold. Standing still it was chilly but while moving it was great – basically ideal running conditions. We would soon come to the next checkpoint, Checkpoint Strunga, which was a water-only station. This was at the 20km mark of the race and we were already 3.5 hours in. It was a very remote aid station, and these guys had dragged about 30 gallons of water out here as well as a tent… had to be tough work. We took some water and set off for the most beautiful part of the course… here it was wide open, fully exposed and amazing views to be had. We would reach the summit of one peak on this ridge (Burcsa) and then continue down towards the next checkpoint in the commune town of Moieciu de Sus. Along this ridge we would have our second navigational mishap – the flagging up here was really poor. Our error only took us slightly off course and didn’t cost us any time, but made us aware that it would be very easy to get off course up here. If the visibility was poor (fog or clouds or anything), then this would be a pretty dangerous section – getting lost in the mountains is no joke. Stories from the 100k did not sound fun – they encountered severe fog late at night and many of the runners got off course at elevation. We continued past this ridgeline which led into some beautiful trails through farmland and foothills – this was my favorite section of the race. Although my quads were yelling pretty hard at this point, the trails were nice and soft, the scenery was spectacular, the sun was out, and we were going downhill all the way into Moieciu de Sus where soup and good vibes waited for us. Passing through several fence gates (which were just pieces of wood you had to lift to get through) and several farms, descending down into the small village of Moieciu de Sus we passed under some laundry some lady had hanging out to dry. Some of the villagers were out to watch the runners come by – but again making no sound, just staring with intrigue. Arriving at the aid station felt great. This was a fully stocked station and the 30km (ish) point of the 50k and the 80km (ish) point of the 100k. There was a young girl working the checkpoint who was super cute and had a great sense of humor. She was high-energy – it’s great to have people like that when you’re doing these types of things. Along with the soup, the sun shining, and someone nearby blasting Gypsy dance music, this was a really nice place to be. Sean and I decided to take a good 15 minute break here. I had about 5 cups of Ciorba, it’s delicious. The saltiness of it really helped. I also downed my sandwich and filled my water up. The aid station started getting crowded – these were the first other runners Sean and I had seen in over 2 hours. It was tough to leave because the stop was so enjoyable, but there was a race to complete. We set off 5 hours and 20 minutes into our run to complete the last 20km of the course.

The climb out of Moieciu de Sus was steep, and we gained our elevation back pretty quickly. However, we soon ran into navigation problems. The course seemed to veer left and there was no obvious trail, with no markings. We saw another racer come through so we called at him. We eventually figured out the way forward was actually to the right – this is when things would get worse with the course markings. The fellow we had met was a strong climber as well – his name was Adam, from the UK. Brits are strong orienteers, so sticking with him felt like a good idea. The three of us got along pretty well, and we kept a chatter going as we worked our way through this mostly wooded part of the course. We knew there was a turn coming up at the 35km mark, but we weren’t sure where. We ended up at a trail intersection, and we only found evidence of black Salomon flags going downhill and to the right. We had been following these black flags for a good bit during the section in to Moieciu de Sus, but the race directors didn’t mention anything about this color flagging. However, we just assumed they were correct, but boy were we wrong. Following these flags led us all the way back down the climb we just made to a river that was way off course – and it wasn’t until the very bottom that we realized we were off track. We had probably descended about 1500 ft and about 2 miles. This was a serious demoralizer. At this point, it was closer to return to Moieciu de Sus, and to retire, than it was to find the course and continue on. However, we didn’t come all the way out here to not finish, so we decided to get back up there.

This climb was awful for me – I was low on energy and I just hated the fact that it was not part of the course. I took several breaks while Adam got ahead of us. At one point, I stopped to rest for a minute, and a tiny dog came out of nowhere to meet me…. He was awesome and full of energy. He followed me and Sean for a bit and then took off running ahead of us and caught up to Adam. We eventually met Adam at the top who had met another Runner – a guy named Chris from New York – he had also made the same mistake as us. Not too much longer, another runner joined us. At this point we were 5 guys and a dog all lost in the middle of nowhere Transylvania. Pretty funny stuff in retrospect. Backtracking the course for a solid 1 km, we finally found the flagging that was directing us to get off the main trail and basically bushwhack descend all the way down the other side of the valley back down to CP Gauna. At this point Sean and I were nearly out of water because of the detour. The dog was still with us down this descent, but when we got to the bottom he took off and zipped around past all the runners we were catching up to. After this descent, there was one long steep climb to make to get to the aid station. Sean gave me a couple shot blocks and I felt awesome – I destroyed the majority of the climb, but started dying near the top. This was another super steep wooded climb. When it emerged into the clearing that led up to the aid station I felt complete relief – finally more water and a chance to regroup. Adam, Sean, Chris and I all celebrated a bit after getting out of that hole and getting back on track. Now we were ready to finish this damn race. We were told it was 10km to the finish and there were 2 small climbs left. We were ready to do it.

At this point we were calling out every flag we saw as a method to remind ourselves that we were on track. After a short climb, the course turned towards another steep descent that went on for a good 2 miles. Sean, Adam, and I bombed this section, even on dead legs. At the very bottom we thought it was going to lead into Bran, because we had seemed to have ran a good distance away from the last aid station, but no, the course turned right back and went straight back up another huge steep climb. This was the hardest climb of the day – super steep and long as hell… the unexpectedness of it is what really made it difficult for us. Completing this climb was a log of work and I was totally exhausted when reaching the top. We had to be at least 50km into our run at this point including our detour. Another long steep descent followed this climb, and at this point my quads were screaming. It was really tough to keep a rhythm going down this section. I had to take breaks and drink a lot of water. When it finally flattened out a bit we were down on a road, finally, back to some trace of civilization. We though the castle would be just around the corner, but more climbing awaited us… this time through more farms and through the foothills of the village of Bran. I was motivated to finish at this point – we had to hustle if we wanted to finish under 11 hours. I really pushed the pace through this final section, and when we emerged from the woods near the castle – I felt total gratification. We all crossed the finish line at the castle together in just under 11 hours at 5:00PM. What a relief to be done. I was really happy to have finished the race and proud of us for sticking to it and working hard right until the end. It was great to have Sean and Adam there as it would have been very mentally difficult to do alone.
Sean and I had a meal at Parc Bran again – same food as the night before because of how good it was. We then bought some more groceries (water and food) and went back to our hotel. It was raining and cold at this point – we had finished just in time to beat the ugly weather. Sean and I nearly immediately went straight to bed around 7:00PM. We spent the night waking up and eating and sleeping and waking up and eating and sleeping… all the way until 9am the next day.

Sunday May 16th – Last day in Romania

Sean and I had a lazy morning – (barely) walking over to Bran Castle to see more finishers come in. The 100k participants were still finishing – the cutoff was at 2PM for the 100k. We had lunch at a restaurant and hung around for the awards ceremony at 2PM that day. After the awards, Sean and I hit the road to get back to Bucharest so I could catch my flight. On the way back down we stopped to both buy some sheep pelts, because we felt like we both deserved one after finishing that race. We drove down to Bucharest, hung out in a local park for a bit, then I went off to the airport and we parted ways. It was great being with Sean this weekend – we both supported eachother through it and had an awesome time together. I landed in Stansted airport at midnight, got to my rental car at 1:30AM, and arrived at my hotel in Cardiff at 4:30AM… work the next day dragged on pretty badly, but I don’t regret a thing. An amazing experience. Romania is a beautiful country and I encourage everyone to visit at some point in their lives. A great, challenging, and cultural weekend.

Life is about experiences and enjoying the world.

Photos and video courtesy of Run Bum and Till Schneeman
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3000 ft / 914 m
    Total Elevation Loss:3000 ft / 914 m
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3000 ft / 914 m
    Loss on way in:3000 ft / 914 m
    Route:Transylvania 50k
    Time:11 Hours 0 Minutes
Descent Statistics

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