Ascent of Velika Rudoka on 2019-06-11

Climber: Joel Wilner

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Tuesday, June 11, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Velika Rudoka
    Location:Kosovo/North Macedonia
    Elevation:8727 ft / 2659 m

Ascent Trip Report

In Bulgaria, I opted to rent an SUV crossover (Nissan Qashqai) over smaller cars mainly due to what I've read about the difficulty of the mountain roads on the Macedonian side. This turned out to be a good decision, though perhaps not totally necessary. From Sanokos, I followed the winding, but paved, road up to Gjurgjeviste. Before reaching Gjurgjeviste, I bore right at a fork in the road (coordinates: 41.890850, 20.877743) because the road looked a little better on satellite imagery above this road than continuing through Gjurgjeviste. The dirt road was littered with fairly deep ruts, rocks, and puddles encompassing the entire road. My rental car did not have a serious problem with the road, but I suspect a smaller car would not be able to make it very far past the fork in the road. There are plenty of ruts in the road deep enough that a smaller car would get stuck fairly easily. The road was not particularly muddy, but if it was, I may have not been able to get very far.

I began the hike at 41°54'27.2"N, 20°49'33.2"E (41.907549, 20.825880), around which the road got too steep for my car to continue. Happy with how far the car was able to get past Gjurgjeviste (since I was on a tight schedule and even an extra few miles of hiking would have been an issue), I backed up to a small pullout on the road and began the hike at noon. I made my first mistake of the hike in following an arrow sign in the road, when I should've turned right here: 41.911402, 20.819482. Instead, I continued further down the road and headed off into what I naively thought could be a hiking path. I shortly encountered a large herd of sheep with a few shepherd dogs. Having heard that the shepherd dogs can be aggressive in this region, I stopped in my tracks. Fortunately, the shepherd was there with the herd, I waved to him, and then waded through the herd. I shook his hand and tried to explain that I was looking for the best route to Rudoka, but he spoke no English. Then I remembered the Russian word for lake, ozero (referring to Black Lake). The shepherd understood that I wanted to get to Black Lake but didn't seem to be particularly enthusiastic about how to get there, and didn't seem to recognize the name Rudoka. I thanked him and continued on. Now trying to get to the north side of the river that comes from Black Lake, I bushwhacked through some dense plants up a steep slope. This stuff wasn't razor grass, but was extremely pernicious and gets tiny little fibers stuck to your legs that have some strange delayed-pain properties. These plants are widespread in the lower slopes of Rudoka (at least on the Macedonian side) so take care, and consider wearing long pants.

I eventually made it to a dirt road that went to the north side of the river, and from there bushwhacked up the slope, generally staying close to the river. There are some hydropower facilities here, and some paths leading between them, and I followed these paths until they disappeared. After this, the grassy slope got very steep, but not difficult. There are some really beautiful waterfalls along the river and some amazing wildflowers. Lulled into something of a hypnotic state from the beautiful scenery, I was unprepared when a shepherd dog ambushed me by jumping over the crest of a grassy bluff from out of nowhere. It bolted towards me and turned away right before reaching me. This dog followed me for about an hour, up maybe a thousand feet of elevation gain. At one point, a gang of about ten dogs surrounded me and barked aggressively, but luckily the shepherd was nearby and called his dogs away.

I reached Black Lake (with the first dog still following me) and traversed the south side of the lake. After that was an hour of scrambling through characteristically periglacial terrain, with big cliffs popping up across the increasingly rocky slopes, but I was able to find my way up without any serious exposure. I eventually made it onto the plateau, meaning I had crossed into Kosovo for the first time! There were snowfields in the bowl between myself and the summit cone, so I traversed around them on the grassy slopes and ended up making my summit approach from Kosovo territory. I heard a couple low thunder rumbles in the distance, but nothing too serious. I finally summited Velika Rudoka nearly four and a half hours after leaving the car, with a hefty dose of undercast clouds around me and incredible panoramic views.

I descended more or less the same way I ascended, and was again attacked by the pack of dogs. This time, they were even more aggressive, and the shepherd came running from across the valley and threw rocks at his dogs to keep them from me. I felt bad that rocks were thrown at them but was grateful for the rescue. I made it back to my car just before sunset, wrapping up a triumphant day visiting the highest point of land in Kosovo. I then drove to the trailhead of Korab, the highpoint of North Macedonia and Albania, arriving at midnight.

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Beautiful, steep pastures below Black Lake on the ascent of Rudoka from the Macedonian side (2019-06-11). Photo by Joel Wilner.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4627 ft / 1409 m
    Total Elevation Loss:4627 ft / 1409 m
    Round-Trip Distance:11.2 mi / 18 km
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:4427 ft / 1349 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 4277 ft / 1303 m; Extra: 150 ft / 45m
    Loss on way in:150 ft / 45 m
    Distance:5.5 mi / 8.9 km
    Start Trailhead:41°54'27.2"N, 20°49'33.2"E  4450 ft / 1356 m
    Time:4 Hours 22 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:4477 ft / 1364 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 4277 ft / 1303 m; Extra: 200 ft / 60m
    Gain on way out:200 ft / 60 m
    Distance:5.7 mi / 9.2 km
    End Trailhead:41°54'27.2"N, 20°49'33.2"E  4450 ft / 1356 m
    Time:2 Hours 52 Minutes

Other Photos

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
My approximate route for my descent from Velika Rudoka, the highpoint of Kosovo. I now believe this is more or less the optimal route to climb Velika Rudoka from the Macedonian side. (From Google Earth; solid yellow line is the North Macedonia-Kosovo border.) (2019-06-11). Photo by Joel Wilner.
Click here for larger-size photo.

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